By Jim Fitzgerald
Ed Koch couldn't have chosen a more appropriate song to herald his final farewell to New York City.
Strains of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" rang throughout Manhattan's Temple Emanuel on Monday as the colorful former mayor's coffin was carried past thousands of mourners. The packed crowd broke into a spontaneous standing ovation as the coffin made its way out of the synagogue.
Koch died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 88.
Outside the synagogue on Fifth Avenue, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and David Dinkins held their hands to theirs hearts. NYPD helicopters flew overhead and bagpipes wailed on the freezing afternoon. Bagpipes sounded as the hearse slowly pulled away.
Koch was remembered for a big heart and a big brain and as the quintessential New Yorker.
Recalling Koch as "brash and irreverent," Bloomberg said the man who governed the city during the late 1970s and 1980s must be "beaming" from all the attention created by his death. Koch died Friday of congestive heart failure at age 88.
"No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg noted that the funeral was being held near "a certain East River span" — referring to the 59th Street bridge, which was renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2011.
Describing the bridge dedication ceremony, Bloomberg drew laughter from the crowd as he recalled Koch stood there for 20 minutes, yelling: "Welcome to my bridge!"
Noah Thayer, Koch's grand-nephew, praised Koch as a "doting grandfather" who was devoted to his family. Thayer recalled fond memories of Koch attending elementary school soccer games and getting a manicure with his 11-year-old grand-niece.
"While he knew he was often portrayed a s a lonely bachelor, it didn't matter," Thayer said. "He saw in his family only perfection."
Former President Bill Clinton, who served as a representative for President Barack Obama at the funeral, said the world was a better place because Koch had "lived and served."
"He had a big brain," Clinton said. "But he had a bigger heart."
Former Gov. George Pataki called Koch "a wonderful human being and a great New Yorker."
Speaking to reporters outside Temple Emanuel, Pataki noted that people never had to wonder what the outspoken former mayor was thinking. He said he's not sure a person like Koch will ever come along again.
Six uniformed officers from the NYPD and the fire department were standing alongside his wooden coffin as part of Koch's honor guard.
Koch was a friend of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and was helpful during her successful campaign for the U.S. Senate from New York, according to Koch spokesman George Arzt. Koch also backed Hillary Clinton in her presidential run.
The funeral was held at one of the nation's most prominent synagogues, a Reform Jewish congregation on Fifth Avenue. Bloomberg is a member, as are comedian Joan Rivers and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
"I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone," Koch told The Associated Press in 2008 after purchasing a burial plot in Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space. "This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."
Koch led his city for 12 years, with a brash, humor-tinged style that came to personify the New York of the 1980s.
The Democratic mayor is credited with helping save New York from its economic crisis in the 1970s and leading it to financial rebirth. But during his three terms as mayor, he also faced racial tensions and corruption among political allies, as well as the AIDS epidemic, homelessness and urban crime.
In his weekly radio address, Bloomberg called Koch "our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader."
The mayor said his predecessor's "tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship ... helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback."
He added, "When someone needed a good kick in the rear, he gave it to them."
Koch lost the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1989 to David Dinkins, who succeeded him.
Koch said he was defeated "because of longevity." In his words, "people get tired of you."
But as the votes were coming in, he said he told himself, "I'm free at last."
Also Monday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney will make a recommendation to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to rename a Manhattan subway station in Koch's honor.
She will propose that the subway station at East 77th Street and Lexington Avenue be called "Mayor Ed Kochsubway station." She will also announce renaming the street corner there "Mayor Edward I. Koch."
City officials have introduced legislation to officially rename the station.
Updated 1:20 p.m.