Mario Cuomo, the silver-tongued Cicero of the Democratic Party who served as New York Governor for three terms and very nearly became a Supreme Court justice, passed away on the same day as the swearing in of his son Andrew for a second term as governor of New York. He was 82.
Mario Cuomo suffered from a heart condition. The night before his son Andrew delivered his inaugural speech, Mario read the speech from his hospital bed. “He said it was good, especially for a second termer, ” Andrew said, according to the Forward. “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.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “He was an inspiration for generations of New Yorkers who answered the call to service in response to his vision of fairness and equality for all of us.”
Mario Cuomo grew up in an Italian immigrant family in South Jamaica, Queens. He served as a “shabbos goy” at a local Orthodox shul. His battles in the mayoral race against Ed Koch were famously acrimonious, although he later defeated Koch in the bid for governor in 1982. Not long after Cuomo’s victory in 82, he visited Israel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled, “I remember how strongly, firmly and clearly Gov. Cuomo stood with Israel at the time.” Andrew Cuomo visited Israel this past summer during the Gaza conflict on a solidarity mission.
Many supporters believed Cuomo’s main gift was oratory. He famously delivered the “Tale of Two Cities” speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention, and took Reagan to task for his economic policies. Reagan, in an earlier speech, said the U.S. was a “shining city on a hill, ” but Cuomo described it as a “tale of two cities, ” and pointed out instances of distress and poverty, adding, “There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces you don’t see, in the places you don’t visit, in your shining city.”
Although this speech fostered a hope in the minds of many Democrats that Cuomo would run for President, he never launched a campaign for the office. Some criticized his decision not to run, and dubbed him “Hamlet on the Hudson.” Mario Cuomo was on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination by President Bill Clinton who reportedly told his staff that Cuomo, “will sing the song of America. It’ll be like watching Pavarotti at Christmastime.”