NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Legendary former New York state Gov. Mario Cuomo died Thursday – the same day his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was sworn in for a second term.
The Cuomo family confirmed Mario Cuomo’s death Thursday evening. He died of natural causes due to heart failure at his home with his family at his side, the family statement said.
Mario Cuomo died at the age of 82, 32 years to the day after he first took the oath of office.
PHOTOS: Remembering Gov. Mario Cuomo
The elder Cuomo served as New York state governor for three terms, from 1983 to 1994. He previously served as New York secretary of state and lieutenant governor.
“Governor Cuomo presented eleven consecutive balanced budgets, reduced taxes, and implemented comprehensive governmental ethics and fiscal reforms,” the family statement said. “From the time Cuomo took office, New York experienced an increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses.”
Mario Cuomo was born June 15, 1932. As 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported, Cuomo was proud of being a grocer’s son, and said he learned his best life lessons from his parents’ hard work in Jamaica, Queens.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Mario Cuomo originally aimed for a career on the baseball field, batting .244 in 1952 during his one season as an outfielder for a Pittsburgh Pirates minor league team.
But legal profession won out after an injury challenged his baseball career, and then it was on to New York politics.
Before running successfully for governor, Mario Cuomo also ran unsuccessfully for New York City mayor in 1977, losing to Ed Koch. But he went on to defeat Koch’s bid for governor in 1982.
“We won because people – people – and the passion of belief are still more important than money,” Mario Cuomo said in his 1982 victory speech.
As governor, Mario Cuomo’s thoughtful and powerful orations brought him national attention, and he did not disappoint.
At the 1984 Democratic National Convention, he brought down the house challenging President Ronald Reagan and what was called a “rose-colored view.”
“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,” former Gov. Cuomo said at the 1984 convention. “Maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places; maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds.”
Cuomo also said in the speech: “The founding fathers gave the power to declare war to the Congress. That power cannot be delegated to the president.”
As 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reported, some said Cuomo’s 1984 speech was as relevant in 2015 as it was at the time.
“How relevant does that remain to this day, and how relevant is that in our whole political, you know, environment?” said political commentator Danny Schechter.
Mario Cuomo was considered a potential frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 1992, but decided not to run both years. His reluctance to run earned him the title “Hamlet on the Hudson.”
Mario Cuomo’s duties as governor always came first. In December 1991, with a plane on the tarmac ready to fly to New Hampshire to enter that state’s first-in-the-nation primary, Mario Cuomo found himself unable to get state Senate Republicans to agree on a plan to close a $4 billion budget gap.
So he prepared two speeches – one saying that he was running, and the other not. At 3:30 p.m. on deadline day, he finally said he was out.
“It’s my responsibility as governor to deal with this extraordinary and severe problem. Were it not, I would travel to New Hampshire today and file my name as a candidate for the Democratic primary,” Cuomo said on Dec. 20, 1991.
Still, he won 3.92 percent of the vote in a write-in campaign for the 1992 New Hampshire primary.
An ardent opponent of the death penalty, Cuomo refused to sign capital punishment legislation. And as a devout Roman Catholic, he was personally against abortion, but he became the poster boy for the pro-choice movement with a speech at Notre Dame University arguing that the state does not have the right to ban abortion.
“I believe that the legal interceding of abortion by the federal government or the individual states is not a plausible possibility, and even if it could be obtained, it wouldn’t work,” Mario Cuomo said in the speech on Sept. 13, 1984. “Given recent attitudes, it would be a prohibition revisited, legislating what couldn’t be enforced, and creating a disrespect for law in general.”
Then-Cardinal John O’Connor considered excommunicating former Gov. Cuomo. But Cuomo was unbowed.
“We cling to our Roman Catholicism,” Cuomo said. “It is consolation and a source of strength, and when someone suggests that they might try to divide that connection, it is profoundly disconcerting, but it’s not going to change anything.”
Ironically, Kramer reported, the plane taking Cuomo to Notre Dame was hit by lightning. But Cuomo refused to see it as a sign that he should not give a speech. He joked with reporters on the plane that he was “at peace with my God.”
Cuomo loved to toy with reporters. For years, he would issue statements quoting a philosopher by the name of A.J. Parkinson, who, for the record, did not exist.
When Koch’s book “Mayor” came out, Cuomo quoted the imaginary Parkinson as saying, “One should never write a book immediately after losing an election.” In another favorite Cuomo quote as A.J. Parkinson, “Honesty is no substitute for experience.”
After losing a bid for a fourth term to Republican George Pataki, Cuomo let down his hair in a 1994 CBS2 interview where believe it or not, he said he was terrified of public speaking.
“I have never liked public speaking,” he told a surprised Kramer.
And while Cuomo only played pro-baseball for a year, he never tired of pointing out that he got a $2,000 signing bonus, while Mickey Mantle, who signed the same year, just got $1,100.
Kramer once asked Cuomo how he wanted New Yorkers to remember him. He said in the 1994 interview with Kramer that he had his epitaph all picked out.
“Mario Cuomo, 1932 to fill in the blank, ‘He tried,’” Cuomo said.
WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb remembered former Gov. Cuomo for his strong rhetorical style and varied subjects of expertise.
“He stood head and shoulders in the average politician in his ability with rhetoric,” Lamb said. “You know, I can remember – he came up to the radio station scores of times to do ‘Ask the Governor’ broadcasts. And he loved to sit there and schmooze about baseball. He was a huge baseball fan; great baseball player in his day. And he was a phenomenal human being.
