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Koch Recalled as Mayor Who Lifted New York From Days of Despair

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former mayor Rudy Giuliani
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (C) and former mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) leave the funeral service for former New York mayor Edward Koch at Manhattan's Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

New York’s Edward I. Koch was remembered by mourners as a mayor who restored confidence in the biggest U.S. city’s ability to govern itself and fixed its finances with tough, sometimes uncompromising, policy positions.

About 2,500 attended a funeral for Koch today at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, the city’s largest Reform Jewish synagogue. They heard former President Bill Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg praise him as someone who never stopped caring for the city he led from 1978 to 1989 and who stayed active until his death Feb. 1 at age 88.

The former three-term mayor drew one final standing ovation as his oak casket left the synagogue hoisted on the shoulders of six police officers while an organ played a mournful version of “New York, New York.” A private burial service followed at Trinity Church Cemetery, an Episcopal site in northern Manhattan.

“New York was in a state of despair and decay,” Bloomberg said. “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.” The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Clinton drew laughs as he brandished a sheaf of letters Koch wrote to him while was president from 1993 to 2001, advocating gun regulation, nuclear deterrence and juvenile crime prevention. One letter, co-signed by civil-rights activist Al Sharpton, a frequent Koch adversary while mayor, called for programs to give young offenders “a second chance,” Clinton said.

Doing Better

“No one had a better feel for the impact of what government did on the real lives of people,” Clinton said.

After describing Koch’s penchant for asking “How am I doing?” Clinton addressed the casket and said: “We’re doing a lot better because you lived and served.”

Hundreds gathered outside the synagogue hours before its doors opened at 10 a.m., including some who served in his administration, such as Carl Weisbrod, whom Koch appointed to New York State’s 42nd Street Development Project, which is now credited with ridding Times Square of X-rated theaters and prostitution.

“He wanted to know why more pimps weren’t being arrested, convicted and sent to jail,” Weisbrod recalled. “He was a very tough interviewer.”

Jewish Roots

Nancy Margolis King, 48, traveled from Rhode Island and got in line three hours before the service.

She recalled how as a young girl Koch would visit her parents -- her mother, Barbara Margolis, served as Koch’s chief of protocol and he appointed her father, David Margolis, to the state Financial Control Board after the city’s fiscal crisis.

She recalled how her father saved the mayor’s life as he began to choke on his food as they dined at a Chinese restaurant. His father performed the Heimlich maneuver on the mayor to dislodge the trapped food.

Koch called her father the next day insisting that he tell the newspapers that Koch had choked on vegetables. “He didn’t want the Orthodox Jews to know he had been eating pork,” she said.

Koch never did lose his religious identity. On his gravestone, he chose the last words of the slain journalist Daniel Pearl: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

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