Ever-eloquent Mario Cuomo, a son of Queens who rode his rhetorical gifts to three terms as New York governor and tantalized Democrats by flirting with a run for President, died Thursday, two sources close to the family said. He was 82.
Cuomo passed away six hours after his oldest son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was formally sworn-in to a second term in Manhattan. The elder Cuomo was too ill with a serious heart condition to attend.
“He couldn’t be here physically today … but my father is in this room,” Andrew Cuomo said in his inaugural address.
“He’s in the heart and mind of every person who is here. His inspiration and his legacy and his spirit is what has brought this day to this point.”
As governor, Mario Cuomo wrestled with two recessions and presided over a massive expansion of the state prison system. A liberal, he bucked the political winds by wielding his veto pen year after year to block the restoration of the state death penalty.
It was his oratory, however, that made Mario Cuomo a national figure.
In July 1984, he delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, a barnburner that amounted to a rebuttal of President Ronald Reagan’s stirring vision of America as a “Shining city on a hill.”
Facing a packed arena of Democrats in San Francisco, and a prime time national television audience, Cuomo said, “This nation is more a ‘Tale of Two Cities.'”
Two months later, Cuomo delivered a second spellbinder, an address at Notre Dame University in Indiana on abortion, religion and politics.
The two addresses, which would be ranked among the top speeches of the 20th century, vaulted Cuomo into the ranks of potential presidential contenders.
For years Cuomo toyed with the idea of a White House run, first in 1988 and then in 1992, solidifying his nickname, Hamlet on the Hudson. He decided not to enter the ’92 campaign at the last minute – and a plane that was to whisk the necessary paperwork to New Hampshire was left idling on an Albany runway.
Eighteen months later, Cuomo turned down another legacy-making opportunity when he asked President Bill Clinton to take him off the short list of potential replacements for Supreme Court Justice Byron White.