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Mario Cuomo, ex-New York governor and liberal beacon, dies at 82

Cuomo led New York during a turbulent time; challenged Reagan at the height of his presidency.

By: New York Times | New York |
January 3, 2015 2:55:42 am

Mario M Cuomo, the three-term governor of New York who commanded the attention of the country with a compelling public presence, a forceful defence of liberalism and his exhaustive ruminations about whether to run for president, died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82.

His family confirmed the death, which occurred hours after Cuomo’s son Andrew M Cuomo was inaugurated in Manhattan for a second term as governor. The cause was heart failure.

Mario Cuomo led New York during a turbulent time, 1983 through 1994. His ambitions for an activist government were thwarted by recession. He found himself struggling with the State Legislature not over what the government should do but over what programmes should be cut, and what taxes should be raised, simply to balance the budget.

Still, no matter the problems he found in Albany, Cuomo burst beyond the state’s boundaries to personify the liberal wing of his national party and become a source of unending fascination and, ultimately, frustration for Democrats, whose leaders twice pressed him to run for president, in 1988 and 1992, to no avail.

In an era when liberal thought was increasingly discredited, Cuomo, a man of large intellect and often unrestrained personality, celebrated it, challenging Ronald Reagan at the height of his presidency with an expansive and affirmative view of government and a message of compassion, tinged by the Roman Catholicism that was central to Cuomo’s identity.

A man of contradictions who enjoyed Socratic arguments with himself, Cuomo seemed to disdain politics even as he embraced it. “What an ugly business this is,” he liked to say. Yet he revelled in it, proving himself an uncommonly skilled politician and sometimes a ruthless one.
He was a tenacious debater and a spellbinding speaker at a time when political oratory seemed to be shrinking to the size of the television set.

He signed ethics legislation under a cloud of scandals involving state lawmakers and their employees.

But he may be remembered more for the things he never did than for what he accomplished. His designs on the presidency became just flirtations. He encouraged President Bill Clinton to consider him for a seat on the Supreme Court but pulled back just as the offer was about to be made in 1993. For all his advocacy of an activist government, he did not always practice it, or could not, because of the fiscal obstacles he encountered in Albany.

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