World

Mario Cuomo, former New York governor, dies at age 82

Mario Cuomo, a son of Italian immigrants who became an eloquent spokesman for a generation of liberal Democrats during his three terms as governor of New York but couldn't quite bring himself to run for president, has died. He was 82.

Died same day his son Andrew started his 2nd term in office

Three-time governor of New York Mario Cuomo has died at age 82. (Evan Agostini/Associated Press)

Mario Cuomo, a son of Italian immigrants who became an eloquent spokesman for a generation of liberal Democrats during his three terms as governor of New York but couldn't quite bring himself to run for president, has died. He was 82.

Cuomo died Thursday of natural causes due to heart failure at his home, the same day his son Andrew started his second term as governor, according to a statement released by the administration. He was surrounded by his family.

Cuomo loomed large in New York politics as governor from 1983 through 1994 and became nationally celebrated for his ability to weave the story of his humble upbringing with ringing calls for social justice.

"He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here," Andrew Cuomo said in his inaugural address Thursday. "He is here and he is here, and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point. So let's give him a round of applause."

Stayed out of presidential races

He was also known for the presidential races he stayed out of in 1988 and 1992. Cuomo agonized so publicly over whether to run for the White House that he was dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson."

In 1991, Cuomo left a plane idling on the tarmac at the Albany airport, rather than fly to New Hampshire and jump into the battle for the presidential nomination at the last minute. He left the door open for a lesser-known governor: Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

Cuomo's last public appearance came in November, when Andrew was re-elected governor of New York. The frail-looking patriarch and his son raised their arms together in victory at the election-night celebration.

Mario Cuomo's big political break came in 1982 when, as New York's lieutenant governor, he won the Democratic nomination for governor in an upset over New York Mayor Ed Koch. He went on to beat conservative millionaire Republican Lewis Lehrman.

His reputation for eloquence was secured at the 1984 Democratic National Convention when he delivered his "Tale of Two Cities" keynote address, in which he told of the lessons he learned as the son of a grocer in New York City.

"I watched a small man with thick calluses on both his hands work 15 and 16 hours a day," Cuomo told the crowd. "I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet — a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language — who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example."

The electrified delegates in San Francisco cheered, "Mario! Mario! Mario!" and some wondered whether they had chosen the wrong presidential candidate in Walter Mondale.

In early 1987, he was leading in the polls among prospective White House contenders when he said he would not be a candidate. A more protracted dance in 1991 ended with the filing deadline for the nation's first presidential primary 90 minutes off. Cuomo walked into a packed news conference in Albany and cited a continuing budget battle with New York's Republicans in declining to run.

Cuomo easily won re-election for governor in 1986 and 1990. He repeatedly vetoed legislation that would have restored the death penalty in New York, and he closed down the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. He also built 30 new prisons. Under Cuomo, the state budget grew from $28 billion to $62 billion.

Turned down Supreme Court nomination

In 1993, he turned down an opportunity to be nominated by Clinton for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, telling the new president in a letter that "by staying active in our nation's political process, I can continue to serve as a vigorous supporter of the good work you are doing for America and the world."

Nineteen months later, with voters tired of him, Cuomo lost his bid for a fourth term to George Pataki, a GOP state lawmaker who had promised to cut taxes and bring back the death penalty.

"I wanted to win this more than any political contest I ever had," Cuomo said as he prepared to leave office. "I'm not good at wanting things in life. I've made a habit of not wanting things too much."

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