Cuomo speaking at Cornell University in 1987
|52nd Governor of New York|
January 1, 1983 - December 31, 1994
Warren Anderson (acting)
|Lieutenant Governor of New York|
January 1, 1979 - December 31, 1982
|Mary Anne Krupsak|
|57th Secretary of State of New York|
January 1, 1975 - December 31, 1978
Mario Matthew Cuomo
June 15, 1932
New York City, U.S.
|Died||January 1, 2015 (aged 82)|
New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||St. John Cemetery|
|Liberal Party of New York|
Matilda Raffa (m. 1954)
|Children||5, including Andrew, Margaret, and Chris Cuomo|
|Education||St. John's University (BA, JD)|
Mario Matthew Cuomo ( KWOH-moh, Italian: ['kw?:mo]; June 15, 1932 - January 1, 2015) was an American politician of the Democratic Party. He served as the 52nd Governor of New York for three terms, from 1983 to 1994,Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1979 to 1982, and Secretary of State of New York from 1975 to 1978.
Cuomo was known for his liberal views and public speeches, particularly his keynote speech address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in which he sharply criticized the policies of the Reagan administration, saying, "Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill.'" He was widely considered a potential front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President in both 1988 and 1992, though he declined to seek the nomination in both instances. His legacy as a reluctant standard-bearer for the Democrats in presidential elections led to his being dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson."
Cuomo was defeated for a fourth term as governor by George Pataki in the Republican Revolution of 1994. He subsequently retired from politics and joined New York City law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. He is the father of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and CNN anchorman Chris Cuomo.
Cuomo was born in the Briarwood section of the New York City borough of Queens to a family of Italian origin. His father, Andrea Cuomo, was from Nocera Inferiore, Campania, and his mother, Immacolata (née Giordano), was from Tramonti, Campania. The family ran Kessler's Grocery Store in South Jamaica, Queens.
Cuomo attended New York City P.S. 50 and St. John's Preparatory School. Cuomo was a baseball player, and while attending St. John's University in 1952, he signed as an outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for a $2,000 bonus, which he used to help purchase the engagement ring for his wife, Matilda. Cuomo played for the Brunswick Pirates of the Class D Georgia-Florida League, where his teammates included future major leaguer Fred Green;  Cuomo attained a .244 batting average, and played center field until he was struck in the back of the head by a pitch. Batting helmets were not yet required equipment, and Cuomo's injury was severe enough that he was hospitalized for six days.
After his recovery, Cuomo gave up baseball and returned to St. John's, earning his bachelor's degree summa cum laude in 1953. Deciding on a legal career, Cuomo attended St. John's University School of Law, from which he graduated tied for first in his class in 1956. Cuomo clerked for Judge Adrian P. Burke of the New York Court of Appeals. Despite having been a top student, the ethnic prejudice of the time led to his rejection by more than 50 law firms before he was hired by a small but established office in Brooklyn. During his tenure at the law firm of Comer, Weisbrod, Froeb and Charles, Cuomo represented Fred Trump. Cuomo eventually became a partner at the Comer firm, but stepped down in 1974 to become New York Secretary of State. In 1989, Cuomo settled a longstanding lawsuit against his former firm regarding $4 million in legal fees. In addition to practicing law, Cuomo worked as an adjunct professor at St. John's Law School.
Cuomo first became widely known in New York City in the late 1960s when he represented "The Corona Fighting 69", a group of 69 home-owners from the Queens neighborhood of Corona, who were threatened with displacement by the city's plan to build a new high school. He later represented another Queens residents group, the Kew Gardens-Forest Hills Committee on Urban Scale, who opposed Samuel J. LeFrak's housing proposal adjacent to Willow Lake in Queens. In 1972, Cuomo became known beyond New York City when Mayor John Lindsay appointed him to conduct an inquiry and mediate a dispute over low-income public housing slated for the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Forest Hills. Cuomo described his experience in that dispute in the book Forest Hills Diary, and the story was retold by sociologist Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man.
In 1974, he ran for Lieutenant Governor of New York on a ticket headed by gubernatorial candidate Howard J. Samuels, and both won the designation of the Democratic State Committee at the party convention. But their entire ticket, including the nominees for attorney general and U.S. Senator, was defeated in the Democratic primary election: Samuels by Rep. Hugh Carey of Brooklyn, and Cuomo by State Senator Mary Anne Krupsak.
