There weren’t tears until the end. Not until the organist’s dirge slowly, and then unmistakably became recognizable as “New York, New York”, as the colossal coffin floated out of Temple Emanu-El on the shoulders of six of the city’s Finest, did it seem to dawn upon the crowd that the man we had somehow assumed, against reason, would live forever was gone.
Up until that moment the funeral of Edward I. Koch had been a riotous, unsentimental affair—just the type of farewell the mayor would have enjoyed to the hilt.
Koch’s longtime law partner, James Gill, recalled how in Koch’s post-mayoralty years, passersby would often stop him in the street and implore him to run again for the good of the city. “No!” Koch would respond unequivocally. “The people threw me out and now the people must be punished!”
President Clinton, who had cut short a trip to Asia in order to attend the service on behalf of himself and Hillary, quipped “Yesterday I flew home from Japan after spending eight hours there. I think it was Ed Koch’s last gift to me, because, you know, you pick up a whole day when you come back from Japan, and at our age every day counts.”
And after comparing Koch to Moses—“with a little less hair”—for leading the city in its exodus from degradation and despair, Mayor Bloomberg observed, “Just as Moses died right before he reached the Promised Land, Ed died hours before the documentary about him opened in theaters. Leave it to Ed to find the best way to maximize publicity for a film about his life.”
Since Koch’s passing in the early hours of February 1st, it feels like everywhere I have gone in the city, I have overheard recollections of what he meant to New Yorkers whose lives he touched—whether he knew them or not.
As for me, I was born in 1978—the year Koch was first elected—and though he gave me a proclamation on the steps of City Hall when I was in grade school, it wasn’t until three years ago that I got to know the mayor as anything other than the legend. As an aide to Koch’s dear friend, Henry Stern, I had the great fortune of picking up the phone four or five times a day, as Koch called Stern to plot their “Uprising”, to announce his decision to endorse Bob Turner, to tell him about the bridge renaming, or simply to debate what movie they should review. For the privilege of playing receptionist to history, I shall always be in Henry’s debt.
In recent days a treasure trove of eloquence has been bestowed upon the man who always had le mot juste at the ready, but it was a statement from Congressman Peter King that summed up best the sentiments of the 8.4 million of us who mourn him: “New York’s mayor for life is now New York’s mayor for eternity.”