More than two decades after his tenure as mayor ended, housing policy looms large in the legacy of Edward I. Koch. Koch served three terms, from 1978 through 1989. His Ten Year Plan for Housing revitalized a decaying city and stands as one of his signature accomplishments. Yet Koch’s popularity could not carry him through a fourth election: in 1989, then-Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins won a four-way Democratic primary and defeated Rudolph Giuliani to become New York City’s first and only African-American mayor to date.
As the primary elections neared in 1989, CHPC asked the Republican and Democratic candidates to share their thoughts on four housing issues. Six candidates responded, offering their thoughts on the city’s aging affordable stock, weighing new construction versus preserving affordability, and prioritizing public goals under fiscal constraints. Their responses show a range in both familiarity with the policy levers at a mayor’s disposal and passion for the issues the city faced at the time.
Take, for example, the question of density and its conflicts with residents’ aversion to taller buildings. Koch responded: “Naturally, the production of new housing is one of my primary goals as mayor, but it does not warrant an assault on the character of an existing neighborhood.” Richard Ravitch offered his take: “Charter revision will soon be providing us with a new land use and planning process that should reduct the excessive politicization of land use decisions and hopefully restore planning as a way to guide the development process.” And this from soon-to-be mayor Dinkins: “One of the ways in which a neighborhood’s scale and character can be preserved and new development occur is through strong zoning measures—as witnessed by the Quality Housing Program, which I strongly endorsed.”