Mario Cuomo

  • Born: June 15, 1932
  • Died: January 1, 2015
  • Location: New York City, New York

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Ex-NY Governor famed for oratory dies at 82

By DAVID KLEPPER and MICHAEL HILL, The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Mario Cuomo had a loud and liberal voice that inspired a generation of politicians to turn to public service, and a story of humble beginnings that he wove into calls for social justice during his three terms as New York governor and years as a national figure when he deflected overtures to become a presidential candidate.

Cuomo died at his home in Manhattan on Thursday of natural causes due to heart failure, just hours after his son Andrew began his second term as New York's chief executive. He was 82.

The son of Italian immigrants, Mario Cuomo played minor league baseball before embarking on a legal and political career. His oratory and his dedication to progressive policies made him a political star, but despite calls to seek the White House, he never made a run for president.

Hours before his father's death, the younger Cuomo delivered an inaugural address in which he honored the Democratic stalwart.

"He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here," Andrew Cuomo said. "He is here and he is here, and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point. So let's give him a round of applause."

President Barack Obama telephoned Cuomo Thursday and offered his condolences. In a statement, the president called Mario Cuomo "a determined champion of progressive values, and an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity, and opportunity."

Cuomo served as New York governor from 1983 through 1994 and became nationally celebrated for his ability to blend the story of his humble upbringing with ringing calls for social justice.

He was also known for the presidential races he stayed out of in 1988 and 1992. Cuomo agonized so publicly over whether to run for the White House that he was dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson."

In 1991, Cuomo left a plane idling on the tarmac at the Albany airport rather than fly to New Hampshire and jump into the battle for the presidential nomination at the last minute. He left the door open for a lesser-known governor, Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

"When he placed my name in nomination at the 1992 Democratic Convention, he said government had 'the solemn obligation to create opportunity for all our people,'" the ex-president said in a joint statement with his wife, former U.S. secretary of state and U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton. "In his three terms as Governor of New York, he honored that obligation."

Cuomo's last public appearance came in November, when Andrew was re-elected governor of New York. The frail-looking patriarch and his son raised their arms together in victory at the election-night celebration.

Andrew Cuomo said he showed his second inaugural speech to his father, who declared it was good, "especially for a second-termer."

Mario Cuomo's big political break came in 1982 when, as New York's lieutenant governor, he won the Democratic nomination for governor in an upset over New York Mayor Ed Koch. He went on to beat conservative millionaire Republican Lewis Lehrman.

His reputation for eloquence was secured at the 1984 Democratic National Convention when he delivered his "Tale of Two Cities" keynote address, in which he told of the lessons he learned as the son of a grocer in New York City.

"I watched a small man with thick calluses on both his hands work 15 and 16 hours a day," Cuomo told the crowd. "I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet — a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language — who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example."

The electrified delegates in San Francisco cheered, "Mario! Mario! Mario!" and some wondered whether they had chosen the wrong presidential candidate in Walter Mondale.

While Mondale's candidacy stumbled, Cuomo took his oratorical skill to Notre Dame University, where as the nation's most famous Roman Catholic supporter of abortion rights, he argued the church should not expect him to press for outlawing abortions, given that many Catholics themselves were having them.

Cuomo was an unusually cerebral politician, given to musing at length about anything from fiscal policy to the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

He was prickly as well as eloquent. Cuomo regularly sparred with reporters, Republicans, fellow Democrats and even children. He once said "I didn't come into this business to be bland," and he rarely was. Complaining about what he saw as anti-Italian stereotyping, Cuomo once said the Mafia was "a word invented by people" and "a lot of baloney." He once had a little boy near tears after asking how old he was and then pressing the child on how he could be sure of that.

In early 1987, he was leading in the polls among prospective White House contenders when he said he would not be a candidate. A more protracted dance in 1991 ended with the filing deadline for the nation's first presidential primary 90 minutes off. Cuomo walked into a packed news conference in Albany and cited a continuing budget battle with New York's Republicans in declining to run.

Before the news conference had even ended, the national TV crews were packing up their cameras.

