Farewell To Mario Cuomo

220px-GovernorMarioCuomoFormer New York Gov. Mario Cuomo died Thursday at 82, just shortly after his son Andrew was sworn into his second term as Governor of New York. I can’t say that I knew Cuomo well, but I had the great pleasure of speaking with him a number of times over the years. I liked him a great deal and I always thought it was a terrible loss to the country when he stepped aside from a run for the White House — leaving the path clear to Bill Clinton to run. He was a deeply caring and intelligent man. While many picked up a genuine quality about him from television, it was even more evident in person where he would put people at ease and convey an honest interest in their views and concerns.

At a time of robotic, blow-dried candidates, Cuomo brought of sense of authenticity and depth to politics. His signature was a certain honesty and directness. He would not insult the intelligence of voters. He could speak profoundly on politics and government . He once said “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

My affection for Cuomo grew during the Clinton impeachment after an act of kindness by Cuomo. I had spoken with him a couple times before, but I was surprised to get a telephone call from him. It was at the height of attacks on me for testifying in Congress that lying under oath was an impeachable offense regardless of the subject matter. The attacks were unrelenting. That is when I picked up the phone and found myself talking to Mario Cuomo. He said that he understood that I was taking the position out of a deep sense of principle and that he respected the commitment to the Constitution. We spoke for a long time about the Constitution (which Cuomo had a great understanding and love for) as well as the viciousness of modern politics. We even discussed our shared Italian roots. It was one of the most memorable and enjoyable conversations that I had in my life. While Cuomo might not have agreed with me on my conclusions, he was a man of great principle and kindness. At a time when our leaders seem increasing diminutive in stature and vision, Mario Cuomo walked like a giant among his peers. You could disagree with his vision, but at least he had one. He could inspire liberals the way that Reagan inspired conservatives. He was the embodiment of what George H.W. Bush later called “the vision thing.”

I only spoke with Cuomo a few times after that but cherished each opportunity. Each time I felt that the country had lost a great president in his decision not to run. I had the opportunity to mention that more than once to him, though I was not alone. He was someone who fought hard for the poor and the underprivileged. Yet, he tried to retain his principles in politics. He made mistakes. Indeed, he famously said once that “Every time I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right, it’s ended up not being right.”

Cuomo’s life story remains an inspiration to many Italians. He was the son of two Italian immigrants and his father ran a grocery store in Queens. He once said “I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in fifty years what my father taught me by example in one week.”

Cuomo went to St. John’s University and later signed as an outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He used his $2,000 bonus to buy a ring from his wife, Matilda — a marriage that lasted over 50 years. (He once said “I am a trial lawyer. Matilda says that at dinner on a good day I sound like an affidavit.”) He was later injured by a ball while playing for the Brunswick Pirates. He decided to attend law school at St. John’s University School of Law and graduated tied for first in his class in 1956. Despite clerking for Judge Adrian P. Burke of the New York Court of Appeals, the prejudice against Italians remained high at the time and he was rejected by all of the large firms that he applied to.

He would of course triumph in the end. His eloquence and dignity offered many voters what they have long missed in American politics: a statesman.

However, my words can hardly do justice to Mario Cuomo. It is much better to remember him in his own words. Here is the speech that introduced Cuomo to many Americans in the 1984 Democratic Convention. While some may disagree with the criticism of GOP policies, it is difficult to deny the magnetic power of this man:

13 thoughts on “Farewell To Mario Cuomo”

  1. I watched that speech in 1984. Two times and I still don’t get it. Most people I knew did well under Reagan. I’m not talking about the well-off, which I think of as the first step out of middle class. I mean the middle of the middle class. It still comes down to two things. Education and optimism.

    The education I got, all public, no off to college, lived at home. I did well because the basics were taught extremely well. We were probably lower middle class. The teachers all along the way expected doing your best, and I did. The courage came from watching my mother add up bills and money available, every night! I vowed I would not do that. Twice a month. That’s all. It gives me a better attitude.

    I workd hard, sometimes took jobs I really didn’t want, but they were a step. And I did well. My husband’s story is basically the same, but they had less. He went to college via ROTC, then served in the Navy to pay back. We didn’t live beyond our means. Eventually we got a color TV, but not day one. I can’t understand waiting in line for a phone! Where were they getting the money? I have the money, but not buying one. Why? I have a cell phone.

