Ed Koch, Quintessential Jew and Brash New York Mayor, Laid To Rest in Style

Hizzoner's Casket Carried to Strains of 'New York, New York'

You Did Fine: Ed Koch’s casket is carried out of Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El after the former mayor’s funeral.
getty images
You Did Fine: Ed Koch’s casket is carried out of Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El after the former mayor’s funeral.

By Reuters

Published February 04, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was memorialized on Monday as an in-your-face, wisecracking leader who helped transform the city from a symbol of urban decay to the vital, glittering metropolis it is today.

As Koch’s casket was led out of Temple Emanu-El, a soaring Fifth Ave. synagogue opposite Central Park, an organ played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” while mourners including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and a who’s who of New York politics stood and applauded.

Koch died on Friday at the age of 88 in Manhattan – the only place other than heaven he could imagine living, as he was known to say.

“I come today with the love and condolences of 8.4 million New Yorkers who really are grieving with you at this moment,” said the city’s current mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Speakers joked about the famously attention-loving Koch’s obsession with stage-managing his passing. His grave-stone, complete with an epitaph and a bench bearing Koch’s name, has been ready since 2008, and his friends said he had been planning the funeral for years.

“We started talking about his death in the ’80s,” said his former chief of staff Diane Coffey.

As mayor from 1978 to 1989, Koch, with his trademark phrase “How’m I Doin?”, was a natural showman and tireless promoter of both himself and the city. He helped repair the city’s finances as it teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and later led a building renaissance that would see 200,000 units of affordable housing erected or rehabilitated in some of the city’s most crime-infested areas.

He could also be a divisive figure. His determination to shut Sydenham, a poorly-performing Harlem hospital that was one of the only city hospitals employing black doctors, angered black New Yorkers. And AIDS activists said he was too slow to react to the epidemic that ravaged the city’s gay population in the 1980s.

Tall, nearly bald and speaking with a high-pitched voice, Koch was an unmistakable presence. He was famously argumentative, and rarely walked away from verbal jousting.

His friend James Gill remembered Koch’s response to someone who had written a letter criticizing the former mayor.

“You are entitled to your opinion of me and I am entitled to my opinion of you,” Koch replied. “My opinion of you is that you are a fool.”

His nephews and grand-nephew and grand-niece remembered Koch, who never married, as devoted “Uncle Eddie” - eager to hear what they thought of his appearances on talk shows but also happy join his 11-year-old grand-niece for a manicure.

Clinton read from a stack of letters Koch had sent him over the years and said Koch had “a big brain, but he had an even bigger heart.”

Koch remained relevant in politics long after 1989, when he lost the Democratic nomination to David Dinkins for what would have been a record fourth term as mayor. But when asked if he would run for office again, he liked to say, “The people threw me out and the people must be punished.”

His endorsement was coveted by candidates decades after he left office. And his unwavering and loud support of Israel made Koch “one of the most influential and important American Zionists,” said former Ambassador Ido Aharoni.

At Monday’s memorial, Bloomberg noted the synagogue Koch had chosen for the funeral stood just a few blocks from the midtown bridge that had been renamed to honor him. Last year, the city released a video of Koch standing at the bridge’s entrance ramp, calling out to approaching cars: “Welcome to my bridge! Welcome to my bridge!”

“No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did. And I don’t think anyone ever will,” Bloomberg said. “Tough and loud, brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah - he was our city’s quintessential mayor.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.