Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo dies at 82

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Sunday, January 4, 2015
Remembering former NY Gov. Mario Cuomo
N.J. Burkett has a look back at Mario Cuomo, the political powerhouse who died Thursday night at age 82.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mario Cuomo, a son of Italian immigrants who became an eloquent spokesman for a generation of liberal Democrats during his three terms as governor of New York but couldn't quite bring himself to run for president, has died. He was 82.

His son, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, released a statement: "The family of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo announced that the Governor passed away from natural causes due to heart failure this evening at home with his loving family at his side."

The office of the governor directed on Friday that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff in honor of the former governor. Andrew Cuomo also postponed

his state-of-the-state address for two weeks until Jan. 21.

A wake will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue. The service will be private.

Cuomo served three terms as governor, from 1983 to 1994. He had recently been hospitalized for a month with a heart condition.

Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated Thursday for his second term as New York Governor. Mario Cuomo's last public appearance was Nov. 4th at the victory speech for his son's re-election.

They are the only father-son governors in New York history.

Mario Cuomo is survived his wife, Matilda, 5 children and 14 grandchildren.

Cuomo, arguably the most gifted and powerful orator of his generation, delivered the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Cuomo hoisted the banner of liberalism during a time when conservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, were trying to turn liberal into a 4 letter word. Cuomo became the patron saint of liberals because he was an unabashed proponent of civil rights, a woman's right to choose, and putting people before corporate profits.

His speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention sparked a national following. But it was all sort of an accident, because what he wanted was the vice presidential nomination.

That went instead to fellow New Yorker Geraldine Ferraro. As a consolation prize, Cuomo was given the keynote address.

And to use the baseball analogy, a sport a loved and in his youth wanted to play professionally, the Governor of New York hit it out of the ballpark.

After Reagan's crushing defeat of Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984, Cuomo became a much-talked about potential presidential candidate in 1988 and 1992.

A video Gov. Andrew Cuomo had made as a present for his father's 82nd birthday:

But he backed out both times - at one point moments before he was going to board a helicopter to announce his candidacy in New Hampshire. He became known as the reluctant presidential candidate.

But he was hardly ever reluctant in New York. He was elected governor in 1982, after serving as Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. He even ran for Mayor of Mew York against Congressman Ed Koch. It turned into a dirty campaign, with posters plastered through the city - saying "Vote for Cuomo, not the homo," referring to Koch's rumored sexual preference.

Cuomo denied he or his campaign manager, his then 19 year old son Andrew, had anything to do with the placards but it tainted Koch's relationship with both Cuomos for years.

Mario Cuomo was born in the Briarwood section of Queens in 1932.

His parents, born in Italy, ran a store in South Jamaica. Mario was the oldest son but not the first. The Cuomos' first baby died. His name was Mario. Soon after, they had another baby son - they named him Mario as well.

Mario went to public school and then St. John's where, while in college, he signed to play professional baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball was the young Mario's first love. He was an outfielder and he used the $2000 signing bonus to buy an engagement ring for a girl named Matilda.

Till the day he died, Mario and Matilda Cuomo were rarely apart.

A career in baseball wasn't to be. Playing for the minor league Brunswick Pirates, Cuomo was hit in the head by a pitch. Back then, there were no helmets required. His playing days were over.

So he returned to St. John's, went to law school, but had a hard time hooking up with a law firm. He was discriminated against because he was Italian.

Protecting the underdog, whether it ethnic or income level, would become one of the benchmarks of the Cuomo legacy.

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.

Cuomo was elected lieutenant governor in 1978.

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

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."

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

(Some information from the Associated Press.)