Two years later, Cuomo ran for Mayor of New York City at Carey's urging. Incumbent Mayor Abraham Beame was very unpopular and Cuomo was one of five major challengers to Beame in the Democratic primary. In a close and highly fractured election, U.S. Representative Ed Koch finished first with 19.81% of the vote and Cuomo came second with 18.74%. As no candidate cleared 40% of the vote, Koch and Cuomo advanced to a runoff. Koch emerged victorious with 54.94% of the vote to Cuomo's 45.06%. Cuomo had received the nomination of the Liberal Party several months previously and was urged to drop out of the race but he contested the general election against Koch and token Republican opposition.
During the mayoral campaign, placards appeared saying: "Vote for Cuomo, not the homo" in reference to rumors about Koch's sexuality. Cuomo denied responsibility for this, but Koch never forgave him "as he made clear with a pointedly disparaging reference to Mr. Cuomo in a recorded interview with The New York Times that was not to be made public until Mr. Koch's death". Cuomo ran on his opposition to the death penalty, which backfired among New Yorkers as crime was very high. Cuomo then went negative with ads that likened Koch to unpopular former mayor John Lindsay. Meanwhile, Koch backers accused Cuomo of antisemitism and pelted Cuomo campaign cars with eggs. Cuomo was also defeated by Koch in the general election, taking 40.97% to Koch's 49.99%. The race is discussed in Jonathan Mahler's book Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning.
In 1978, incumbent Lieutenant Governor Krupsak declined to seek re-election because of how Governor Carey treated her in office; she felt she was not given enough to do. She withdrew from the ticket and unsuccessfully challenged Carey in the gubernatorial primary, accusing him of incompetence. Cuomo easily won the primary for lieutenant governor and was elected alongside Carey in the general election.
In 1982, Carey declined to run for re-election and Cuomo declared his candidacy. He once again faced Ed Koch in the Democratic primary. This time, Koch's support for the death penalty backfired and he alienated many voters from outside New York City when, in an interview with Playboy magazine, he described the lifestyle of both suburbia and upstate New York as "sterile" and lamented the thought of having to live in "the small town" of Albany as governor, saying it was "a city without a good Chinese restaurant". Cuomo won the primary by ten points and faced Republican nominee businessman Lewis Lehrman in the general election. With the recession aiding Democratic candidates, Cuomo beat Lehrman 50.91% to 47.48%.
Cuomo actively campaigned for Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election, and was named on Mondale's list of vice presidential candidates. Geraldine Ferraro was ultimately nominated as his running mate, but Cuomo was chosen to give the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. He vigorously attacked Ronald Reagan's record and policies in his Tale of Two Cities speech that brought him to national attention, most memorably saying: "There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don't see, in the places that you don't visit, in your shining city." He was immediately considered one of the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for President in 1988 and 1992.
Cuomo was re-elected in a landslide in 1986 against Republican nominee Andrew P. O'Rourke by 64.3% to 31.77%. He consistently ruled out the possibility of running in the 1988 presidential election, announcing on February 19, 1987, that he would not run and then going on to publicly decline draft movements in the wake of Gary Hart's withdrawal following the Donna Rice affair.
When Cuomo was asked if he was planning to run for President in 1992, he would say: "I have no plans and no plans to make plans", but he refused to rule it out. In October 1991, news broke that he was interested in running and was taking advice from consultant Bob Shrum. At the same time, he began working on a budget with the New York State Legislature, and promised not to make any announcements about a presidential run until he had reached an agreement with the Republican-controlled State Senate and the Democratic-controlled State Assembly. Two polls taken in November of the New Hampshire Democratic primary showed him leading the field by at least twenty points, and a poll in December showed him trailing President George H. W. Bush 48% to 43%, having been behind by twenty-eight points two months earlier.
The filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary was on December 20, 1991, and candidates were required to submit a ballot application in person. Cuomo was not able to negotiate a budget agreement with Republicans in the Legislature and on deadline day, time ran out. In a scene later fictionalized in Joe Klein's Primary Colors, he kept an airplane idling on the tarmac as he pondered abandoning the budget talks in order to fly to New Hampshire and enter the race. Democratic party leaders asked him to run and he prepared two statements, one in case he ran and one in case he did not. He tried to come to a final agreement over the budget, but as he could not, he made an announcement at 3:30 p.m. that day:
It is my responsibility as governor to deal with this extraordinarily severe problem. Were it not, I would travel to New Hampshire today and file my name as a candidate in this presidential primary. That was my hope and I prepared for it. But it seemed to me that I cannot turn my attention to New Hampshire while this threat hangs over the head of the New Yorkers I have sworn to put first.
Cuomo's supporters launched a draft movement and encouraged people to write in his name in the Democratic primary, which was held on February 18, 1992. Cuomo did not discourage it, which many saw as implicit endorsement of the campaign. Cuomo went on to receive 6,577 votes in the primary, 3.92% of the total cast and subsequently asked the draft committee to close down, saying, "I am flattered by their support and impressed by their commitment, but I am also convinced that in fairness to themselves they ought now to end their effort." The group closed down, but Cuomo refused to rule out joining the primaries later in the year, stating, "I have said more than once that the nomination should go to someone willing and able to campaign for it. I am willing, but because New York's budget has not been settled I am not able to campaign for it." Ultimately, Cuomo did not enter the race and Bill Clinton went on to win the Democratic nomination and the general election. Because of Cuomo's refusal to run for national office, despite his popularity, he was referred to as the "Hamlet on the Hudson".
After Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President in 1992, Cuomo was a candidate for vice president but he refused to be considered and did not make Clinton's final shortlist. He was also spoken of as a candidate for nomination to the United States Supreme Court, but when President Clinton was considering nominees during his first term to replace the retiring Byron White, Cuomo stated he was not interested in the office.George Stephanopoulos wrote in 1999 that Clinton came within 15 minutes of nominating Cuomo before the latter pre-emptively rejected the post.
In 1994, Cuomo ran for a fourth term. In this election, Republicans attacked him for the weak economic recovery within the state since the early 1990s recession and the resulting high unemployment as well as his opposition to the death penalty by highlighting the case of Arthur Shawcross, a multiple murderer convicted of manslaughter who was paroled by the state in 1987 and while on release became a serial killer. Republicans were able to associate Shawcross with Cuomo much like Willie Horton with Michael Dukakis six years earlier. Cuomo was defeated by George Pataki in the 1994 Republican landslide, taking 45.4% of the vote to Pataki's 48.8%. Cuomo lost mainly because his support outside of New York City all but vanished; he only carried one county outside the Five Boroughs, Albany County.
Cuomo and fellow Democrat Ann Richards, the Governor of Texas who had been defeated in her re-election campaign by George W. Bush, appeared in a series of humorous television advertisements for the snack food Doritos shortly afterwards, in which they discussed the "sweeping changes" occurring. The changes they were discussing turned out to be the new Doritos packaging.
In Cuomo's first term as Governor of New York State, he produced a balanced budget and earned the highest credit rating over the long term for the State in one decade. His philosophy in leading the State was one of "progressive pragmatism". Cuomo and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives (Democrats had over a 3:2 margin in House) was successful in stopping U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration from eliminating "federal income tax deductibility of state, local and property taxes".
During his second term as governor, Cuomo successfully pushed for the enactment of sweeping fiscal reforms for the State. Comprehensive reform measures were also enacted in governmental ethics for New York State under Cuomo's leadership. Cuomo extended New York State's economic reach in business globally, contributing to both strengthening and developing it.
Cuomo is also known for beginning the "Decade of the Child" initiative, an effort that included multiple health care and educational strategies to better the lives of children in New York State. Further, in 1988, the "Rebuild NY" Transportation Bond Act was an initiative under Cuomo that was a continuance of efforts to rebuild bridges and roads throughout the State. Cuomo increased assistance to local law enforcement agencies in order to help reduce or eliminate crime; and prison expansion in the State was continued which he is said to have regretted. Under Cuomo, New York State was also the first in the nation to enact seat belt laws.
