Reflections on Mayor Koch

Last May, I had the honor of being introduced by Mayor Koch at the Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute.  I was incredibly touched by the Mayor’s recollections of his relationship with my predecessors, and his kind words about me.  Re-reading these words brought a smile to my lips today as I remembered Mayor Koch.  I hope they do the same for you.

Edward I. Koch

Introduction of Timothy Cardinal Dolan

Manhattan Institute – Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner

May 21, 2012

I am now in my 88th year.  Since my entry into politics and government service, I have had the privilege of meeting, working with, and becoming friends with four cardinals of New York – Terence Cardinal Cooke, John Cardinal O’Connor, Edward Cardinal Egan and the current cardinal, whom I have the honor of introducing to you this evening, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Before I make that introduction, allow me take a few minutes to comment on my friendships with his predecessors.

I was a congressman and then mayor when I first came to know Terence Cardinal Cooke.  Of the four cardinals I have known, he was the most beloved by the public.  He was a very gentle man and perceived early on as a saintly figure.  Indeed, Cardinal Cooke is currently being considered by the Vatican for sainthood, and I have given testimony in the Vatican’s extensive inquiry into such a designation.

Having nothing to do with his saintliness, but much to do with our friendship, I recall when Cardinal Cooke opened a Fifth Avenue door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that had been closed for 100 years.  He asked me to stand with him when he unlocked the entrance.  As the sunlight poured through the open door, he said, “Mayor Ed, this cathedral belongs to you. ”  (I could never get him to call me Ed.  When he said “Mayor Ed,” I could hear the neighing of horses, there being a very popular television show at the time featuring a talking horse called “Mr. Ed,”) but at that moment, I did indeed feel as though the cathedral belonged to the cardinal and me.

John Cardinal O’Connor came to St. Patrick’s in 1984 after the death of Cardinal Cooke.  He was an archbishop at the time.  He invited me to go to Rome with him when he was called to receive his red hat.  (I suggest to my Jewish brothers that we adopt the same color for our yarmulkes.)  I went to Rome with him and was one of four witnesses who signed the deed bestowing upon him a Catholic Church in the City of Rome.  The signing of the deed is one of the rituals in the process of becoming a cardinal.

On another occasion, Cardinal O’Connor invited me to join him on a pilgrimage for peace to Our Lady of Knock Cathedral in Ireland.  I was delighted to go with him.

When we were in Dublin, I was asked by Tony Guida, a New York City television reporter, what I thought of the role of the British troops in Ireland.  I said, “I think they are peacemakers.”  I was running for reelection as mayor at the time.  When we disembarked at Kennedy Airport,  I followed Cardinal O’Connor off the plane and heard a reporter ask him what he thought of my characterization of the British.  He replied, “The dumbest statement I’ve heard in years.”

When I returned to City Hall my dear friend Paul Crotty, who was then my Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development, said to me, “Mayor, how could you compare three years of being nice with 800 years of oppression?”  They were both right to chastise me.  Thankfully, the New York City Irish community ultimately forgave me.

I learned the meaning of the phrase “invincibly ignorant” as a result of my relationship with Cardinal O’Connor.  I asked Catholic friends of mine why he tolerated and never berated me for the positions I held on very controversial social issues which were at variance with his.  I was told he held the view that I, being “invincibly ignorant,” was not responsible for my views.  Catholics on the other hand, were fully responsible for their positions.  The Catholic Church, he would say, is not a “salad bar” from which Catholics may choose to accept or reject moral values and other obligations.

I loved Cardinal O’Connor as a brother.  Since his death, I have kept his funeral memorial card on my desk.  When I’m depressed, which occasionally I am, I hold the card and become reinvigorated.  Indeed, I believe holding his photo when I was in the hospital for six weeks in June of 2009 cured my spinal stenosis.  I’ve been free of pain ever since.  I told this story to President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago.  He asked me if he could borrow the photo.

Edward Cardinal Egan visited me in the hospital when I was in danger of dying from complications of quadruple bypass surgery.  I said to him, “Your Eminence, I’m not afraid of dying.  I’ve had a very good life, and if God now needs a good Jewish lawyer, I’m happy to go to Him.”  He replied, “Don’t worry, He’s not calling you and you’re not going.  Your rates are too high.”  He was right and here I am.

Of the three cardinals I have mentioned, Edward Cardinal Egan was the most intellectual and witty.  With a patrician glance he could disembowel a cowardly legislator, member of the clergy and anyone else who was not straight with him.

And now on to Timothy Cardinal Dolan.  He came to our city in 2009 as Archbishop of New York, and on February 18, 2012, he was elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.  The position of Cardinal-Archbishop of New York has long been recognized as the foremost position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States.

Cardinal Dolan is also President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an honor bestowed upon him by his fellow bishops in this country.  Holding that position gives his voice a special significance and authority in the U.S. and worldwide.

Those who have met the Cardinal love his affability and lack of formality.  Do not be misled by his graciousness however.  He is tough as nails and, in a way, combines all the separate strengths of the cardinals I have ascribed to those who preceded him.

Like Cardinal Cooke, he has a gentleness that makes for an immediate bonding.  Like Cardinal O’Connor, he believes it his duty to teach the faith and make clear to all Roman Catholics that the Church is not a “salad bar.”  Like Cardinal Egan, he is an intellectual who will go toe to toe with anyone and everyone in making his case on behalf of the Church and Pope Benedict XVI.

I am delighted that he and I, in a short time, have established a warm relationship.  I was truly pleased when he attended my 87th birthday party at Gracie Mansion where former commissioners and deputy mayors from my administration gather every year to celebrate the event.  When I saw him enter, I immediately rushed to welcome him and said, “Your Eminence, how can I help?”  His reply, “Show me where the bar is.”

