NEW YORK—Former New York State governor Mario Cuomo died Thursday at age 82 from natural causes, hours after his son, current governor Andrew Cuomo, was sworn in to his second term and gave an inaugural address that paid tribute to his father.
He passed away due to heart failure, while at home with his family. The elder Cuomo had been hospitalized at the beginning of December for a heart condition. Andrew Cuomo had postponed his swearing in at Albany on Wednesday, opting to stay in New York City, closer to his father.
Mario Cuomo had grown up in South Jamaica, Queens where his Italian immigrant family owned a grocery store. He played baseball in college and then professionally until an injury to the head. After his baseball career ended, he then attended law school, where he tied for valedictorian. He was rejected by several law firms, due to prejudice against Italian-Americans at the time, wrote former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in a 2011 book.
He went into private practice of law for 18 years and taught as an adjunct professor at the St. John’s University for ten years at the same time.
Cuomo first came to public prominence in 1972 when he was appointed by then mayor John Lindsay to mediate a controversy that had arisen over a proposed low-income housing project in affluent predominantly Jewish neighborhood Forest Hills, in Queens.
In 1974, Cuomo ran for lieutenant governor of New York but was defeated. Instead, he was appointed and served as Secretary of State for New York in 1975. He then ran for mayor in 1977 but was defeated by Ed Koch.
In 1978, Cuomo’s second bid for lieutenant governor succeeded.
Cuomo ran for governor in 1982 and won. In 1984, he became known as a gifted orator when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
A devout Roman Catholic, Cuomo gave another acclaimed speech at the University of Notre Dame in the same year discussing the divisions between church and state and his support of abortion despite his religiosity, among other issues.
Overall, Cuomo served three terms as New York State governor from 1983 through 1994.
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement that Cuomo’s place in U.S. history as a “fearless advocate” was secure. She thanked him for overhauling aging New York infrastructure, enhancing state health programs and enacting the country’s first seat belt laws.
“He was a giant in the Democratic Party, and a progressive long before it became a buzzword,” said Public Advocate Letitia James in a statement, saying that she admired Cuomo, especially for his stance against the death penalty.
His political career ended at age 62, when George Pataki, a Republican, won against him.
Andrew Cuomo had mentioned his father in the address on Thursday.
“We’re missing one family member,” he said. “My father is not with us today. He is at home and he is not well enough to come.”
“He couldn’t be here physically today, but my father is in this room. He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here. His inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point.
“I would not be involved in New York politics were it not for Mario Cuomo. He is, and will always remain, one of my heroes,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement.
Andrew has called his father, the father of the modern Democratic Party, during a speech after Andrew was re-elected for his second term in November.
“We lost one of America’s most eloquent voices for liberalism and one of the most important figures in modern New York politics,” said former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in a statement. “He brought principled and ethical leadership to Albany. He never swayed with the political winds.”
Many have said that Mario’s son would continue his father’s legacy.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that both Cuomos were highly intelligent.
“Mario was incomparable as an orator, there’s no question about that,” he said, after the younger Cuomo’s inauguration Thursday. “And this governor [Andrew] will speak but he will also do what has to be done behind the scenes in order to bring about a deal.”
Mario Cuomo was married to Matilda Cuomo for sixty years by 2014. He is survived by his children, Margaret, Andrew, Maria, Madeline, and Chris, who is an anchor on CNN. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.