Liberal lion Mario Cuomo dies at age 82

  • New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo raises his hands to get through the crowd at his election headquarters, Sept. 9, 1977, to comment on results of the Democratic Mayoral primary in New York City. Cuomo placed second in a field of seven candidates with about 19 per cent of the vote, and will race front-runner Edward Koch in a runoff election on Sept. 19.
  • Secretary of state Mario Cuomo and Queens Borough President Donald Manes stand outside of Times Square campaign headquarters in New York, Sept. 11, 1977. 
  • Marching down New York’s Fifth Avenue during Columbus Day Parade, in New York, Oct. 11, 1982, are from left Congressman Mario Biaggi, New York City Mayor Edward Koch, Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo and Westchester County Executive Alfred DelBello. 
  • New Yorks Governor Mario Cuomo, at podium, welcomes Democratic candidates for the White House at a campaign forum, Oct. 6, 1983, New York. The candidates at the table are from left: former Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota; Sen. Alan Cranston of California; Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina; former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew; Sen. John Glenn of Ohio; Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado; and former Vice President Walter Mondale.
  • New York Gov. Mario Cuomo gives thumbs up gesture with both hands during his keynote address to the opening session of the Democratic National Convention, July 17, 1984 in San Francisco’s Moscon Center. 
  • Politicians react to an awkward situation on New York’s Fifth Ave as they follow a mounted unit in the annual Columbus Day parade in New York, Oct. 8, 1984. From left are Democratic Presidential Candidate Walter Mondale, a security agent. Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. 
  • New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, appearing on a live call-in radio show in New York, Nov. 14, 1991, said that he won’t be able to make a decision on his presidential candidacy until he solves problems with the state budget. 
  • Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, right, gives a thumbs-up sign to a rally at Adlai Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Oct. 25, 1992 during a campaign visit. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, left, accompanied Clinton to the rally. 
  • David Dinkins and Mario Cuomo, Oct. 26, 1989.
  • President Bill Clinton (center) watches the Super Bowl on television Jan. 31, 1993 with Texas Gov. Ann Richards (left) and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (right) in the White House theater. Chelsea Clinton sits at her father’s feet holding Socks, the family cat.
  • Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo is surrounded by cameras as he arrives for the funeral of former Gov. Hugh Carey, Aug. 11, 2011 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. 
  • Honorees and Governor Mario and Matilda Cuomo attend the HELP USA Tribute Awards Dinner honoring HELP HEROES President Bill Clinton and Governor and Mrs. Mario Cuomo at The Waldorf Astoria on June 5, 2012 in New York City.

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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.”

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