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OPINION | Koch's Legacy: What to make of David Koch's life


Businessman David Koch attends the Carnegie Hall 125th season opening night gala at Carnegie Hall on October 7, 2015 in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images)

David Koch made billions in the oil business with his brother Charles, then spent much of that fortune advancing libertarian and conservative causes and candidates, including many with which we strenuously disagree.

He warred against important regulations meant to guard the environment and public health, fought reasonable gun control, tried to thwart efforts to combat climate change and delighted in a project to slash taxes to starve government.

But progressives who rush to portray the Koch Brothers as snickering cartoon villains fail to account for another side of his legacy. Koch’s principles were not purely partisan. He supported same-sex marriage and abortion rights and believed in the value of free trade and humane immigration policies. He reviled the war on drugs and pushed, quite successfully, for criminal justice and prison reform.

And his philanthropy, dismissed by cynics as attempts to launder broader damage done, will help countless people, particularly in the city he called home.

He gave $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital; $150 million to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; tens of millions to the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Another $100 million went toward renovating the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. Another $65 million, to restore the fountains and plaza outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another $20 million, to the Museum of Natural History.

Much of what Koch’s legacy was will be argued over for decades, as it should be. Some of it will deliver aid, comfort and enrichment to people who care not one whit about the name on the hospital wing or museum wall.