Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who died on Friday, was remembered by his current successor, Michael Bloomberg, as a legendary figure akin to Moses, who “restored the arc of the city’s history.”
Noting that this week’s Torah portion depicts Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, Bloomberg said ” Ed, in his own way, was our Moses … He led us out of darkness and he gave us hope. And while he may not have parted the Red Sea, he did break a subway strike by standing on a bridge and shouting words of encouragement.”
Recalling the severe financial crisis facing the city when Mayor Koch took office in 1978, Bloomberg said it was “not inevitable” that the city would recover. “Ed made it so. He had the confidence and courage to believe our problems can be cured.”
As did many other eulogists at Temple Emanu-El on the East Side, often using well-received humorous anecdotes, Bloomberg recalled Mayor Koch’s tendency to speak his mind freely. “Tough, loud, irreverent and full of humor and chutzpah, he was our city’s quintessential mayor,” said the current mayor. “More than anything else he understood that New York was more than just a place, it was an attitude, and that’s what he displayed to the world.”
He said that type of candor “scares the hell out of press secretaries and consultants, but the average citizen really appreciates it.”
Also attending the funeral were former mayors David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and numerous other public officials, fans, friends and former aides. Mayor Koch kept in close touch with members of his administration, meeting regulary with them for lunch, and eulogies were delivered by his deputy mayor, John LoCicero, and chief of staff, Diane Coffey.
Bloomberg recalled that after the Queensbrough Bridge connecting the East Side with Long Island City was named in his honor in March, 2011, Mayor Koch stood beside the roadway for a considerable amount of time waving to cars and saying “Welcome to my bridge!”
Former President Bill Clinton displayed a stack of letters he received from Mayor Koch during his tenure in the White House, when Mayor Koch had been recently, involuntarily retired from City Hall. The letters expressed strong support for anti-crime measures, the establishment of a national Holocaust memorial, anti-smoking initiatives and a program that would give young people convicted of crimes the opportunity to get a fresh start if they improved their lives by having their records sealed.
But most of all, Clinton said, Mayor Koch expressed his “unfailing support of Israel.” The former president said that Koch’s catchphrase of being a “liberal with sanity” meant that he was able to support policies but question what their impact would be.
“He had a big brain but an even bigger heart,” said Clinton. “We miss you because we know we are doing a lot better because you lived and served.”
Israel’s consul general in New York, Amb. Ido Aharoni, noted that while Israel’s political leaders were well acquainted with Mayor Koch, “I’m here on behalf of an entire nation who felt the same way. Ed Koch was one of us. We, the Israelis owe him a debt of great support for his love of the Zionist movement and the Jewish home. He never let us down.”
Aharoni noted that Mayor Koch “literally bled for Israel” in 1990, when he visited Jerusalem during the intifada Palestinian uprising and was hit in the head with a rock. In classic Koch style, Aharoni said, he turned to a man standing next to him and joked “that rock was meant for you.”
Aharoni added that the warm bond between Mayor Koch and his counterpart at the time, Jerusalem’s Teddy Kollek, “is the same as the bonds between New York and Jerusalem and the United States and Israel.”
Several former aides noted in their eulogies that Mayor Koch not only was not afraid to face death as he aged but dwelled with unusual focus on his mortality, planning not only his burial place but details of his funeral and the precise wording of his headstone, which was already engraved by the time he passed away from congestive heart failure at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University. The mayor has said he chose the Trinity Church Cemetery in Upper Manhattan because it is easily accessible by subway, which would make it easier for New Yorkers to visit his gravesite.
“Imagine: A Polish Jew in an Episcopal graveyard in a Dominican neighborhood,” said Bloomberg. “What could be more New York?”
Mayor Koch’s three nephews, and a grand-nephew and grand-niece, discussed Mayor Koch’s commitment to his large family and his desire to take part in all their milestones and events.
“He watched my elementary school soccer matches with the enthusiasm one might have for a World Cup soccer match,” said Noah Thaler, the grandson of Koch’s sister, Pat Koch Thaler.
“At 87, he embarked on a new adventure, his first-ever manicure, with my then-11 year old sister.” When he dined out with his uncle in some of New York’s best known restaurants, surrounded by movers and shakers, Noah said, “he only wanted to get the latest updates from the family.”
Koch’s plain wood casket, decorated with a Star of David, was draped with a city flag when it arrived and carried by an NYPD honor guard contingent. Police helicopters paid tribute with a flyover above the temple following the service.
Mayor Koch never again sought public office after being defeated by David DInkins in the 1989 Democratic pimary. James Gill, a partner at Mayor Koch’s law firm, Bryan Cave, told the mourners that he and Mayor Koch were often stopped as they walked down the street by people urging him to seek another term in office. His answer, Gill said: “The people threw me out and now the people have to be punished.”