Thousands mourn Ed Koch
NEW YORK Ed Koch couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate song to herald his final farewell to New York City.
Strains of Frank Sinatra’s iconic ballad, “New York, New York,” rang throughout a Manhattan synagogue on Monday as the colorful former mayor’s 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. Outside on Fifth Avenue on Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and David Dinkins held their hands to theirs hearts. NYPD helicopters flew overhead and bagpipes wailed on the freezing February afternoon.
Recalling Koch as “brash and irreverent,” Bloomberg told the crowd who came to pay their respects that the man who steered the city through the 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. “And I don’t think anyone ever will.”
True to his take-charge nature, Koch even choreographed his own funeral. Aware of his impending mortality during his final days, Koch wanted to know everything about the particulars of the event, said Diane Coffey, his former chief of staff.
Coffey said her old boss was grateful when she told him last week that Bloomberg was planning to speak at the service. She said Koch insisted upon being buried in a cemetery “conveniently located near a subway stop” so that New Yorkers could come and visit his grave.
“We began talking about his death in the 80s and his plans for it,” Coffey said. “Who else plans every detail of a burial?”
The packed crowd broke into a spontaneous standing ovation as the coffin made its way out of the synagogue. Koch will be buried at the Trinity Church cemetery in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
His tombstone says he “fiercely” defended New York City and loved its people and America.
“We had such respect for him because of his outsized personality,” Bloomberg told the crowd. “Matched by his integrity, his intelligence and his independence.”
Koch led the city for 12 years with a brash, humor-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.
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 Thayer, 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,” Thayer 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.”
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.
The funeral was held at one of the nation’s most prominent synagogues, a Reform Jewish congregation on Fifth Avenue. 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.”
Koch lost the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1989 to David Dinkins, but maintained that he was defeated “because of longevity.” As he put it: “people get tired of you.”
But as the votes were coming in, he said he told himself, “I’m free at last.”
In another tribute to Koch, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney will make a recommendation to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to rename a Manhattan subway station in his honor on Monday.
Maloney says she will propose renaming the subway station at East 77th Street and Lexington Avenue the “Mayor Ed Koch subway station.”
City officials have introduced legislation to officially rename the station.