Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo dead at 82

His death came on the same day that his eldest son, Andrew Cuomo, delivered inaugural addresses in Manhattan and Buffalo after being sworn in for his own second term as governor.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo embraces his father Mario (photo credit: REUTERS)
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo embraces his father Mario
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ALBANY, N.Y. - Mario Cuomo, the three-time governor of New York and a leading voice of the Democratic Party's liberal wing who turned down several invitations to seek the US presidency, died on Thursday. He was 82.
His death came on the same day that his eldest son, Andrew Cuomo, delivered inaugural addresses in Manhattan and Buffalo, New York, after being sworn in for his own second term as governor.
A statement issued by the governor's office later in the day said the elder Cuomo, who served as New York's chief executive from 1983 through 1994, had died of "natural causes due to heart failure this evening at home with his loving family at his side."
The former governor, long a celebrated political orator who was a favorite of the Democratic Party's progressive contingent, was hospitalized on Nov. 30 for treatment of a heart condition.
Cuomo was a strong supporter of Israel and visited the Jewish State during the very first year as governor in 1982, The Jewish Press reported.
“I remember how strongly, firmly and clearly Gov. Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, stood with Israel at the time,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled this past summer when his son Andrew visited Israel on a solidarity mission at the height of Operation Protective Edge.
His younger son, Chris Cuomo, of CNN's "New Day," informed the cable network shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday that his father had died at his home, CNN reported. During that time Andrew Cuomo was speaking at the Erie and Buffalo County Historical Society. Mario Cuomo's home was in Manhattan.
In his inauguration address on Thursday, Andrew Cuomo said he had read his speech to his father the night before.
"He said it was good, especially for a second termer," the younger Cuomo 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."
Mario Cuomo was first elected as governor in 1982 and came to national attention two years later when he gave an electrifying keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, criticizing the policies of then-President Ronald Reagan and mocking him for having likened America to a "shining city on a hill."
Cuomo countered by saying, "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 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."
His speech defining Republicans as looking out only for the well-off and Democrats as champions of the middle class and the poor propelled Cuomo to the forefront of the party leadership.
After easily winning re-election to a second term as governor, Cuomo was the apparent front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. There were reports of a private plane idling on a runway in New York's capital of Albany to fly him to New Hampshire to file for the nation's first primary.
But the filing deadline came and went, and Cuomo's reputation as a reticent Hamlet-like figure began to grow.
A similar scenario came about in 1992 with Cuomo again the focus of Democratic presidential anticipation. But he said state budget problems needed his attention and declined to run again.
Mario Matthew Cuomo was born in the New York City borough of Queens on June 15, 1932, the son of parents who arrived from Salerno, Italy, during a wave of immigration in the 1920s.
His father dug ditches to earn money to buy a pushcart, then opened a small grocery store in a tough neighborhood of Italians, Poles, Jews and African-Americans.
The New York Times reported following his death that Cuomo worked in the store and on Saturdays served as the “Shabbos goy” for an Orthodox synagogue up the street, and provided services as a non-Jew that the Jews were not allowed to do for themselves on the Sabbath.
Mario earned a name for himself first as a baseball player, signing a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates after high school. An injury ended his career and he went back to college and law school at St. John's University.
His law practice brought him into politics in the mid-1960s when he helped residents fight a city plan to level small scrap-processing plants near the site of the 1964 World's Fair. Cuomo won the fight and saved hundreds of jobs.
For the next 10 years he repeatedly fought the power structure, winning concessions for residents in housing, education and welfare.
When a law school friend, Hugh Carey, was elected governor in 1974, Cuomo joined his administration as secretary of state. In 1977 he returned to New York City to run for mayor.
He finished a close second in a six-sided primary, but lost the run-off to Ed Koch, who blistered Cuomo's opposition to the death penalty in what became a long-running Democratic rivalry. He then beat Koch in their run for the governorship in 1982 with heavy support from upstate New York.
As governor, Cuomo increased spending for education and social welfare programs, cut the state's highest income taxes and spoke out against the death penalty and for minority and ethnic rights.
But budget problems and voter weariness after 12 years in power helped little-known George Pataki knock off Cuomo in 1994.