SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

January 2, 2015

Cuomo, item on pg 8

A Most Wonderful Man

That may work for a biased Republican-oriented newspaper, but for me, this man was more than special; he was a remarkable combination of ethics and morality, a brilliant intellect who had the charisma and charm and wit to attract a very large following. He was a devout Catholic and devoted family man. . .all rather unique among politicians.  So, yes, he was so special.

Mario Cuomo / 1932-2015

Longtime N.Y. governor stood as Democrats’ liberal beacon

By Adam Nagourney THE NEW YORK TIMES

KATHY WILLENS ASSOCIATED PRESS   New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo kisses his father, Mario, after the son’s re-election victory in November. Mario Cuomo, a former three-term governor of New York, died yesterday at age 82.

Mario Cuomo, the three-term governor of New York who commanded the attention of the country with a compelling public presence, a forceful defense of liberalism and his exhaustive ruminations about whether to run for president, died at home in Manhattan yesterday, according to a family friend. He was 82.  

The cause of Cuomo’s death was not immediately released. The Associated Press reported that doctors had been treating him for a heart condition.  

Cuomo, the father of Andrew Cuomo, who hours earlier yesterday was inaugurated for a second term as governor, led New York during a turbulent time, 1983 through 1994. His ambitions for an activist government were thwarted by economic recession. He found himself struggling with the legislature not over what the government should do but over what programs should be cut, and what taxes should be raised, simply to balance the budget.  

Still, no matter the problems he found in Albany, Cuomo burst beyond the state’s boundaries to personify the liberal wing of his national party and become a source of unending fascination and, ultimately, frustration for Democrats, whose leaders twice pressed him to run for president, in 1988 and 1992, to no avail.  

In an era when liberal thought was increasingly discredited, Cuomo, a man of large intellect and often unrestrained personality, celebrated it, challenging Ronald Reagan at the height of his presidency with an expansive and affirmative view of government and a message of compassion, tinged by the Roman Catholicism that was central to Cuomo’s identity.  

He was a tenacious debater and a spellbinding speaker at a time when political oratory seemed to be shrinking to the size of the television set. Delivering the keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, he eclipsed his party’s nominee, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, seizing on Reagan’s description of America as a “shining city on a hill” to portray the president as unaware of impoverished Americans.  

“Mr. President,” he said, “you ought to know that this nation is more a ‘tale of two cities’ than it is just a ‘shining city on ahill.’”   The speech was the high-water mark of his national political career, making him in many ways a more admired figure outside his state than in it.  

He enjoyed some successes in New York. He closed the Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island, ending a long and divisive fight over its potential dangers. He signed ethics legislation under a cloud of scandals involving state lawmakers and their employees.   Cuomo, the first Italian-American to be elected governor of New York, served longer than any of his 51 predecessors except Nelson A. Rockefeller. In seeking a fourth term in 1994, he was defeated by George Pataki, a little-known Republican state senator from Peeks-kill.  

Cuomo, a lawyer by profession, held to more than a few positions that went against the grain of public opinion. Most prominent was his opposition to the death penalty, an unpopular view that nearly derailed his first bid for governor. His annual veto of the death penalty became a rite, and he invoked it as a testimony to his character and principles.  

Mario Matthew Cuomo was born in Queens on June 15, 1932, the fourth child of Andrea and Immaculata Cuomo. His parents, penniless and unable to speak English, had come to the United States from the province of Salerno, south of Naples, settling at first in Jersey City.   Mario grew up in the Queens neighborhood of South Jamaica, where the family had moved and opened a grocery store. He worked in the store and on Saturdays served as the   Shabbes goy for an Orthodox synagogue up the street, providing services as a non-Jew that the faithful were not allowed to do for themselves on the Sabbath.  

South Jamaica — an “Italian-black-German-Irish-Polish neighborhood,” as Cuomo described it — provided him with a career’s worth of anecdotes.  

Cuomo graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School in 1953, having majored in Latin American studies, English and philosophy. By then he had settled on a law career and married Matilda N. Raffa, a fellow student. He enrolled on a scholarship in St. John’s Law School; while he studied there, his wife, who survives him, supported them as a teacher.   Besides her and Andrew Cuomo, Mario Cuomo is survived by four other children, Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, Maria Cuomo Cole, Madeline Cuomo O’Donohue and Christopher Cuomo, a journalist at CNN; plus several grandchildren.

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