Mayor Ed Koch Calls 1980 Sydenham Hospital Closing A Mistake in Latest LaGuardia and Wagner Archives YouTube Video

Long Island City, NY—March 10, 2015—There is an extraordinary moment in “Sydenham, 2015,” the latest YouTube video offering from LaGuardia Community College’s LaGuardia and Wagner Archives.

Former Mayor Ed Koch admits, “I was wrong.”

The often candid and seldom repentant three-term mayor admits during an interview with Congressman Charlie Rangel and LaGuardia and Wagner Archives Director Richard Lieberman that he was wrong to order Sydenham Hospital closed to fill a multi-million dollar deficit in the city budget in 1980.

“It was a mistake,” Koch said. “Not that it (the closing) was not right on the merits. But that I didn’t take into account what it meant psychologically to the community.”

Sydenham, on 125th St. in Harlem, became a city hospital on March 3, 1949. It was the first municipal hospital to allow African-American doctors to bring in their own patients.

The 12 minute video details Sydenham’s history and the tumultuous events—Koch’s decision prompted community protests and dozens of arrests – surrounding its 1980 closing. The video includes interviews with several former city officials involved in the closing, including Former First Deputy Mayor Stanley Brezenoff, former First Deputy Mayor for Human Services Haskell Ward, Special Advisor to the Mayor David Jones, and June Jackson Christmas, former Commissioner of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

They are interviewed by Koch Scholars and Honors students at LaGuardia Community College Modupe Ogunlaja, DarleneJo Perez, Beatriz Ramos and Jonathan Simmonds. The Koch Scholars program put the students and former top officials from the Koch Administration together to discuss landmark policies and programs created by the Koch Administration (1978-1989) that significantly impacted New York City.

The video was produced by the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College, which has turned out more than 100 videos which have a collective 278,631 views on the Archive’s YouTube channel (

The Koch Scholars researched the piece in the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives under the direction of Lieberman, Tara Hickman, John Chaffee, Karlyn Koh, Steven Levine and the Archives staff.

The filmmaker was Sandy Chase.

“When Mayor Koch took office in 1977, he inherited a city rife with financial troubles,” said Marian Clarke, the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives’ multi-media archivist. “In an effort to minimize the city’s fiscal crisis, Mayor Koch decided to close Sydenham Hospital despite public outcry over the measure. Many in Harlem rallied around the local hospital, the first New York hospital to accept African American doctors as interns, and whose closure was seen as emblematic of the Koch Administration’s insensitivity and indifference towards the black community.”

Lieberman conducted the interview with Koch and Rangel, a session set up by Koch to discuss Sydenham.

“The historical significance of Sydenham is that we learn that sometimes the symbol is more important than the reality,” Lieberman said. “What the hospital represented to the community and to the black doctors and nurses was more important than what the balance sheet revealed. Although the hospital was a tremendous economic drain in a city in fiscal crisis, Koch realized in retrospect that he looked at the balance sheet and not the symbol and admits as much in the video.”

“The Koch Scholars and the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives have produced yet another gem,” said LaGuardia CommunityCollege President Dr. Gail O. Mellow. “This is a wonderful piece of our city’s history that might have been lost if not for their diligence; now it’s available for all to see.”

The Sydenham building is now the Mannie L. Wilson Primary Care Center, which provides medical and dental care for seniors and their families.

You can visit the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives YouTube channel here.


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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit to learn more.