“He would quote from literature. You’d catch him on a Saturday morning if you called him up, he’d be reading something that would surprise you for a politician to be reading; some classic work of literature or history. He was like that; he just had a phenomenal brain and an amazing ability to surprise,” Lamb continued.
George Arzt covered politics, and then became Mayor Koch’s chief spokesman. He had a front-row seat to Mario Cuomo.
“He was an unbelievable debater, and a mesmerizing speaker; perhaps one of the great speakers in the history of New York and probably the nation,” he told 1010 WINS’ Papa.
Cuomo also once told 1010 WINS’ Papa that he sought to live by New York state’s motto – “Excelsior,” or “ever upward.”
In June 2013, a beaming Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his father’s portrait inside the New York State Capitol’s Hall of Governors, CBS2’s Jessica Schneider reported.
The younger Cuomo said his father wouldn’t even sit for his portrait. The artist had to paint from pictures instead.
Mario Cuomo was hospitalized last month. At his second inaugural address at One World Trade Center on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo invoked his father.
“He couldn’t be here physically today, my father, but my father is in this room,” current Gov. Cuomo said. “He is in the heart and mind of every person who’s here, and here, and here, and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what brought this state to this point.”
The younger Cuomo drew laughs when he showed his speech to his father, who said, “Not bad for a second-termer.”
Numerous elected officials and other leaders from around the state offered well-wishes. Mayor Bill de Blasio highlighted the example the late Cuomo set for governing.
“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,” de Blasio said in a statement. “He was a man who campaigned with poetry and governed with beautiful prose. He was a man who always stood for what he believed in, no matter what challenges were before him. He taught us how the family of New York—and indeed the family of Americans—must always support those most in need of help. And he was a leader who always brought New York State to a better place.
“As he would often remind us, the state’s motto was ‘Excelsior’ or ‘Ever Upward.’ Mario Cuomo personified the idea of New York, always urging us to look ‘ever upward,’” de Blasio continued. “Excelsior, Governor Cuomo. We will never forget his legacy.”
President Barack Obama released a statement on Cuomo’s passing late Thursday night.
“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,” Obama said in the statement. “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.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed Obama’s sentiments.
“”From the hard streets of Queens, Mario Cuomo rose to the very pinnacle of political power in New York because he believed in his bones in the greatness of this state, the greatness of America and the unique potential of every individual,” Schumer said in a statement. “From soaring oratory that stirred the very soul to painstaking coalition building to advance policies and accomplishments, he was a colossal political mind and represented the very best of public service; he leaves an indelible legacy on the state he loved.”
Added U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), “I learned from Governor Cuomo’s example, and his extraordinary legacy will continue to guide my own work on behalf of New Yorkers. I will always be grateful for his wisdom and generosity.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also released a statement.
“Our country and our region lost a giant today with the passing of Governor Mario Cuomo. He was a strong, eloquent leader who loved New York and its people,” Christie wrote. “As an Italian-American, he was also a role model for future generations that anything was possible through hard work and education. Finally, he was a great husband, father and grandfather.”
U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement: “It was under Governor Cuomo’s governorship that The Democratic Party made tremendous strides, and we were able to elect President Bill Clinton into office after more than a decade of Republican control of the White House. Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo always put the best interests of the state and country before the Party or politics, and was dedicated to serving the people of New York.”
In a telephone interview with CBS2, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called Cuomo “as articulate and intelligent and honest as anyone you can find. I was proud to know him. Anyone who knew Mario Cuomo was better for it. Nobody understood the mosaic of New York State, the beauty of the mosaic of New York better than Mario Cuomo.”
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said Mario Cuomo “had much to be proud of, but I’m certain, he was most proud to know that his son, Andrew Cuomo, was sworn in for a second term as New York State Governor today.”
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) recalled how Cuomo brought the state together.
“Having had the privilege of working with him, I always admired Mario Cuomo’s relentless efforts to extend the compassionate hand of government to those most in need. From ‘the Family of New York,’ to ‘the Decade of the Child,’ Mario Cuomo continuously sought to unite New Yorkers to achieve the common good.”
State Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Mario Cuomo “was a legendary figure in New York politics who chose public service for all the right reasons. He could have run for President or been appointed to the Supreme Court, but he chose to stay and serve the people of New York.”
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney highlighted Cuomo’s policies.
“Mario Cuomo will be remembered not only as a great governor, but as the eloquent champion of the voiceless and the dispossessed. His vision of America as a ‘tale of two cities’ foreshadowed the growing income inequality that grips our nation today,” Sweeney said. “His passion inspired others to get involved and to act in service to the public. He was and will continue to be a role model.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called Mario Cuomo a “trailblazer and inspiration to all New Yorkers,” and credited him with overhauling the state’s aging infrastructure, improving public health programs, and leading the nation with the country’s first seat belt laws.
“Mario Cuomo was a remarkable man and a gifted speaker whose renowned speeches and countless contributions to New York will leave a lasting legacy throughout our great state,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement.
And the Rev. Al Sharpton called Cuomo’s death “a true loss to the nation, the state and lovers of civil rights and liberties.”
“We debated often but he never would reduce our disagreements to petty personal grudges. He was a philosopher at heart that always saw the bigger picture. Even when we would engage in debate I felt he was playing chess while I was playing checkers,” Sharpton said in the statement. “His legacy is a better New York and a better nation.”
Mario Cuomo celebrated his 60th anniversary with his wife, First Lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo, last year. He is survived by son Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his girlfriend, Sandra Lee; as well as daughter Margaret (Howard Maier); daughter Maria (Kenneth Cole), daughter Madeline (Brian O’Donoghue), son Chris of CNN (Cristina Cuomo), and 14 grandchildren.
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