© 2021 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics and Government

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo dies on New Year's Day at age 82


Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo died on New Year’s Day, just hours after his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, gave his inaugural address for his second term in office. Mario Cuomo was 82.

Mario Cuomo, born to immigrant parents who ran a grocery store in Queens, almost became a major league baseball player, before entering law school and turning to politics. He was lieutenant governor under Hugh Carey, and won a Democratic primary against then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch to become governor of New York in 1982.  

Cuomo recounted his humble roots in his first inaugural address as governor in 1983, saying his mother and father came to the United States with a will to “spend all their efforts in honest toil.”

“They asked only for the opportunity to work, and for some protections in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves,” Mario Cuomo said in January of 1983. “Thanks to a government that was wise enough to help them without stifling them.”

The very next year, Cuomo gained national attention when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, in what became known as the "Tale of Two Cities" speech, a liberal rebuttal to then President Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a shining city on a hill.

“Mr. President you ought to know this nation is more a tale of two cities, than it is just a shining city on a hill,” said Cuomo, who chided Reagan for ignoring the poor and caring more about tax cuts for millionaires and funding missiles.

After that, Cuomo was considered a contender for  president. The closest he came was in December of 1991, when a plane stood on the tarmac at the Albany airport in order to get the governor to New Hampshire in time  to register for the presidential primary. Cuomo never boarded,  saying  he had to deal with a state budget  crisis instead.

“But I would be less than honest if I did not admit to you my regret at not having the chance to run for President,” Cuomo later said.

Mario Cuomo lost his fourth bid for governor, in part because, in an era of high incidents of violent crime, he clung to his belief that the death penalty was wrong.  

Ironically under Mario Cuomo, the state’s prison population grew to its largest size ever. He also had to close giant budget deficits and at times cut taxes and spending, though overall state spending grew during his 12 years in office.  Mario Cuomo also saw indoor smoking bans enacted and the first law against hate crimes.

Almost 20 years to the day after Mario Cuomo lost his final political race, his son Andrew Cuomo was re-elected as governor of New York, and paid homage to his father, in what was to be Mario Cuomo’s last public appearance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called his father “a man who is all about principal and inspiration.” The crowd stood, applauding, for several minutes.

Credit Karen DeWitt/WRVO News file photo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his father, former Gov. Marion Cuomo, on election night in November. It would be the elder Cuomo's last public appearance

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had his father on his mind as he delivered a somber inaugural speech, that touched on strife over police tensions, poorly performing public schools and income inequality. Andrew Cuomo said he reviewed his speech with this father, on New Year’s Eve, the night before he died.

“He said it was good, especially for a second-termer," Cuomo said. “He couldn't be here physically today, my father. But my father is in this room.”

A statement from the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that Mario Cuomo died at home with his family by his side, of natural causes due to heart failure. The statement said that funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.