Edward I. Koch was hailed as one of New York City’s greatest leaders as thousands gathered Monday to pay tribute to the former mayor who was remembered as the “quintessential New Yorker’’ — a brassy, fair-minded, funny man with a heart of gold.
"He had a big brain, but he had a bigger heart," former President Bill Clinton told a sea of mourners crowded into the Temple Emanu-el synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
“We miss you so much because we all know we are doing a lot better because you lived and served.’’
“I come with the love and condolences of eight million New Yorkers,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. “No mayor has ever embodied the spirit of New York City and no one mayor ever will. . . . There’s no doubt that Ed is beaming looking down at all of us assembled here.’’
Clinton, who was also representing President Barack Obama, and Bloomberg were among a Who’s Who of political movers and shakers, family and friends who joined together to remember Koch, who died Friday of congestive heart failure at the age of 88.
Mourners of Koch, a Newsmax contributor
, included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former New York Govs. Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, former New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and David Dinkins, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and veteran TV journalist Geraldo Rivera.
Six uniformed city cops and firefighters flanked Koch’s flag-draped, brown wood coffin as part of his honor guard during the funeral, which, while somber, was peppered with many funny stories and quips that mirrored Koch’s mischievous sense of humor.
"Ed, in a way, was our Moses — just with a little less hair. He led us out of the darkness," Bloomberg quipped, recalling the terrible shape New York was in when Koch assumed office in 1978, and how he helped save it from financial and social collapse.
“The New York that Ed inherited is almost unimaginable today. There was graffiti, crime, a broken government and whole neighborhoods that looked like they had been bombed out in an air raid,’’ Bloomberg said.
“He reminded us why we loved New York, and he inspired us to fight for it. . . . [He] helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback."
Bloomberg added: “When someone needed a good kick in the rear, he gave it to them.’’
He recalled Koch’s famous catch phrase, “How’m I doin'?” and imagined him in heaven, asking God the same question, and being told, “Ed, you did great. You really did great.’’
Those who spoke drew tears, laughs and applause from mourners as they remembered Koch’s in-your-face chutzpah, endearing humor and charismatic leadership style.
Clinton recalled how Koch hated cigarettes and knew it would be hard to reach young people with anti-tobacco messages. So when Bloomberg launched his ambitious campaign against smoking, Koch offered him some cheeky marketing advice.
“Go after the virility argument!’’ Koch said, according to Clinton.
Clinton said even when Koch was sick in recent weeks, the former mayor kept asking about the health of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been hospitalized over the after-effects of a concussion.
“I come here to speak for myself, and also for Hillary, who loved him very much and was grateful for his endorsement in every race she ran,” Clinton said.
“He was unique, one of a kind. . . . Everybody wanted to know his view on every issue,’’ Koch’s law partner Jim Gill said. “He loved New York and all of its people. More than that, he was New York.’’
Gill said that in the years following Koch’s three terms in office, which ended when he was defeated by David Dinkins, many people implored him to run for mayor once again.
“No, he said. ‘The people threw me out and now the people must be punished,’’’ Gill recalled.
Diane Coffey, Koch’s former chief of staff, said: “He motivated and challenged us. . . . He supported and encouraged you every step of the way.’’
She recalled one time when she and Koch had a bitter argument and didn’t speak for four days. She eventually asked for an apology, which he issued, and then announced to his staff, “She was wrong, but I apologized!’’
She said Koch once told her about politics: ‘“You have to get the attention of the public. You have to get them to follow you. To do that you have to be bigger than life.’ And he was just that.’’
In addition, Koch’s three nephews, Shmuel, Jonathan and Jared, and his grandniece Hannah Thayer and grandnephew Noah Thayer shared their family memories of the beloved politician they called “Uncle Eddie.’’
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"I believe our happiness was the thing that made him most happy, and I will be forever grateful that he was in my life," said Hannah.
"While he knew he was often portrayed as a lonely bachelor, it didn't matter. He saw in his family only perfection," Noah added.
“The city has lost a mayor who truly loved it, and I have lost a cherished friend,” said John LoCicero, a former deputy mayor under Koch.
He recalled how Koch, during a human rights demonstration, mischievously told the consul of the Chinese government, “If you would like to defect, I would help you.”
The Israeli consul general, Ido Aharoni, noting Koch’s strong ties with and passionate defense of Israel, said: “It was his warm heart and not his battle scars that defined his relationship with Israel. Mayor Koch, whether it was your candid outspokenness or your warm friendship, Israel hears you loud and clear.”
In keeping with Koch’s flair for showmanship, “New York, New York,’’ the musical love letter to the city made famous by Frank Sinatra, was played on an organ as his coffin was carried out.
Temple Emanu-el, where the services were held, is a reform Jewish congregation founded in 1845. Its members include Mayor Bloomberg, comedian Joan Rivers, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and CNN President Jeff Zucker.
The former mayor — who served three terms from 1978 to 1989 — will be interred at Trinity Church Cemetery in Upper Manhattan, where philanthropist John Jacob Astor, actor Jerry Orbach and "Twas the Night Before Christmas’’ author Clement Moore also lie.
Koch’s headstone, already at the cemetery, reads “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.’’
Koch, who always wanted to be buried in New York, bought his plot at Trinity years ago.
"I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone," Koch told the Associated Press in 2008. "This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."
His epitaph, which he wrote, reads: "He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II."
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The New York Police Department flew its helicopters over the synagogue in remembrance of Koch before and after the service.
Meanwhile, New York City commuters will soon see a subway station renamed in Koch’s honor.
State Rep. Carolyn Maloney is expected to announce that the No. 6 train stop on East 77th Street, which Koch always called his favorite depot, is to be renamed the “Mayor Ed Koch Station.’’
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