Governor Mario and his wife Matilda Cuomo presided over the First New York State Family Support Conference in 1988. His statewide initiatives in developing over 1,000 family support programs are today termed "individual and family support" nationwide and are cited by the National Council on Disability. He was the first governor to support an ecological approach to families which was represented by community integration and community development as the goal of deinstitutionalization.
Healthcare was also an area that Cuomo improved as governor, implementing initiatives that succeeded in reducing costs of prescription medications. This endeavor assisted senior citizens in making the medications more affordable. Under Cuomo's leadership, a public health plan that tackled the AIDS epidemic was the most intense in the nation.
Overseeing programs for environmental preservation and conservation, Cuomo implemented aggressive initiatives in these areas. Under Cuomo's leadership, New York State was the first in the United States to integrate both environmental protection and energy conservation goals.
Cuomo's progressivism was also evident in his appointments of judges to the New York Court of Appeals. Cuomo appointed all of the judges to the State Appeals Court, including the first two female judges, as well as both the first African-American and Hispanic judges.
Ex-Mafia imprisoned informant Maurizio Avola told The Guardian in 2016 that the Sicilian mafia had planned to kill Governor Cuomo on a visit to Italy in November 1992. The plan was for about a dozen gunmen armed with assault rifles and explosives to ambush Cuomo. Avola's godfather, Aldo Ercolano, considered that Cuomo would be an excellent target; Avola said: "The aim was to target politicians or members of institutions in order to send out a clear message"--this was a few months after the mafia murdered antimafia judge Giovanni Falcone as a demonstration of power. Killing a prominent American was a warning to law enforcement agencies that had allowed several prominent mafia informants to live in the US under assumed identities. The attack was to be carried out in the main square of Messina in Sicily, in daylight. However, after Cuomo arrived in Rome, it became apparent that he had extremely tight security, with many bodyguards and a bullet-proof car, and the attack was called off.
Cuomo was notable for his liberal political views, particularly his steadfast opposition to the death penalty, an opinion that was unpopular in New York during the high-crime era of the 1980s and early 1990s. While governor, he vetoed several bills that would have re-established capital punishment in New York State. The death penalty was reinstated by Governor Pataki the year after he defeated Cuomo in the 1994 election, although it was never put into effect and the statute was declared unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals in 2004.
Cuomo, a Roman Catholic, was personally opposed to abortion, but he was pro-choice on the issue, believing that the State does not have the right to ban it. In a speech at the University of Notre Dame on September 13, 1984, he used the statements of the American Catholic hierarchy to make an argument: "What is ideally desirable isn't always feasible, ... there can be different political approaches to abortion besides unyielding adherence to an absolute prohibition." For this position, Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor considered excommunicating him.
He was also outspoken on what he perceived to be the unfair stereotyping of Italian Americans, including the existence or at least pervasiveness of the Mafia. Joseph Pistone, after an undercover FBI role as Donnie Brasco, wrote disparagingly of the New York governor in Unfinished Business.
Cuomo opposed the move of the National Football League's New York Giants and New York Jets to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, choosing instead to attend the home games of the Buffalo Bills while serving as governor, referring to the Bills as "New York State's only team".
From 1995 until his death, Cuomo worked as counsel at the New York law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher. In 1996, Cuomo joined the board of Medallion Financial Corp., a lender to purchasers of taxi medallions in leading cities across the U.S. He was named to the board through his personal and business relationship with Andrew M. Murstein, president of Medallion. Cuomo also sat on the Advisory Council of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.
Cuomo's first book, Forest Hills Diary: The Crisis of Low-income Housing, became an influential text in the fields of political science and housing policy, and it helped make his name with the public outside New York.
In 1996, Cuomo wrote Reason to Believe. He also wrote a narrative essay titled "Achieving the American Dream" about his parents' struggles in coming to America and how they prospered. Cuomo was the author of Why Lincoln Matters, published in 2004, and he co-edited Lincoln on Democracy, an anthology of Abraham Lincoln's speeches.
Cuomo also wrote and delivered numerous speeches and remarks.
