“At his core, he was a philosopher. He was a poet. He was an advocate. He was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels,” the younger Cuomo said in a eulogy that spanned his father’s background as the son of immigrants, his biggest speeches and his basketball prowess.
The former three-term governor — who flirted with but never made a presidential run and turned down an opportunity to be nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court — died Thursday, hours after his son was inaugurated for a second term.
Dignitaries including Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mayor Bill de Blasio gathered to mourn the 82-year-old Democratic Party icon and honor his legacy.
Dozens of police officers stood at attention in front of St. Ignatius Loyola Church, and a pipe and drum corps played solemnly as Cuomo’s casket was carried inside. Pallbearers included Cuomo’s younger son, CNN newscaster Chris Cuomo.
On Monday, hundreds waited in a line that stretched more than a block at Cuomo’s wake. Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and actor Alan Alda were among those who paid tribute.
As governor from 1983 to 1994, Cuomo was recognized for his eloquence and for powerful appeals for social justice that blended liberal ideals with his life experience as the son of an Italian immigrant grocer.
He was known for his deliberations over running for president, which earned him the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson.” He came close to running in 1988 and 1992 but decided not to.
Why? “Because he didn’t want to” and loved being governor, Andrew Cuomo said in a heartfelt speech that mixed political legacy, personal memories of his “pops” and calls to move the state forward in his father’s footsteps.
Cuomo was most remembered for a speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he focused on an America divided between haves and have-nots and scolded Republican President Ronald Reagan for not working to close that gap.
Cuomo “had a natural connection with the outsider looking in,” Andrew Cuomo said. “He was always the son of an immigrant. He was always he outsider. And that was his edge.”
As governor, the elder Cuomo also cut taxes and trimmed the state workforce, Andrew Cuomo noted.
“My father called himself a progressive pragmatist. … His goals were progressive, but his means were pragmatic,” he said.
Andrew Cuomo recalled his father’s drive, which he said was on full display on the basketball court. “It was his liberation,” Cuomo recalled. “He was competitive by nature. You opposed him at your own peril.”
The younger Cuomo shares much of his father’s competitiveness and is known as a guarded, calculating leader. Tuesday’s eulogy provided a much more personal glimpse of a man mourning his father.
“There were moments when there wasn’t a dry eye in the church,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel.
Cuomo said he regrets not leaving Washington, where he was then an assistant secretary of housing and urban development, to help on his father’s unsuccessful bid for a fourth term in 1994. Winning that office for himself in 2010 was a victory he cherished more for his father’s sake than his own, Andrew Cuomo said.
Mario Cuomo joined his son on the stage at the party celebrating his re-election last fall, but was too ill to attend his inaugural the day he died. Andrew Cuomo ended the eulogy by vowing to follow his father’s example.
“We know what we have to do, and we will do it: We will make this state a better state, and we will do it together,” he said. “On that, you have my word as your son.”
From The Associated Press. AP writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.