Pat, to you and to the entire Koch family, I come today with the love and condolences of 8.4 million New Yorkers who really are grieving with you at this moment.
Although Ed – on the other hand – has got to be loving all this attention. And I was particularly thrilled that he picked my neighborhood corner shul for his funeral.
President Clinton; Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani; Governor Cuomo; Governor Cuomo; Governors Pataki and Spitzer; Senators Schumer, Gillibrand, and D’Amato; and City, State, Federal, and international officials and dignitaries; family, friends, and fellow New Yorkers: everyone is here today, and I think there is no doubt that Ed is beaming, looking down on all of us assembled here. And I think it is fitting that he picked this place just a few blocks from a certain East River span.
Before last year’s State of the City speech, if you remember, we ran a video that included a shot of Ed standing at that entrance ramp, yelling to all the cars that approached, ‘Welcome to my bridge! Welcome to my bridge!’
Needless to say, it brought down the house. But what most people don’t know is, after the cameras stopped rolling, Ed stayed out there in the freezing cold for another 20 minutes, yelling ‘Welcome to my bridge!’
He loved it – and we loved him.
No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did. And I don’t think anyone ever will. Tough and loud, brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah – he was our City’s quintessential Mayor.
More than anyone else, Ed knew that New York was more than a place. It is a state of mind, it is an attitude. An attitude that he displayed to the world every day. And we had such respect for him because of his outsized personality and that it was matched by his integrity, his intelligence, and his independence.
I was lucky enough to get Ed’s endorsement in my first run for Mayor; he was one of the few people crazy enough to back me.
I was new to politics. Didn’t know a thing about it. But I’ve always remembered the advice he gave me. He said: Be yourself. Say what you believe. And don’t worry about what people think.
And God knows he didn’t worry about it. He was as genuine a politician as America has ever seen. He understood that if you take tough stances and give it to people straight, they’ll respect you for being honest, even when they don’t agree with you.
That scares the hell out of press secretaries and political consultants, but the average citizen in New York really admired it.
Ed was a gifted student of human nature, but he was also a devoted student of government policy. He had a voracious appetite for information, and his colorful candor sometimes overshadowed the fact that his opinions were informed by tireless study of the issues.
Over the years, many people turned to Ed for advice, including me. No one understood the job like he did – and no one was more eager to talk about it. He was always available, always direct, always wise.
For example, I remember the time we were talking about how to tackle obesity, and he said: ‘Limit’ the size of sugary drinks, no one will ‘notice.’
And then there was the time he told me: ‘Being Mayor for three terms is really great. Go for it.’ Well, what could I do?
Actually, shortly after Ed was first inaugurated, he said: ‘I’m going to act like a one-term mayor – and as a result, I’ll be a three-term mayor.’
He knew from the beginning that the key to success lay in throwing political caution to the wind. And it’s easy to forget just how badly our city needed that kind of leadership – because the New York that Ed inherited is almost unimaginable today: graffiti-filled subways, miles of abandoned buildings, filthy streets that were unsafe to walk in daylight, much less at night, a municipal government that was broke and had stopped functioning.
The South Bronx and other neighborhoods looked like they had been bombed out in an air raid. New York was in a state of despair and decay, and for the first time in our long history, the whole city seemed to be in terminal decline.
New York has always been a magnet for people – a place of growth and progress. As Ed once said, it was the place ‘where the future comes to audition.’ But in the 1970s, that had ceased to be true.
Then came Koch.
Ed held up his hands and shouted: ‘Enough. We will not accept this. Our best days are still ahead.’ Ed convinced us that we could be great again and he reminded us of why we love New York – and he inspired us to fight for it.
He understood how tough our problems were. But because he had the confidence and courage to believe that problems could be cured, he not only arrested our decline and showed that this unruly city was governable, he was not only restoring the city’s fiscal health and made us once again the nation’s economic engine, he was not only building affordable housing where fires had raged, he not only made New York City once again a national leader in equal rights and arts and culture, he did something even more important: He restored the arc of our city’s history.
In the decade before Ed became Mayor, we had lost our way. Thanks to him, we became great again. And let me tell you, that was not inevitable. Ed made it so.
It is fair to say that the city we know today would not exist without him. Everything that David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and I accomplished has been built on the foundation that Ed laid.
It is a foundation that is as strong and as unshakeable as Ed’s faith in the genius and beauty of New York, and his faith in God.
Rabbi Posner, you’ll be happy to know, I’ve been doing my biblical research, and I think it’s only fitting that this week’s Torah portion is about Moses leading the Jews out of bondage in Egypt.
Ed, in his own way, was our Moses. Just with a little less hair. 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.
And 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.
No one ever enjoyed the theater of politics more than Ed. And no one – no one – was ever better at it.
As much fun as it was to watch Ed as Mayor, the real show began when he left public office: lawyer, author, professor, television judge, movie critic, restaurant reviewer, political commentator, reform organizer, Twitter user, even a radio host. The press and politicians never stopped asking his opinions, and so far be it from him to stop offering them. Sometimes even unsolicited. He remained as sharp as ever – and as relevant as ever – right up to his dying day.
As you know, Ed will be buried at Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan. 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?
Ed admired people of all faiths – and he was deeply proud of his own. On his tombstone, Ed chose to have the last words of Daniel Pearl – who was beheaded overseas –inscribed with the words that Daniel Pearl said, ‘My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.’
Has there ever been a simpler, more eloquent statement of pride in one’s faith and in one’s people than those 11 words? It was deeply moving to many of us when we realized that Ed had died on the anniversary of Daniel Pearl’s murder.
A few years ago, we were making a video about some of the tough times the city has been through and we asked him, ‘Would you ever live anywhere else?’ Ed smiled, then he looked straight into the camera and said: ‘The only place I would accept is heaven; nothing else would take the place.’
It’s not hard to picture Ed getting up to heaven, meeting God, and saying with a big smile, ‘How’d I do?’
And there is no doubt – Cardinal, you’re not going to be happy about this, but I’m telling you, I’ve talked to God and I know what’s happening – God said what so many people around the city and the country, and all over the world, have been saying over the last few days: Ed, you did great. You really did great.
So God bless you, Ed Koch, and God bless the city you loved so much and that you served so well.
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