Former President Bill Clinton and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined New York City's political elite on Thursday to mourn the death of Bill Lynch, the political consultant and activist whom many knew as the "rumpled genius."
It was a remarkable show of star power for Lynch, who helped steer Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign and helped elect New York City's first black mayor.
Speaking together before a packed audience of mourners at Manhattan's Riverside Church, both Clintons recalled the strategist fondly and noted that their ties to Lynch went back more than two decades.
"If you heard Bill Lynch's voice only once, you would remember it," said Hillary Clinton. "If you heard that gravelly sound, you just felt a little better."
Lynch, the son of a Long Island potato farmer, successfully managed the 1989 campaign that made David Dinkins the first black mayor of New York City and helped coordinate the 1990 New York welcome celebration for civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. In 1992, he steered Bill Clinton’s campaign in New York state, and later became a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Lynch died Friday at the age of 72 from complications of kidney disease.
"He made history with Mayor Dinkins, he made history bringing our friend Nelson Mandela here, he helped make me president," said Bill Clinton. "But the most important thing he did was help prove that politics could be a noble endeavor."
At Wednesday's service, other prominent Democrats — including Dinkins and the Rev. Al Sharpton — reflected on Lynch's accomplishments and outsize personality.
“Just before I met Bill, I was told, ‘You’re about to meet the best politician in New York, and he’s better than you,’” recalled Bill Clinton, drawing a big laugh from the crowd. “He had the most amazing combination of talents. His approach was both practical and philosophical."
According to Hillary Clinton, Lynch was also a pioneer, who had an innate understanding of people as well as the latest technological advances.
“Today everyone in politics is obsessed with big data,” she said. “But Bill was a numbers guy before there were even computers. ... He had an instinct for having just that perfect touch."
Sharpton also spoke of Lynch in glowing terms, recalling a lifelong friendship with the political strategist.
"President Clinton was right," he said. "Bill Lynch was noble. He had integrity. I'd known Bill for over 40 years, and I can never remember him being anything less."
Sharpton said the fact that Lynch never pursued elected office only speaks to that integrity.
"It takes a bigger man to function without a title, to function without those accolades," Sharpton said. "He taught us how to get things done."