Liberal lion Mario Cuomo dies at age 82
One of the last great liberal lions, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo died on New Year’s Day at 82, leaving behind a legacy both enormous and unfulfilled.
Earlier Thursday, Cuomo’s son Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated to his second term as governor of New York. In his speech, Andrew Cuomo said his father was too ill to attend the inauguration ceremony, noting that the two spent New Year’s Eve together Wednesday.
In a statement released Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office confirmed that the former governor died of natural causes in his home. “Governor Cuomo presented 11 consecutive balanced budgets, reduced taxes, and implemented comprehensive governmental ethics and fiscal reforms,” the statement says, noting that “2014 marked 60 years of marriage to first lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo.”
In addition to his wife and son Andrew, the former governor is survived by daughter Margaret, daughter Maria, daughter Madeline and son Christopher.
“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,” President Obama said in a statement released Thursday. Obama called Andrew Cuomo Thursday to extend his condolences, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
In the era of Ronald Reagan, Mario Cuomo was an unabashed liberal who famously called out the president’s sunny optimism during a 1984 Democratic National Convention keynote speech that catapulted the governor into a national leader and became a touchstone for a generation of progressives.
While Reagan called America a “Shining City on a Hill,” Cuomo said “this nation is more ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’” “A shining city is perhaps all the president sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well,” Cuomo said. But there exists, “another part to the shining the city … where students can’t afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”
Cuomo served three terms as governor of New York, but never ran for president, as many Democrats expected him to do. His indecision over whether to run for president even earned him a nickname: Hamlet on the Hudson. And in 1992, Cuomo came so close to a run that he had an airplane waiting on the runway, ready to fly him to New Hampshire to enter the race. He never boarded the plane.
Another chance for national office came a few years later when President Bill Clinton offered to appoint Cuomo to the Supreme Court, but he turned that down as well.
Cuomo’s decisions not to seek either office have haunted some liberals, but not Cuomo. He told The New York Times in 2011 that he always believed there was someone more qualified than he to sit in the Oval Office or on the Supreme Court.
Cuomo was also a staunch defender of government’s ability to help people, often citing his own family’s rags-to-riches immigrant story. During the peak of “tough-on-crime politics,” Cuomo led the fight against the death penalty both in his home state and nationally.
Cuomo was religious, but pro-choice at a time when abortion rights were not a litmus test for Democrats. He explained his relationship with religion and politics at a famous speech at Notre Dame University that, along with his convention speech, helped make him one of the greatest political orators of the 20th Century.
A savvy deal-maker who was willing to make compromises to get things done, Cuomo often said, “You campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”