Cuomo was married for 60 years to Matilda (née Raffa), from 1954 until his death in 2015. She is a graduate of St. John's University's Teachers College. They had five children, Margaret, Andrew, Maria, Madeline, and Christopher. In 2017, Matilda was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Cuomo's older son Andrew married Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel Kennedy, on June 9, 1990. They have three daughters, twins Cara Ethel Cuomo and Mariah Matilda Cuomo, born on January 11, 1995; and Michaela Andrea Cuomo, born on August 26, 1997. Kennedy and Cuomo divorced in 2005. He served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001. In an attempt to succeed his father, he ran as Democratic candidate for New York governor in 2002, but withdrew before the primary. He withdrew after criticizing Republican incumbent George Pataki's leadership following the terrorist attacks on the city on September 11 the previous year. In November 2006, Andrew was elected New York State Attorney General; and on November 2, 2010, he was elected Governor of New York, being inaugurated on January 1, 2011, and subsequently re-elected and sworn in on January 1, 2015, then re-elected again and sworn in to a third term on January 1, 2019.
Cuomo's younger son Chris was a journalist on the ABC Network news magazine Primetime. He anchored news segments and served as co-host on Good Morning America, before moving to CNN in 2013, where he co-hosted the morning news magazine New Day. He currently anchors his own prime time show Cuomo Prime Time. He was picked as one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1997.
Cuomo's daughter Maria is married to Kenneth Cole, a well-known New York fashion designer. She is Chair of the Board of HELP USA, a charitable foundation that is also associated with the organization her mother founded, Mentoring USA.
Cuomo's daughter Margaret, is "a board certified radiologist, teaching professional, and national advocate for the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes". She is the author of A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New World and the Real Promise of Prevention (2013), and she serves on the Board of Directors of the nonprofit organization, LessCancer. She has been featured on such TV shows as Good Morning America, Good Day New York, Morning Joe, and Inside Edition. In 2011, she was awarded the Commendation of the Order of the Star by the president and prime minister of Italy.
Cuomo remained a baseball fan after his athletic career ended, reportedly limiting his television watching to baseball games and C-SPAN. He was an avid player of fantasy baseball, always with an Italian-American player on his team, regardless of how many Italian-American players were available or how well they were doing. In 1994, he was featured several times on the Ken Burns PBS series Baseball, where he shared memories of his life in baseball before he entered politics.
Cuomo was hospitalized for a heart condition, and received treatment in November 2014. He was described as being "in good spirits" at that time. Cuomo died on January 1, 2015, at his home in Manhattan, New York, of heart failure, only hours after his son Andrew was sworn into a second term as Governor of New York State.
Andrew Cuomo said his father was unable to attend the ceremony because of his health but was present in spirit. "He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here", Andrew Cuomo told the crowd. "He is here and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought the state to this point. So let's give him a round of applause."
Cuomo had a history of heart issues, which contributed to his death at the age of 82. His wake was held on January 5, 2015, and his funeral was held at Saint Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan on January 6. He is interred at St. John Cemetery, in Middle Village, Queens.
Various elected officials praised Cuomo following his death. President Barack Obama stated: "An Italian Catholic kid from Queens, born to immigrant parents, Mario paired his faith in God and faith in America to live a life of public service - and we are all better for it. He rose to be chief executive of the state he loved, a determined champion of progressive values, and an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity, and opportunity. His own story taught him that as Americans, we are bound together as one people, and our country's success rests on the success of all of us, not just a fortunate few."
Vice President Joe Biden described Cuomo as "a forceful voice for civil rights, for equal rights, for economic opportunity and justice. He had the courage to stand by his convictions, even when it was unpopular." Former Governor of New York George Pataki called Cuomo "a proud son of immigrants and a compassionate leader who possessed a soaring intellect." Former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani stated: "Mario was a giant political influence of his generation. His ability to make riveting political speeches was only exceeded by his ability to logically argue and defend his position."
There have, of course, been big names from New York whose names have been raised in presidential contests . . . Governor [Mario] Cuomo dashed the hopes of Democratic activists, salivating since his 1984 convention speech over the prospect of a presidential run by him, when he kept a New Hampshire-bound plane waiting on the tarmac . . .
| Secretary of State of New York
Mary Anne Krupsak
| Lieutenant Governor of New York
| Governor of New York
|Party political offices|
| Liberal nominee for Mayor of New York City
Mary Anne Krupsak
| Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of New York
| Democratic nominee for Governor of New York
1982, 1986, 1990, 1994
| Keynote Speaker at the Democratic National Convention