Today funeral services were held for Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City who died on Friday at the age of 88. The service, held at Temple Emanu-El on East 65th Street in Manhattan, featured New York fixtures like Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, alongside former President Bill Clinton, who knew Koch via Hillary Clinton's days in the New York Senate. Clinton delivered his eulogy after cutting short a trip to Japan.
Clinton cited Koch's constant awareness of how the decisions of public officials affect New Yorkers — especially the most destitute — and repeatedly emphasized his compassion for children: "To the end of his life [Koch] was thinking about what life would be like for the youngest people if they made choices, or had choices forced on them, that would foreclose their futures."
"We miss you so much," Clinton concluded, "because we all know we're doing a lot better because you lived and served."
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Or read the transcript:
Pat and members of the family, the mayors, the governors, the senators, the other dignitaries that are here: yesterday I flew home from Japan after spending eight hours there. It was Ed Koch's last gift to me, because you know, you pick up a whole day when come back from Japan, and at our age, every day counts.
So, thanks Mayor.
I come here to speak for myself and also for Hillary, who loved him very much an d was grateful for his endorsement in every race she ran, and most grateful for a typically Ed Koch deal. After she became a Senator, he said, you know, I was for you, and New Yorkers, we come from everywhere, and not everybody can be lucky like and just be 100% New York. But, you gotta get better at this.
So, every holiday season for years, he organized the following lunch: Ed Koch, Hillary, and Al DiMato. I have yet to receive a full report on any of those lunches. But it was so typically Ed.
We were told not to speak long. This is not my speech. These were just the letters I got from Ed Koch when I was President. So I thought I'd tell you about them.
He really weighed in when I was trying to pass the crime bill in 1995. He supported more police on the street, the limitation on the size of ammunition clips, the ban on assault weapons. And Governor, he's be very proud of you, today.
But, there was a whole 'nother section of that bill which provided more funds for young people in troubled neighborhoods to engage in positive activity and things for kids to say yes to.
And then he wrote me a whole bunch of letters over a period of three years basically saying I hadn't done enough on that. One letter, co-authored with the distinguished Harvard African-American professor Charles Ogletree.
Another from Ogletree and Al Sharpton and Ed Koch saying that it was imperative that we give young people who'd gotten in trouble a second chance. That they should be given a chance to serve in AmeriCorps, or do something else, and then, if they got their GED and they stayed off drugs, their records should be sealed and their convictions should be purged. So that if ever they were asked again in life did they have a criminal conviction, they honestly could say no. He said, you have to give people a second chance.
Then there was a letter about the Holocaust Memorial. And our sharing the opening and his unfailing support of Israel. There was a fascinating letter about the importance of not giving up on missile defense research and not making the Russians mad. He said, just do it with them. The scientists need work and we'll share it all.
There were some of them that were rather funny. He was very proud of the mayor for his anti-smoking initiatives. He hated cigarette smoke, and he loved the fact that Senator McCain joined many Democrats and we made some progress in trying to roll back the tide of cigarette use, especially among young people.
But late in my tenure, McCain tried another bill and it didn't pass. I couldn't pass it. He was mad and he said, you know, we gotta do something to convince these young people to quit smoking, and there's just been a new study saying that it impacts virility. You know, this Viagra's a big deal.
This letter's hilarious.
He said, now politicians don't like to talk about this, especially among young, but young people are way more sophisticated than older people, and they get this. And it doesn't work to tell people who are going to get cancer or respiratory diseases. Go after the virility argument!
Then, in 2000, when he became concerned about the turn of the election, he sent me a column he'd written (he sent me all of his columns, but this one was really great) with the 10-point plan for victory for the Democrats in 2000. He wanted campaign finance reform, universal healthcare, a prescription drug benefit for seniors, he wanted no tax cuts until the debt was paid down.
So, Mr. Mayor, it's not just New York that owes him a lot.
And he had a lot of other interesting things. He still wanted to give young people a second chance. He used to say that he was a liberal, but he was sane— which was another way of saying, I believe in government but you have to look at the impact of this. I don't think I ever debated, discussed, agreed with, argued with, anybody in this line of work who had a better feel for the impact of what people government did on the real lives of people. He could imagine what life was like.
One of this great second-chance ideas was that there ought to be a universal Scouting program for America, for really young people. And I had been out in Montana, talking with, meeting with some people in 4H. And I said, you know, if every kid in America was in 4H, we'd have half the problems we got.
Ed wrote me a letter, and he said, no we wouldn't, we would have far less than half. And that's why you should get behind this Scouting proposal of mine, and let all these kids who'd have nothing else to do and who are disaffiliated — that's the word he used, 'disaffiliated' — reconnect to the mainstream of life by giving them something positive to be a part of.
Mayor Koch wrote ten non-fiction books, four mysteries, and three children's books. The last one, he honored me, by asking to write a foreword, to Eddie Shapes Up. And it was a direct response to the fact that childhood obesity is the number one public health epidemic in America today.
The mayor got a lot of laughs out of his soda remark. But there is truth there. To the end of his life he was thinking about what life would be like for the youngest people if they made choices, or had choices forced on them, that would foreclose their futures.
Ed Koch wanted us all to shape up.
I sent him a note on his 88th birthday and he wrote me a nice letter back. He didn't typically mention his own illness. Instead he'd ask about Hillary's health instead.
He had a big brain, but he had a bigger heart.
So Ed, how's she doing?
She's doing fine, but she misses you.
We're all doing fine, but we miss you.
And we miss you so much because we all know we're doing a lot better because you lived and served.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.