The former three-term mayor, who helped rescue the city from the brink of financial ruin in the late '70s, was remembered at his funeral service as a no-nonsense politician and the quintessential New Yorker who had a softer side that many in the political world didn't see.
The service ended with the organist playing "New York, New York" as Koch's simple Oak wood coffin was carried out of Temple Emanu-El by uniformed pallbearers, prompting the more than 1,000 mourners gathered to break into applause.
It was a fitting ending for the man who came to symbolize the city he loved so much.
"No mayor has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did. And I don't think anyone ever will," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a eulogy of the former mayor, a personal friend.
"Tough and loud, brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah. He was our city's quintessential mayor."
Despite the sadness, the hourlong service, attended by a who's who of dignitaries including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his father, Mario, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, was marked by laughter and jokes as family members and friends recalled humorous anecdotes from Koch's colorful life.
Bloomberg talked about the transformation of New York under Koch's watch from a city that was besieged by unrest and financial collapse to one of greater prosperity and balanced budgets.
"Ed was our Moses with a little less hair," Bloomberg told the congregation at the East 65th Street synagogue. "He led us out of darkness.
"Thanks to him, we became great again."
In one particularly poignant moment, Bloomberg said he could imagine Koch arriving in heaven and asking God his signature catchphrase, 'How'm I doin'?'"
"Ed, you did great. You really did great," Bloomberg said, choking up as he ended his speech.
Former President Bill Clinton flew in from Japan to attend the service, which was officiated by Dr. David Posner, the synagogue's senior rabbi.
He showed off a stack of letters he'd received from Koch while he was president, offering advice on everything from Middle Eastern policy to using the "virility argument" to convince kids to stop smoking. ("This Viagra is a big deal," Koch noted in one letter.)
"He had a big brain, but he had a bigger heart," Clinton said of Koch, who was very close with his wife, Hillary.
The service also included words from Koch's nephews Shmuel, Jonathan and Jared, his young grand-niece and nephew, his longtime chief of staff, Diane Coffey, and friends John LoCicero and James Gill.
Koch's grand-nephew, Noah, spoke lovingly of the man who doted over him and his cousins like a surrogate grandfather, taking joy in their chess matches, soccer games and musical performances. Koch was even sport enough to accompany his grand-niece to a manicure, and wound up with one himself — his first, Noah recalled.
He said that, while most people knew Koch as a tough political operator, there was a
softer side reserved for his family.
"To me, he will always be 'Uncle Eddie,'" he said.
After the ceremony, Clinton appeared overjoyed, beaming as he left the synagogue.
"It was perfect. It was so much a reflection of Ed Koch," he told DNAinfo.com New York.
"Everybody was different and they were serious and funny. It was amazing. I wish every American could have seen it," he said. "It was beautiful."
Before the service, mourners lined up in the frigid cold to say goodbye to the mayor whose wit and no-nonsense attitude came to symbolize the city he led.
Among them was Walter Sedovic, 58, who was first in line and traveled from Bronxville, in Westchester, to say goodbye to the mayor.
"I think, above all, [he] made us believe in the ability of a leader to lead," he said. "He led New York out of a real quagmire, with great benefit for all, but never lost his zeal for being in the public eye."
Sedovic remembered first meeting Koch around 1985 when he was at the South Street Seaport with his young daughter, then about a year and a half old. Koch scooped the girl up and kissed her on the cheek.
"He was that kind of person," Sedovic recalled. "Very human and very warm. And also very shrewd."
The Rev. Ray Roden, a 61-year-old Catholic priest, attended the funeral with four of his seminary students, who are studying to be priests in Queens.
"I keep telling them before they can be priests, they've got to be human beings and they've got to be leaders. And they could learn more from Ed Koch dead that they can learn from a lot of the stuff they're studying in their university classes," he said.
Ben Tucker, 62, who worked for Koch in City Hall in the late '80s, traveled from Washington, D.C., to say goodbye to his former boss.
"He was just an incredible individual," he said outside the synagogue.
"lt's hard to imagine anyone who loved the city more than Ed did. He was incredibly bright, he was bigger than life and he was dedicated to improving the quality of life for New Yorkers."
After the funeral, Koch was buried at the non-denominational Trinity Church cemetery in Washington Heights, the only cemetery with open plots in Manhattan.
Patricia Buchinji, 64, who lives near the cemetery and hails from Nigeria, Africa, remembered Koch as "a really good guy, a real New Yorker," who helped her get an apartment when she first moved to the city in 1980.
"Because of him New York City is a much better place," she said. "I will miss him very much."
A private shiva for friends and family will be held at Gracie Mansion Tuesday and the flags at all city buildings are being flown at half-staff in his memory.
The family is requesting that contributions be made to the LaGuardia Community College Foundation.