Discuss as:

'Full of chutzpah': Ex-NYC Mayor Ed Koch remembered fondly at funeral

Seth Wenig / AP

A casket containing the remains of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is brought into Temple Emanu-El.

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch was remembered Monday as the embodiment of the city he led for 12 years — feisty, restless, self-sure and larger than life.

At a funeral in Manhattan, former President Bill Clinton produced a sheaf of personal letters in which Koch held forth on just about everything: Democratic politics, gun control, the obesity epidemic, teen smoking. The former mayor also sent Clinton the political columns he wrote after leaving office.

“He had a big brain, but he had a bigger heart,” Clinton said. The former president said that no politician he knew had a better grasp of how “the real lives of people” are changed by the decisions of government.

The funeral, at Temple Emanu-El on the city's Upper East Side, drew the full complement of New York’s political elite. All three of Koch’s successors were there. So were New York’s two senators, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg remembered a promotional video Koch shot for the city in which Koch stood at the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge, just renamed for him, and shouted at commuters: “Welcome to my bridge! Welcome to my bridge!”

What no one knew, Bloomberg said, was that Koch stayed there 20 minutes after the cameras stopped rolling, in the rain, shouting proudly about his bridge.

New York Mayor Ed Koch's memorial service was held Monday, and his casket was carried out to the song popularized by Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York." NBC's Brian Williams has more.

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

Koch, who served from 1978 through 1989, died Friday of congestive heart failure. He was 88.

Bloomberg praised his predecessor for helping rescue a city that, when he took office, was unsafe and unattractive, broken and broke.

Family and friends took note of his relentless boosterism for his relatives and for his beloved city. One said that Koch, in his post-mayoralty, agreed to leave the city for speaking engagements only on the condition that he return the same day.

A grand-nephew, Noah Thayer, said that while Koch was often portrayed as a lonely bachelor, “In actuality he was a vibrant and vital part of our family.”

Besides the turnaround of the city’s finances, Koch was remembered for a mastery of retail politics — rallying New Yorkers to walk to work during a transit strike, for instance, or for his penchant for giving a thumbs-up and asking: “How’m I doin’?”

Bloomberg imagined that Koch, in heaven, was asking how he did. The current mayor, apologizing to a nearby cardinal, said that he had spoken to God and received the answer: “Ed, you did great. You really did great.”

Clinton described a close friendship among Koch, former New York Sen. Al D’Amato and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was elected to two terms as senator before resigning to become secretary of state.

Clinton said he had sent Koch a note for his 88th birthday, last December, and that Koch had written back inquiring about his wife’s health. Hillary Clinton suffered a concussion and was diagnosed with a blood clot in December.

The former president said that he answered Koch: “She’s doing all right, but she misses you.” Bill Clinton continued: “We miss you so much because we all know we’re doing a lot better because you lived and served.”

Koch’s casket was carried out of the temple to applause, as an organ played “New York, New York.”