A bright star passes on....
To many conservatives Mario Cuomo will be remembered for his sharp-edged partisan sallies on issues of the day. Liberals will remember a three-term New York governor who passed up chances in 1988 & 1992 to run for the presidency, and who turned down in advance the Supreme Court seat Bill Clinton was prepared in 1993 to offer him.
But my memory will differ from either version.
I recall the summer of 1977, when I came to work for the Cuomo mayoral campaign, during the Democratic primary--in NYC then (and once again in 2013) the real election. Mario--I was allowed to address him by his first name--emerged from political obscurity like a shooting star. Charismatic, eloquent, passionate, he lost in a runoff to Ed Koch, the latter more closely attuned to the local political scene. In his uphill quest for an upset Mario adopted the theme from "Rocky," the 1976 blockbuster, as his campaign song.
Mario was a happy warrior in that unhappiest of my 31 New York City summers. The sweltering heat brought its residents the horrific climax to a mad-dog serial killer's homicidal spree, a 24-hour citywide blackout that triggered widespread riots, and a city facing a seemingly inescapable death spiral of soaring violent crime and deepening financial insolvency. Koch's three mayoral terms would steady the city's finances, as Wall Street boomed during the Reagan years. Rudy would bring order and safety to NYC's streets.
But my fondest memory was of Mario the man, who took an interest in helping a struggling 30-year old who had just failed the NY bar exam (I got the news in Dec. 1977). Mario spent an hour on the phone, coaching me. Eventually (third try, in 1978) I passed a bar exam; by then I had moved to DC.
I last saw Mario in 1983, the first year of his first gubernatorial term. He greeted me warmly, asked how I was doing (better, thankfully, than in 1977 & 1978) and wished me well.
Bottom Line. A genuinely fine man has passed on. His class transcended the political differences that emerged between us. I went on to become a Reaganite, something no one ever called Mario. But for his generation, showing class trumped politics. I will miss him.