Andrew Cuomo On His Father: He 'Was A Tenacious, Competitive, Extremely Strong Man'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP)  Mario Cuomo‘s legacy as a powerful orator, three-term governor and immigrant’s son whose humble upbringing in Queens inspired his approach to public service were championed at his funeral Tuesday by an inarguable heir to his politics — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his son.

“At his core, he was a philosopher. He was a poet. He was an advocate. He was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels,” the younger Cuomo said in a eulogy that spanned from his father’s biggest speeches to his fierce competitiveness on the basketball court.

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PHOTOS: Funeral For Former Gov. Mario Cuomo

The former governor — who flirted with but never made a presidential run and turned down an opportunity to be nominated for a U.S. Supreme Court seat — was a leader whose politics were part-and-parcel of his beliefs, not strategies for pleasing people, the younger Cuomo said.

“He was not interested in pleasing the audience, not in his speech, not in life,” the governor said. “He believed what he believed, and the reaction of the audience or the powers that be or the popularity of his belief was irrelevant to him. Mario Cuomo was at peace with who he was and how he saw the world. This gave him a great strength and made him anything but a typical politician.

“Mario Cuomo was a tenacious, competitive, extremely strong man. He was impatient with the bureaucracy, unrelenting in the face of bigotry, uncompromising in remedying injustice.”

Andrew Cuomo also said his father prided himself on acting as an elegant statesman, except on the basketball court, where he and Mario Cuomo would have “epic” one-on-one battles. Andrew Cuomo said the games allowed his father the opportunity to be his fully aggressive self.

“He would make faces at you, he would taunt you, he would talk constantly in a distracting and maddening banter designed to unnerve you,” Cuomo said. “He would hit you in places the human body did not have anatomical defenses.”

Dignitaries from both sides of the political aisle gathered to mourn the Democratic Party icon. The 82-year-old died Thursday at 82, hours after his son was inaugurated for a second term.

Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and David Dinkins, and state Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos were among the dignitaries in St. Ignatius Loyola Church’s 800 packed seats. Democratic state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver put off taking his seat before the funeral started, standing outside in the snow to await the hearse.

“It was a joy, a celebration of a great man,” Hillary Clinton said of the service.

“I’ve rarely been to a service that better captured who the person was,” Bill Clinton added. “Everybody here left feeling they knew him better and (had) more gratitude for his life.”

The Rev. George M. Witt, the pastor of the Upper East Side church, said Mario Cuomo had made it clear that he wanted a simple, local funeral with little fanfare.

“This has been hard to pull off,” Witt said during the service. “But for those who knew him well, his desire comes as no surprise. For despite the great successes of his career, Mario Cuomo was fundamentally a humble man.

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“In the end, it was not so much the eloquence of his words that spoke to us, but the eloquence of his life, and the world is a sadder place without him,” Witt added.

Governor Mario Cuomo attends the Rodale launch party for Al Gore's New Book 'OUR CHOICE: A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis' at the American Museum of Natural History on November 3, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Rodale)

Governor Mario Cuomo attends the Rodale launch party for Al Gore’s New Book ‘OUR CHOICE: A Plan To Solve The Climate Crisis’ at the American Museum of Natural History on November 3, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Rodale)

State troopers provided an honor guard as the former governor’s casket, draped in the New York State flag, was carried into the Jesuit church, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

Scripture readings — some by Cuomo’s daughters — included the Beatitudes, which were said to be among Cuomo’s favorites, and a quote from the Book of Wisdom that begins, “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.”

About 1,400 mourners packed the chapel. Some had waited in the snow for hours to get in, many wearing Cuomo campaign buttons.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his mother, Matilda Cuomo, watch as the casket of former three-term governor Mario Cuomo departs St. Ignatius Loyola Church on January 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his mother, Matilda Cuomo, watch as the casket of former three-term governor Mario Cuomo departs St. Ignatius Loyola Church on January 6, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

“He is New York,” one mourner said. “The proudest son, makes everyone else feel proud. He’s literally a perfect mix of superstar athlete, strength, honesty, governorship. There’s no better.”

“He was an inspiration to so many generations of people who are still in politics and he was intelligent,” another man said. “He was thoughtful. And he cared so much about each one of us.”

“He defined the family of New York, and never did we need someone like him than at a time like now,” one woman said. “So he’s in our hearts, and he will be with us forever.”

The elder Cuomo was known for his oratorical skills, for powerful appeals for social justice that blended liberal ideals with his personal experience as the son of an Italian immigrant grocer, for an intellectual nature given to discoursing on Jesuit philosophy along with discussing public policy — and for his deliberations over running for president, which earned him the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson.” He came close to running in 1988 and 1992 but decided not to.

Cuomo was most remembered for a speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he focused on an America divided between haves and have-nots and scolded Republican President Ronald Reagan for not working to close that gap.

On Monday, hundreds waited in a line that stretched more than a block to pay their respects at Cuomo’s wake. Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, actor Alan Alda and former state Comptroller Carl McCall were among those who paid tribute.

Even after hours of greeting mourners, his widow, Matilda Cuomo, still managed to smile as she spoke lovingly of her spouse.

“He’s up there, telling God what to do. He’s working with God now,” she said.

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