NEW YORK, N.Y. – Ed Koch had a big heart and a bigger brain, but the quintessential New Yorker’s outsized personality was matched by his integrity, family members and politicians said Monday as they honoured the colorful former mayor at his funeral in Manhattan.
An organist played “New York, New York,” the iconic ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra, in a Manhattan synagogue Monday as the former mayor’s oak coffin was carried past thousands of mourners, concluding a funeral that recalled the quintessential New Yorker’s famous one-liners and amusing antics in the public eye.
Koch died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 88.
Recalling Koch as “brash and irreverent,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the man who governed the city during the late 1970s and 1980s must be “beaming” from all the attention created by his death.
“No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did,” Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg noted that the funeral was being held near “a certain East River span” — referring to the 59th Street bridge, which was renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2011.
Describing the bridge dedication ceremony, Bloomberg drew laughter from the crowd as he recalled Koch stood there for 20 minutes, yelling: “Welcome to my bridge!”
Noah Thaler, Koch’s grand-nephew, praised him as a “doting grandfather” who was devoted to his family. Thayer recalled fond memories of Koch attending elementary school soccer games and getting a manicure with his 11-year-old grand-niece.
“While he knew he was often portrayed as a lonely bachelor, it didn’t matter,” Thaler said. “He saw in his family only perfection.”
Former President Bill Clinton, who served as a representative for President Barack Obama at the funeral, said the world was a better place because Koch had “lived and served.”
“He had a big brain,” Clinton said. “But he had a bigger heart.”
Six uniformed officers from the NYPD and the fire department were standing alongside his wooden coffin as part of Koch’s honour guard.
Koch was a friend of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and was helpful during her successful campaign for the U.S. Senate from New York, according to Koch spokesman George Arzt. Koch also backed Hillary Clinton in her presidential run.
Bill Clinton said he was also speaking for his wife, “who loved him very much and was grateful for his endorsement in every race.”
The funeral was held at Temple Emanu-El, one of the nation’s most prominent synagogues, a Reform Jewish congregation on Fifth Avenue across from the Central Park Zoo. Bloomberg is a member, as are comedian Joan Rivers and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
“I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone,” Koch told The Associated Press in 2008 after purchasing a burial plot in Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space. “This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”
Parts of the funeral were in Hebrew. Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general, praised Koch’s fervent support for Israel and called him “one of the most important and influential American Zionists of our time.”
Koch led his city for 12 years, with a brash, humour-tinged style that came to personify the New York of the 1980s.
The Democratic mayor is credited with helping save New York from its economic crisis in the 1970s and leading it to financial rebirth. But during his three terms as mayor, he also faced racial tensions and corruption among political allies, as well as the AIDS epidemic, homelessness and urban crime.
In his weekly radio address, Bloomberg called Koch “our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader.”
The mayor said his predecessor’s “tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship … helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback.”
He added, “When someone needed a good kick in the rear, he gave it to them.”
Koch lost the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1989 to David Dinkins, who succeeded him.
Koch said he was defeated “because of longevity.” In his words, “people get tired of you.”
But as the votes were coming in, he said he told himself, “I’m free at last.”
Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney will make a recommendation to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to rename a Manhattan subway station in Koch’s honour.
She will propose that the subway station at East 77th Street and Lexington Avenue be called “Mayor Ed Koch subway station.” She will also announce renaming the street corner there “Mayor Edward I. Koch.”
City officials have introduced legislation to officially rename the station.
Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald and Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.