On the day his son Andrew was re-inaugurated as Governor of New York, famously liberal three-term New York Governor Mario Cuomo died at age 82 in Manhattan. His family said that he died of "natural causes due to heart failure this evening at home with his loving family at his side." Politico's headline: "American liberalism loses its poet."
Cuomo wasn't present at Governor Andrew Cuomo's swearing-in, and his son said, "He couldn't be here physically today, my father. But my father is in this room. He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here. He is here ... and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point."
Politico wrote, "He was, in his day, the poet laureate of American liberalism, the Democratic Party’s most passionate defender of the underdog and its most articulate critic of the trickle-down gospel of Reaganomics. A fiercely proud son of immigrants, he believed, as he once put it, that if he could rise to “the highest seat in the greatest state in the greatest nation, in the only world we know,” then anything was possible. But Mario Cuomo also believed that even the hardest, most self-reliant workers need - and deserve — a helping hand, and that it is a compassionate society’s responsibility (and privilege) to provide one. That basic faith, professed in an era of national self-centeredness, may be his most lasting legacy to a country that still struggles to balance its competing allegiances to self-reliance and the commonweal."
The elder Cuomo captured the imagination of Americans during his 1984 keynote address (transcript) at the Democratic National Convention where he took President Ronald Reagan to task:
Ten days ago, President Reagan admitted that although some people in this country seemed to be doing well nowadays, others were unhappy, even worried, about themselves, their families, and their futures. The President said that he didn't understand that fear. He said, "Why, this country is a shining city on a hill." And the President is right. In many ways we are a shining city on a hill.
But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. 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. But there's another city; there's another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.
In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can't find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn't show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit in your shining city.
In fact, Mr. President, this is a nation -- Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a "Tale of Two Cities" than it is just a "Shining City on a Hill."
The "Tale of Two Cities" concept was used by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of his mayoral campaign; de Blasio released a statement, "Tonight, New York has lost a giant. Mario Cuomo was a man of unwavering principle who possessed a compassion for humankind that was 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."
President Barack Obama said, "Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. 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. His own story taught him that as Americans, we are bound together as one people, and our country's success rests on the success of all of us, not just a fortunate few. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Mario's wife Matilda, his children, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Maria, Margaret, Madeline, and Chris, and his family, friends, and New Yorkers who loved him dearly."
The son of Italian immigrants who grew up in Queens, working in his parents' store in South Jamaica; the Post explained, "His parents did not speak or read English. But [Cuomo] said, only half in jest, that papa Andrea knew the difference between an A and a B on a school report card. Andrea whacked Mario on the ears for getting a B."
In an obituary, the NY Times notes that Cuomo "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.. Mario Cuomo led New York during a turbulent time, 1983 through 1994. His ambitions for an activist government were thwarted by recession. He found himself struggling with the State 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."
Mario Cuomo had a combination of skills rarely seen in public life. Unlike most pols, he had an active interior life. He spent hours reflecting on events and writing in his diary, not to tout his greatness but to formulate his own thinking. His bookcases were crammed with books he had read and annotated—works by Aristotle, Dante, Marcus Aurelius, and the Jesuit theologian Teilhard de Chardin. His ego was in check and, unlike such able contemporaries as Ed Koch and Hugh Carey, he did not treat others in a room as his audience. He had the rare ability to listen, and he could see four sides of an issue. In the early seventies, these talents allowed him to successfully mediate the seemingly unbridgeable Forest Hills housing divide—low-income public housing was moving into an upper-middle-class neighborhood—and in the process develop a citywide identity.
Cuomo is survived by his wife Matlida; children Andrew, Margaret, Maria Madeline and Chris; and 14 grandchildren.
Here's the press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office:
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.
He was 82 years of age.
The Fifty Second Governor of New York State, Governor Mario Cuomo served as New York’s Chief Executive from 1983 through 1994. He was credited with simultaneously improving the business environment of New York and the quality of life for its citizens, despite a national recession at the time.
Governor Cuomo presented eleven consecutive balanced budgets, reduced taxes, and implemented comprehensive governmental ethics and fiscal reforms. From the time Cuomo took office, New York experienced an increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses.
Proclaiming the Decade of the Child, Mario Cuomo ushered in a multi-faceted effort to improve the lives of all New York’s children. His administration became the first in the country to develop an Energy Plan and to sign into law controls on acid rain among many undertakings.
Prior to his election as governor in 1983, Governor Cuomo served in the public and private practice of law for 18 years, simultaneously teaching as an adjunct professor for more than ten years at The St. John’s School of Law.
Mario Cuomo first gained public recognition for his resolution of the Forest Hills housing controversy in 1972. He was appointed to serve as the Secretary of State of New York in 1975 and in 1978 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor. He later received national attention for his 1984 Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
2014 marked 60 years of marriage to first lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo, a graduate of The St. John’s University Teacher’s College. The Governor is survived by his children, Margaret (Howard Maier), Andrew (Sandra Lee), Maria (Kenneth Cole), Madeline (Brian O'Donoghue), Christopher (Cristina Cuomo), as well as 14 grandchildren: Christina Cuomo Perpignano,
Marianna Cuomo Maier, Cara Kennedy Cuomo, Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, Emily Cole, Amanda Cole, Katherine Cole, Samantha O'Donoghue, Kristin O'Donoghue, Tess O'Donoghue, Bella Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, and Carolina Regina Cuomo.
Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.