The funeral for Edward I. Koch, New York City's brassy, beloved 105th mayor, had the right amount of solemnity, reverence and adoration. It also had laughs.
From the eulogy delivered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to the reminiscences by Koch's nephews and the words of former President Bill Clinton, the crowd inside the palatial Temple Emanu-El Monday had plenty to chuckle and smile about, even in the face of the loss of the man credited with bringing the city back from the brink of ruin in the 1970s.
"Ed, in his own way, was our Moses, with just a little less hair," quipped Bloomberg. "He led us out of darkness and he gave us hope. And while he may not have parted the Red Sea, he did break a subway strike by standing on a bridge and shouting words of encouragement."
A crowd estimated at 2,500 filled the Fifth Avenue temple, considered one of Reform Judaism's central houses of worship in the United States, to say goodbye to Koch, whose light-brown oak coffin was flanked for a time by an honor guard of city uniformed officers. Koch died Friday at 88. The service, presided over by David Posner, Temple Emanu-El's senior rabbi, was as much a celebration of Koch's life as a genuine, caring leader as it was a farewell.
"We are all doing fine," Clinton told the crowd, playing off Koch's signature expression. "But we miss you. We miss you so much because we are doing a lot better because you lived and served."
"It was Ed Koch to the core," Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) remarked of the service later.
Packing the temple's pews were many of New York's political and religious elite. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, former governors Mario Cuomo and George Pataki, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan were there, as were Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and former mayors David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani.
"He did a lot of great things, but in my mind the most important was when people doubted this city's future, he never doubted it for a minute," Pataki said after the service.
Israel's consul general in New York, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, also addressed the congregation, saying, "Ed Koch never let us down."
James F. Gill, Koch's law partner, got laughs when he told how Koch answered one critic by writing, "In my opinion, you are a fool -- all the best, Ed."
Diane M. Coffey, Koch's former chief of staff, provoked more laughter when she recalled that during a tiff he privately apologized to her, but then said to others in the office, "She was wrong, but I apologize."
Then there were the regular New Yorkers and tourists who braved frigid morning temperatures, waiting for the temple doors to open.
Barbara J. Steinberg met Koch in the early 1960s when he was a district leader in Greenwich Village, and she later worked for him when he ran for office.
"This district leader was getting involved in a traffic light in the community." Steinberg recalled. "I said if he cares that much about a traffic light, then I'd like to work for him."
"I had a good cry and it was cathartic," she said of Koch's funeral. "I thought the speeches were wonderful, particularly Bloomberg."
When an NYPD honor guard of six officers hoisted Koch's coffin onto their shoulders and slowly carried it toward the exit, temple organist Andrew Henderson solemnly played "New York, New York." The crowd then broke into sustained applause. Some cried. Henderson followed that number with "Broadway Rhapsody."
Outside on Fifth Avenue, the coffin was placed in a hearse, as FDNY and NYPD pipes and drummers played, for the drive uptown to Trinity Church Cemetery, where Koch was buried. NYPD helicopters did a flyby.
Bloomberg found the burial site fitting: "Just think about it: a Polish Jew in an Episcopal graveyard in a largely Dominican neighborhood. What could be more New York -- or even more Ed Koch?" the mayor said.
With Matthew Chayes
and John Valenti