I was overwhelmed with joy when on St. Patrick’s Day before the Mass commenced, he asked me to join him, his fellow bishops, and a half-dozen Catholic laymen (very wealthy ones I should add) to announce that the renovation of St. Patrick’s Cathedral at a cost of 175 million dollars would begin.

I love St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  At the request of the cardinals with whom I became good friends, I have attended Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve for more than 40 years.  On one occasion Cardinal O’Connor announced to the congregants, “Mayor Koch is in his seat.  Let the Mass begin.”

The City of New York has been very lucky with respect to the archbishops and cardinals who have reigned here.

But one of them, to whom our new archbishop has looked for particular guidance, is Archbishop John Hughes, the first Archbishop of New York.  Archbishop Hughes was commonly referred to as “Dagger John,” because the cross that preceded his signature looked more like a dagger than a cross.  “Dagger” John also earned his name for his courage and resiliency in fighting on behalf of his flock – most notably, in founding the remarkable system of Catholic schools in New York City.

At his installation Mass in April 2009, wearing the very cross once worn by Bishop Hughes, Archbishop Dolan pledged himself to the flourishing of New York’s Catholic schools.  He has shown extraordinary leadership in the effort to prepare these schools to continue their critical mission well into the 21st century – an effort that many of you here tonight so generously support.  In this challenging time, the cause of Catholic education could not ask for a greater champion.

Let me close by saying that it is a great honor for this Jewish boy born in the Bronx to introduce a Prince of the Roman Catholic Church and call him friend.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great honor to present to you His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

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12 Responses to “Reflections on Mayor Koch”

  1. Mavis Hucker says:

    I am a Catholic (not salad bar) who was formally a Methodist that had her eyes and heart upon the Catholic Church ever since attending a Christmas Mass at the age of about 12 years old. Finally became a Catholic after marriage and five children and always wondered why I didn’t do it sooner.
    I have enjoyed Mayor Koch during his time as Mayor of NYC and so very much enjoyed his views of the four Cardinals in this article. And I have followed Cardinal Dolan since he took over in Milwaukee, WI and was happy to see him chosen for NYC … may the good Lord continue to bless him.
    I was sorry to hear of the passing today of Mayor Koch and will pray for his soul. It seems that he had a very special place in his heart for the Catholic Church and its people. May God Bless Him.

  2. Jim Cowan says:

    Mayor Koch was a friend of our Church as well as a defender. He was just as upset at anti-Catholic sentiments as he was at anti-Semitism. He built and crossed bridges through his friendships with the four Cardinals he considered friends. May he rest in eternal peace.

  3. Tomas C says:

    I understand that the Cardinal & Mayor Koch struck up a kinShip/Friendship in a short time and that is Great… However I don’t understand why the Cardinal didn’t try to Lead His friend to a Saving relationship through Jesus Christ, Knowing that Jesus said,”HE is the Way, the Truth and the Light, And NO MAN enters into the kingdom of God except through ME”. And that it’s NOT THROUGH WORKS THAT WE ENTER HEAVEN, But through the Blood Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Please See If Ephesians 2:8,9. WHY, Oh WHY Are Clergyman hesitant to Speak what is Writtian in GODS HOLY WORD?? If JESUS SAYS” He’s the ONLY WAY, is HE OR NOT, Cardinal Dolon?? Because of our hesitancy to Speak Gods Word, WE May actually cause our friends and family members to Miss Heaven. Despite what Some say, we all don’t enter the kingdom of God. Read Gods Words for LIFE!!

  4. MaryMarilyn Corso says:

    Ed Koch was such an intelligent man too!

  5. Patty Sprofera says:

    Thank you, Mayor Koch. Rest in Peace.

  6. Mary Reynolds says:

    What a great introduction! Thank you Cardinal Dolan for sharing this on your blog. It helps us “regular folks” who are not fortunate to attend events as the above mentioned, a glimpse of what we miss.

  7. Joel says:

    The new guidelines for the HHS Mandate provide unacceptable coverage for women through their employment by Catholic hospitals and schools. Don’t rationalize!

  8. P Murphy says:

    They sure dont make them like Ed Koch anymore.

  9. Al Pinto says:

    Mayor Koch sounded like a good “Catholic Brother”!
    Maybe the Lord will grant him a heavenly recompense for
    his Catholic Care and justly-Jewish benevolence and friendship: !}

    Albert Pinto

  10. Fr. Leonard N. Peterson says:

    Thanks Cardinal Dolan for allowing me to read Mayor Koch’s moving introduction of you, and that wonderful blend of priestly fidelity to the Church with your signature good humor. That for me is “evangilization in person.” Father Len Peterson, now retired

  11. What a wonderful introduction and a moving speech by Mayor Koch. Thank you Cardinal Dolan for sharing this beautiful and thoughtful tribute to our NYC Catholic Bishops…you can tell Mayor Koch had a genuine and sincere love for these wonderful men. RIP Mayor Koch.

  12. Robert Naumann says:

    First, this is a wonderful view into the kind of man Ed Koch was – gifted in delivering messages like this and a blessing to many through his work in public life. The respect and admiration he describes for the Cardinals he knew through his career and life is exemplary of how he truly was and also provides quite a glimpse into what the Cardinals were like too. For Tomas C. – I don’t think there’s any way that Ed Koch could have avoided hearing the gospel message after sitting in St. Patricks’ for Christmas Eve Mass 40 times! So, all of the Cardinals above sought to gather the lost. Your challenge is inappropriate and misguided. We don’t know if Ed Koch was a believer or not. Only God knows.