Cuomo easily won re-election for governor in 1986 and 1990. He repeatedly vetoed legislation that would have restored the death penalty in New York, and he closed down the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. He also built 30 new prisons. Under Cuomo, the state budget grew from $28 billion to $62 billion.

In 1993, he turned down an opportunity to be nominated by Clinton for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, telling the new president in a letter that "by staying active in our nation's political process, I can continue to serve as a vigorous supporter of the good work you are doing for America and the world."

Nineteen months later, with voters tired of him, Cuomo lost his bid for a fourth term to George Pataki, a GOP state lawmaker who had promised to cut taxes and bring back the death penalty.

"I wanted to win this more than any political contest I ever had," Cuomo said as he prepared to leave office. "I'm not good at wanting things in life. I've made a habit of not wanting things too much."

Mario Matthew Cuomo was born on June 15, 1932, and grew up behind the small grocery store run by his parents in Queens.

He attended St. John's University in New York City, and after graduating with honors in 1953, he spent a summer playing minor league baseball in Georgia for a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team. His professional baseball career ended after he was hit in the head by a pitch and spent several days in a hospital.

Cuomo graduated from St. John's Law School in 1956, tied for top class honors, and soon after went into private practice. He came to the attention of New York City's political community in 1972 when he successfully mediated a housing dispute in Queens for then-Mayor John Lindsay.

In 1974, Cuomo made his first run for public office, losing a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Hugh Carey, the newly elected Democratic governor, appointed Cuomo as New York's secretary of state.

He lost a race for mayor of New York City to Koch in 1977. During the campaign, posters that read "Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo" mysteriously appeared in some neighborhoods. Cuomo denied any responsibility, but the bachelor Koch never forgave him.

Cuomo was elected lieutenant governor in 1978.

Following his tenure as governor, Cuomo joined the prestigious Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm in Manhattan. He continued to give speeches across the country.

Cuomo and his wife, Matilda, had three daughters and two sons. Andrew was New York's attorney general before becoming governor. His other son, Chris, is a CNN newscaster. Daughter Maria married designer Kenneth Cole. The other two daughters are Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo and Madeline Cuomo O'Donohue.

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Retired Associated Press Political Writer Marc Humbert in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

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What's being said about Mario Cuomo's death

By The Associated Press, The Associated Press

Reaction to the death of former three-term New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died Thursday hours after his son, Andrew, was sworn in for his second term as governor.

"An Italian Catholic kid from Queens, born to immigrant parents, Mario paired his faith in God and faith in America to live a life of public service — and we are all better for it. He rose to be chief executive of the state he loved, a determined champion of progressive values, and an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity, and opportunity." __ President Barack Obama.

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"Mario's life was the very embodiment of the American dream. ... It was Mario Cuomo's great gift and our good fortune that he was both a sterling orator and a passionate public servant. His life was a blessing." __ President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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"He had room for everybody. There's so much polarization these days. People constrict democracy. But he was a big tent visionary ... He represented that 'light in dark places.' I knew him well and remember him fondly." __ The Rev. Jesse Jackson.

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"He was one of the most principled and courageous public servants I have ever known. He was a forceful voice for civil rights, for equal rights, for economic opportunity and justice. He had the courage to stand by his convictions, even when it was unpopular." __ Vice President Joe Biden.

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"I was deeply inspired by Mario Cuomo's 'Tale of Two Cities' speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. His words ring as true today as they did more than 30 years ago ... So often the voice of conscience, Mario Cuomo was one of the great leaders in the history of the Empire State and perhaps our greatest communicator." — New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

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"Mario Cuomo was a man of unwavering principle who possessed a compassion for humankind without equal. He established the gold standard in New York State for how public servants should act, and set an example that the rest of us continue to aspire to today. " — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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"Mario Cuomo was a legendary figure in New York politics who chose public service for all the right reasons. He could have run for President or been appointed to the Supreme Court, but he chose to stay and serve the people of New York." — Republican state Senate Leader Dean Skelos.

