Miriam Bockman, 86, Manhattan County leader

Miriam Bockman in a photo that ran in The Villager in July 1971 when she was a Democratic district leader. Villager file photo

BY GABE HERMAN | Miriam Bockman, a former Village district leader, member of the Village Independent Democrats, and the only woman to serve as Democratic leader of New York County, died June 25 in her home in Manhattan. She was 86. The cause of death was complications from cancer, according to The New York Times.

Bockman was part of the Reform movement among Democrats and was a longtime ally of Ed Koch, both of whom got their political starts in the Village Independent Democrats.

She became a Village district leader in 1969, with her co-leader John LoCicero, a close ally to Koch who would be his campaign manager. Bockman became county leader in 1977, the same year Koch was first elected mayor.

A major political issue for Bockman was judicial reform, according to Tony Hoffmann, who was V.I.D. president from 1978 to ’79. She wanted judges to be picked through a panel system, and wanted to move away from the old Tammany Hall era of backroom deals.

Former colleagues remembered Bockman as a smart and friendly person to work with and be around.

“She was very bright, articulate,” recalled Carol Greitzer, an early V.I.D. member who preceded Bockman as Village district leader before going on to the City Council.

“What I remember about working with her was that she was very knowledgeable, very smart and easy to work with,” said Hoffmann. “I really liked her.”

Hoffmann noted that he and Bockman were able to work together even when he stopped supporting Koch after he became mayor.

“We split over many of his policies, which I and many others considered racially tinged,” Hoffmann said. “So I and a number of other V.I.D. members split from him, and she stayed with him because of her history that she had with him. And even though we differed strongly on that issue, on the Koch issue, I was able to work with her.”

“She was a very nice woman,” recalled George Arzt, who was a New York Post reporter from 1968 to ’87, and became Koch’s press secretary in 1987. He now runs a political consulting firm which he founded in 1992. “She wasn’t a shouter or someone who lost her temper. She tried to rule by intellect among the Democrats. It didn’t work out well.”

Bockman resigned as county leader in 1981 after four years due to rivalries and infighting among Democrats, who were largely split among Reformers and mainstream members. Although the last remnants of the Tammany Hall political machine had been kicked out during the ’70s and Koch’s political ascendancy, there were still “a lot of Tammany types,” said Arzt, to go along with the new Reform movement. “It was very difficult to herd them all together,” Arzt said, a problem which he noted continues locally to this day.

Bockman told the Times when she became county leader in 1977 that, “One of the great challenges of the county leadership is to show that the community of interests we share are much greater than the things that separate us.”

“Even the Reformers were fighting among themselves,” Arzt said. “It was a difficult task. More than difficult, Herculean.”

Arzt said that one of the final tipping points for Bockman before resigning was being unable to stop an anti-Koch resolution in the V.I.D. When the club split over Koch, a breakaway faction formed the Village Reform Democratic Club, or V.R.D.C. In the early years after the split, the rivalry between the two clubs was fierce.

Bockman is the only woman to lead a county Democratic organization in any of the five boroughs. Arzt said that “she always remained close to John LoCicero and to Ed Koch.” Koch appointed her in 1986 as a salaried commissioner at the Board of Standards and Appeals, which deals with such local matters as zoning issues.

“It is disappointing that there hasn’t been another woman,” said Hoffmann. “But I think one of the legacies was that Miriam showed that it can be done, that a woman can be county leader.”

Hoffmann said another of her legacies was “her advocacy for the Reform movement. … And she was a nice person,” he added. “You don’t have to be a nasty person to rise within the party.”

Miriam Bockman was involved in local Village politics before becoming district leader in 1969, recalled Greitzer, on such issues as keeping Washington Square Park closed to traffic and preserving the Jefferson Market Courthouse as a library.

“There were a lot of big community issues and Miriam participated in many of those,” Greitzer said. “We were fighting.”

Bockman was born Miriam Levine, on Oct. 25, 1931, in Corona, Queens. Her father was a postal worker, and her parents helped to found a local chapter of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association. She graduated from Hunter College.

Political allies — from Greenwich Village to City Hall — from left, Miriam Bockman, Ed Koch, John LoCicero and Carol Greitzer. Courtesy Carol Greitzer

She met her husband, Eugene Bockman, in V.I.D. He was a World War II veteran and city archivist who would become commissioner of the Department of Records and Information Services, according to the Times. He died in 1999.

Miriam and Eugene moved in their later years from the Village to Battery Park City because of Eugene’s worsening health and the need for a home with wheelchair access, according to Greitzer.

“We all were friendly socially as well as politically,” Greitzer said of Miriam and Gene.

Miriam was awakened on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, by the crash of one of the planes into the World Trade Center, and was evacuated by boat to New Jersey, where she stayed with her brother, who lived there, Greitzer said.

“We didn’t know where she was for sometime, it was a very chaotic time for her,” Greitzer recalled. “A lot of us were concerned about her.”

Bockman turned out to be all right and was eventually able to get back into a city apartment.

Bockman was recently a member of an unofficial local Village group of political veterans called the V.I.D. Elder Statespeople, noted Greitzer, who remains a member of the group. Greitzer said the group, which also includes LoCicero, meets weekly for lunch to discuss politics, both local and national.

“This has been going on for a while, continuing our interest in politics,” Greitzer said. “We get involved locally, some of us are still active in politics.”

Koch similarly had his famed “Koch Klatch,” a group of Koch administration veterans and others who met biweekly to talk politics over lunch.

Miriam Bockman is survived by a sister and several stepchildren, along with nieces and nephews, according to Greitzer.

Before becoming county leader, Bockman was an advertising vice president at The Villager.

Greitzer said Bockman definitely has a political legacy in being the only Democratic woman to lead New York County.

“New York State does not have women in proportionate numbers the way some other states do,” she noted. “You would think New York would be kind of out in front that way. So I think any woman who has achieved a position of power in New York is setting a precedent, at least. I don’t say they’re going to go down in history for ever and ever, but they certainly stand out because there’s not so many of them.”

The former longtime councilmember said she was hopeful that there would be more women in political power.

“I think there will be now because women have certainly emerged all over the place,” she said, noting, “When I was elected to the City Council, which was in 1969, there were no women elected officials in all of Manhattan. As soon as I got elected, the next time around, several other women ran and got elected, so it maybe takes somebody to set a precedent.”

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