Bill Clinton recalls Ed Koch as a mayor—and a pen pal

Holly Bailey
National Correspondent
The Ticket

NEW YORK—Former President Bill Clinton offered a funny and moving eulogy to former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, praising him as someone who truly understood and tried to help “real people.”

Speaking at Koch’s funeral on Monday morning, Clinton praised Koch as someone who “had a big brain but an even bigger heart."

"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 government had on real lives of people," Clinton said. "He could imagine what life was like."

Addressing a crowd that included many of New York’s current and former top political officials, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Clinton said he and Koch had exchanged many letters over the years.

“These are the letters, just the letters, that I got from Ed Koch when I was president,” Clinton said, laughing and holding up a thick stack of papers.

Among other things, Clinton said he had received a copy of every political column Koch had written, as well as missives and advice on policy issues including gun control and health care.

Smiling, Clinton recalled one letter in which Koch urged him to link impotence to smoking in hopes of convincing young kids to curb their addiction to cigarettes.

“This Viagra’s a big deal,” Clinton said Koch told him. “Now, politicians don’t like to talk about this, especially among young people, but young people are way more sophisticated than older people and they get this, and it doesn't work to tell people that they get cancer or respiratory diseases. Go after the virility argument."

Clinton recalled that in his final years, Koch focused on thinking about what life would be like for future generations, and that he had been an early champion of issues like curbing childhood obesity. “It’s not just New York that owes him a lot,” Clinton said.

Koch, who had suffered from health problems since leaving City Hall in 1989, rarely spoke of his own medical issues, Clinton said, but asked about others. Speaking about this last conversation with him, Clinton said the former mayor didn’t speak of his own ailments, but rather asked about the health of his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been hospitalized with a brain clot after a fall in December.

Addressing the late mayor, Clinton said, “We’re all doing fine, but we miss you. We're doing a lot better because you lived and served.”

Bloomberg also gave a eulogy for Koch, praising him as an unabashed champion for New York City.

“He loved it, and we loved him," Bloomberg said.