    So when Cuomo tells me about all these terrible things I ask, why didn’t Clinton work on those things? Carter started the Department of Education, it sucks in money, our grades are down. It isn’t working. Change it! But no, 30 years of how much money and we have kids who don’t finish school, ten or more countries get better grades, why? And now Obama who I thought from day one would talk to all the kids about school, how important it is, stay and graduate, look what I did! No, just more freebies.

    I read a quote about President Johnson recently. I don’t remember who or where, but he was in the Oval Office when Johnson, paraphrasing “we’ll give all the n_____s everything and they’ll never vote for any other party.” Attack all you want, but isn’t that what Democrats did?

    When Reagan said “a shining city” he was referring to the entire country. I saw people get the tribble-down effect. But lots of people were getting what they needed and didn’t work. Democrats took away the attitude America had. Work hard, honesty, loyalty to your family and you have not just a shot, but lots of shots unless you just give up, as Demicrats suggest.

    If you think he would have been a better President, why didn’t people fight for him? If you sincerely believe he had better qualities and vision, why didn’t we hear about him? Mondale wasn’t your best? Then why did he run? The same reason Dole and McCain ran. It was his turn.

    Sorry, Professor Turley, but I never saw what you saw. Maybe it was about TV not a study. But if he would have been great I’m sorry Democrats didn’t show him to us,

  2. This is a very fine tribute and I learned much from it. I have not seen the man in the media in years and had forgotten some of his very good qualities.

  3. He was my governor when I lived in NYC. A principled and decent man. I was glad he did not run for president. His principles and thoughtfulness, and a run for president seemed to be oxymoronic.

  4. Someone said on CNN[I think] that Cuomo was offered a SCOTUS appointment by Clinton. I never heard that? Anyone?

  5. “Every time I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right, it’s ended up not being right.”

    That’s the difference between a principled politician and a principled law professor.

  6.                                                                                                                    FREEDOM FIGHTERS FOR AMERICA                                      “FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM AND LIBERTY”     http://www.freedomfightersforamerica.com                                                   Good Riddance to a corrupt mobster and nwo traitor. From: JONATHAN TURLEY To: chris@freedomfightersforamerica.com Sent: Friday, January 2, 2015 7:35 AM Subject: [New post] Farewell To Mario Cuomo #yiv8514494136 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8514494136 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8514494136 a.yiv8514494136primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8514494136 a.yiv8514494136primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8514494136 a.yiv8514494136primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8514494136 a.yiv8514494136primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv8514494136 WordPress.com | jonathanturley posted: “Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo died Thursday at 82, just shortly after his son Andrew was sworn into his second term as Governor of New York. I can’t say that I knew Cuomo well, but I had the great pleasure of speaking with him a number of times over t” | |

  7. As a New Yorker I voted for Mario and always enjoyed listening to him speak.He will be missed. RIP…..

  8. I am glad you have fond memories of him Professor. Many New Yorkers especially upstate and conservative Catholics do not. However his time is done and let him rest in peace.

  9. “A tale of two cities”, then and now. Sad that it’s still true. Governor Cuomo was prescient. I wish we had more who speak as powerfully as he did. What a great man and Democrat.

  10. A post from your heart, and it’s a good heart. Like Cuomo, Vince Lombardi suffered from prejudice when trying to get head coaching jobs. How do you think he ended up in Green Bay? Instead of having chips on their shoulders, Cuomo and Lombardi took that pain and turned it into a positive. In Lombardi’s case, he was the first NFL coach and GM to actively draft black players. When you look @ his great teams in the 60’s, they had many more black players than other teams. In the mid 60’s, one of Lombardi’s black players wanted to marry a white woman, taboo in that era. The league threatened to blackball the player. Lombardi gave his blessing to the marriage and that was the end of the controversy.

    Eloquence is a gift from God. When you evaluate a baseball player there are some skills that are just God given, speed and a strong throwing arm are two big ones. If a player has neither, he never will. I rank Cuomo’s eloquence w/ that of Churchill. I always wished Cuomo would have had more of Churchill’s sensibilities.

    Your personal story about how Cuomo reached out to you when the weasels were going for your jugular says a lot, about both of you. It is too bad he’s not alive to make that call again. Because I think your steadfast principles are going to put your butt in the fire again this year.

  11. I remember watching Mario Cuomo in 1984 delivering that beautiful speech. He was a great man. Condolences to Cuomo family from another with Italian roots.

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