Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo Dead At 82
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Some sad news tonight - former New York Governor Mario Cuomo has died. He was 82. He was elected to three terms and became a national figure, holding up the liberal Democratic tradition at a time when Rep. Ronald Reagan was president. He declined to run for president and refused to be nominated for the Supreme Court. To talk with us about the governor is our political editor Ron Elving. Hi.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Hi, LuLu. Good to be with you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ron, you covered a speech Cuomo gave in 1984 that really defined him on the national stage. We're going to hear a bit of that in a moment, but first, set it up for us.
ELVING: This was in San Francisco in 1984. Walter Mondale was actually getting the nomination. But after the speech that Andrew Cuomo gave on the first night, if the delegates could have suddenly swung the nomination to him by acclimation, in the old style of the 19th century, that might have happened. It was an enormously impactful speech. And everyone was not only hanging on his words for a solid hour, but many people were openly weeping at points in the speech. And it was - it was difficult to overstate the degree to which he held that entire Yerba Buena Center there in San Francisco in 1984 in the palm of his hand for 60 minutes. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio version of this story, we mistakenly call Mario Cuomo, the former New York governor who died, Andrew. (His son Andrew Cuomo is New York’s current governor.)]
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's hear a little bit of that speech now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MARIO CUOMO: In many ways, we are a shining city on a hill. But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory. 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.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That feels very relevant to today.
ELVING: You know, it's true. The issue of income and equality, the issue of whether or not everyone in the United States is sharing in the prosperity that some are enjoying - that issue is an current as it could be 30 years later.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was he like as governor of New York?
ELVING: As governor of New York, perhaps it would surprise many people to learn the degree to which he governed to the center. Mario Cuomo, when he was in office, was more of a tax-cutter, often times - a budget-balancer, as all governors must be. He built a number of prisons, among other things. And he worked very hard to deal with some of the animosities between different groups, not only within the city of New York, but between the city of New York and the rest of the state.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us about the man other than the politician.
ELVING: He was born in Queens. His parents were Italian immigrants. He was an excellent baseball player - in fact, good enough that he was drafted the Pittsburgh Pirates and was making his way up in their organization when he was hit by a pitch in the head in an era before everyone wore a helmet. And it was such a severe injury that it basically ended his baseball career.
At that point, he decided to go back to college at St. John's in New York and on to the law school there at St. John's, where he graduated first in his class in 1956, but could scarcely even get an interview in the most distinguished, most prestigious law firms in New York City, which, at that time, were not that interested in graduates of his school or, perhaps, as he always felt, people with his ethnicity.
So he went on to practice in a smaller firm and, very soon, got involved in Democratic politics and, in the 1970s, was running for office and ran for mayor against Ed Koch. Didn't win that particular race, but won his first nomination for governor running against Ed Koch in 1982, then went on to be elected against Lew Lehrman that fall in 1982 - the first of three terms.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ron Elving, our political editor, thank you very much for joining us.
ELVING: Thank you, LuLu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: News tonight that former New York Governor Mario Cuomo has died. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.