John Jiler: Sleeping with the Mayor: A True Story

John Jiler
Sleeping with the Mayor: A True Story
Hungry Mind Press

LOCAL PUBLISHER HUNGRY Mind Press has landed a gem with this intriguing story of the power struggle between then-New York City mayor Ed "How'm I Doin'?" Koch and the residents of "Kochville," a shantytown of homeless protesters ensconced in a park outside City Hall. Set in the late 1980s just before Koch's ultimate political defeat at the hands of Democratic upstart David Dinkins, the book documents the mayor's final turbulent moments in office when he grappled with the ethical debate in the media about his policies toward homelessness.

Yet far more fascinating than this oft-explored tale of the burdens of leadership are the developments within Kochville. As the encampment of newfound media darlings extends from several days to several months, the story shifts from a social drama into a tense stand-off reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, as the homeless create their own ad hoc government in an attempt to better conduct themselves in their pseudo-society. Lead by a quiet Vietnam vet named Larry Locke, this miniature political body eventually grows into a ramshackle second city of cardboard Kubi huts and political revolts--all just feet from the steps of City Hall.

Employing an unusually descriptive method of narrative storytelling, author John Jiler creates a catalog of events that reads like fiction and is often engaging. Within the invisible walls of this makeshift city, Jiler addresses virtually every societal ill from racism to environmental justice. Unfortunately, his frequent habit of subtly infusing his own social views into the personalities of the characters makes the factual context of the story somewhat less credible, if not downright clichéd. Still, by forcing readers to walk a mile in the shoes of some of society's outcasts, Sleeping with the Mayor succeeds in addressing many of the issues of urban housing and homelessness in a format as easily comprehended by the layman as the urban planner. And though Kochville has long been leveled, Jiler--for any faults--has created a lasting portrait of what happened there.

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