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"He was a strong, eloquent leader who loved New York and its people. As an Italian-American, he was also a role model for future generations that anything was possible through hard work and education. Finally, he was a great husband, father and grandfather." — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

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"He was tenacious about the issues he was passionate about and was a truly gifted orator. The Democratic Party was stronger because of his leadership on a national level." — New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

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"I would not be involved in New York politics were it not for Mario Cuomo. He is, and will always remain, one of my heroes." — New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

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"From the hard streets of Queens, Mario Cuomo rose to the very pinnacle of political power in New York because he believed in his bones in the greatness of this state, the greatness of America and the unique potential of every individual. ... He was a colossal political mind and represented the very best of public service." — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

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"Mario Cuomo was a giant of New York government and politics. As much as anyone he understood and appreciated the mosaic that was New York. All who knew Mario Cuomo were better for it." — U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

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"He never swayed with the political winds — whether on the death penalty or any other issue — and he earned a spot alongside Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, Al Smith, and Franklin Roosevelt in the pantheon of New York's great progressive governors." — Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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"As a young lawyer at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, I had the extraordinary good luck of occupying the office next to his when he joined the firm in 1995. ... Once, after the 1996 presidential election, he asked me what I thought of it. I said, "We won." He then asked, "What have we won?" It's a follow-up question I've never forgotten, and one I ask myself frequently. The answer he taught me: "We've won a grant of time, a short opportunity to do some good.'" __ U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.

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"I join with all New Yorkers in mourning the loss of former Governor Mario Cuomo. He will forever be remembered for his love of our great state, his immense talent as a gifted orator and as the proud son of Italian immigrants. He was a man of integrity and faith who worked every day to improve the lives of all New Yorkers." — Westchester County, New York, Executive Robert P. Astorino, whom Andrew Cuomo defeated for re-election in November.

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"The passing of Governor Mario Cuomo is a true loss to the nation, the state and lovers of civil rights and liberties. He was the last liberal giant of New York politics and was a true statesman/politician. We debated often but he never would reduce our disagreements to petty personal grudges. He was a philosopher at heart that always saw the bigger picture." — The Rev. Al Sharpton.

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"We have lost a giant of New York State politics — a man of great intellect, high principle and incomparable oratorical ability. I was privileged to know him and serve with him."— Robert Abrams, who served as Attorney General when Cuomo was governor.

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Highlights in the career of Mario Cuomo

By The Associated Press, The Associated Press

Here are some highlights in the career of Mario Cuomo:

Born: June 15, 1932, in Queens, New York

Graduated: St. John's University in 1953 and St. John's law school in 1956

1972: Mediates public housing dispute in Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens.

1977: Runs unsuccessfully for New York City mayor, losing to Ed Koch.

1982: Beats Koch in race for governor. Re-elected in 1986, 1990.

1984: Address to Democratic National Convention raises his national profile.

1988, 1992: Stays out of presidential race despite calls for him to run.

1994: Loses bid for fourth term to Republican George Pataki.

2014: Last appearance on election night in November, when he joined his son Andrew on stage to celebrate Andrew's re-election as governor.

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Mario Cuomo's wake and funeral to be held in Manhattan

By VERENA DOBNIK, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York will say farewell to the state's three-term governor, Mario Cuomo, starting with his Manhattan wake.

Visitation is at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday.

Cuomo's funeral is at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue.

He died Thursday evening, hours after his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was inaugurated for a second term.

Andrew Cuomo is postponing his state-of-the-state address until Jan. 21. It had been scheduled for Wednesday.

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By DAVID KLEPPER and JONATHAN LEMIRE, The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Draped in a New York state flag, former three-term Gov. Mario Cuomo's casket has been carried into a church where dignitaries from both sides of the political aisle are remembering his progressive legacy.

His family — including son Gov. Andrew Cuomo — arrived at a Manhattan church in a hearse Tuesday.

Mourners include Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, state Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and Republican-turned-independent former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Democratic State Assembly Speaker put off taking his seat before the funeral started, standing outside in the snow to await the hearse.

Cuomo spoke out for the voiceless and powerless during three terms as governor. The 82-year-old Cuomo died Thursday, hours after Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated for a second term.