<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Uretsky Shining Citizen on the Hill Passes

Sam Uretsky

A Shining Citizen on the Hill Passes

Mario Cuomo, three-term governor of New York, and a symbol that a good and wise person could succeed in American politics, died on New Years Day, just a few hours after his son Andrew was sworn in for his second term as New York’s governor. In his inaugural address, Andrew Cuomo said, “He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here ... 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 ...” President Obama issued a statement calling Mario Cuomo “”a determined champion of progressive values, and an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity, and opportunity.”

Even Michael Goodwin, writing in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, said “... he remained fundamentally decent, his integrity beyond reproach. Befitting an era where politics was hardball, but not personal, he could be incredibly gracious even to those who disagreed with him.”

Op-ed writers have recalled many anecdotes. The most often cited is Gov. Cuomo’s speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention and his reply to President Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” speech: “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 the 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.”

That was probably Gov. Cuomo’s political high point, but there were other things, less noted that seem worth mentioning. For a brief period he had a call-in radio show. In 1995, he was hired by WABC, apparently to provide a balance to Rush Limbaugh. Opinions of the show vary, but that’s predictable. New York City had been home to Bob Grant (Robert Ciro Gigante) who is considered a pioneer of the conservative talk radio format. Mr. Grant was a pioneer of hard right, short, cruel and nasty, (although Lynn Samuels, a liberal talk show host, said simply, “That’s his shtick.”) Gov. Cuomo eschewed both the quick quip and the nasty reply. Every caller received a full discussion of his query, with both, or more likely all, sides of the issue presented, ending with a very rational conclusion.

The radio show only lasted a year. It aired one day a week and of course could never compete with the packaged anger and outrage of right wing air, but it’s likely that the Governor enjoyed it. Eloquence is easy with a speech prepared in advance, but the challenge of random questions must have stimulated his mind. Years later, when a young man asked him why he had rejected the chance of a Supreme Court nomination, Governor Cuomo explained that a judge, even on the Supreme Court, really had very little discretion. Judges must honor both legislation and precedent, and so the job is simply too constrained. When the Governor was asked what he enjoyed doing he replied, “debating Republicans.”

Perhaps the final measure of Mario Cuomo came after he lost his bid for a fourth term as New York’s governor. Probably he should not have run. He had been governor at a hard time, when budget limitations made it difficult to realize his goals. There were rumors that Cardinal John O’Connor was considering excommunication because of the governor’s support of abortion rights (although Gov. Cuomo was personally opposed to abortion). Gov. Cuomo ran a weak campaign. He seemed tired, and lost to the bland Pataki who seemed to offer nothing but the promise to sign a death penalty bill – Gov. Cuomo’s veto of the death penalty was an annual event. But when Gov. Cuomo was asked for his feelings after his defeat, his response was, “I hope George Pataki is the greatest governor in New York State history.”

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2015


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