NEW YORK—At former three-term New York governor Mario Cuomo’s funeral service Tuesday, his son, current governor Andrew Cuomo, eulogized him as a philosopher, poet, advocate, and crusader.
Inside St. Ignatius Loyola Church, Andrew Cuomo delivered a eulogy that spanned from Mario Cuomo’s eloquent speeches drawing national attention to the days when father and son roomed together during the latter’s law school years and enjoyed frozen dinners.
Mario Cuomo had compassion for the sick and needy and loved being governor so much that he preferred it over a potential nomination for U.S. Supreme Court, or a run for presidency, said his son.
Former president Bill Clinton agreed, saying after the service, “Cuomo’s life embodied and valued work, family, and faith.”
Cuomo passed away Thursday at age 82 due to heart failure, only hours after his son gave inaugural speeches in the city and in Buffalo for his second term as governor.
Cuomo’s friends and family, which included Billy Joel, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, former governor George Pataki, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner William Bratton, and dozens of other notable public figures, attended the funeral service.
Monday’s wake had drawn thousands of people out in the cold, including Vice President Joe Biden.
The elder Cuomo arose to national prominence by a speech he gave at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he focused on American income inequality.
In honor of his father’s oratory gifts, Andrew Cuomo began his 40-minute speech with a footnote that he normally didn’t give a speech word for word. Today, he would make an exception for his father, who preferred to read a speech in its entirety.
To his son who preferred to extemporize in reaction to an audience, Cuomo had once said, “Who cares what the audience wants to hear? It’s about what you need to say.”
The anecdote revealed a quality of the senior Cuomo, said the current governor. “He was not interested in pleasing the audience. Not in speech, not in life.” It was a trait that gave Cuomo strength and made him “anything but a typical politician.”
Cuomo spent much of his lengthy career first as a lawyer, then New York secretary of state, and finally a three-term Democratic governor fighting against inequities. Growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, where his family ran a grocery store, Cuomo was an outsider living in an outer borough. His life experiences and faith led him to serve the disenfranchised and minorities, said his son.
“He didn’t like to see people being pushed around,” said Henry Sheinkopf, president and CEO of a public affairs and political consultancy firm, who had known Mario Cuomo since 1973. “He had a strong sense of right and wrong.”
During the funeral service, outside the church, in the freezing snow, about 20 members of 1199SEIU, a health care workers’ union, held up signs that read “Thank You Mario Cuomo.”
“He made sure that our hospitals get the funding they need so to provide quality care for the patients of New York and also for the workers,” said Maria Castaneda, 1199SEIU secretary-treasurer.
As governor, Cuomo was also fiscally responsible, cutting taxes and minimizing the state workforce, with a restraint that his son continues to practice.
“He was very good for our state,” said Billy Joel, following the funeral.
Andrew Cuomo regretted not helping his father’s campaign for a fourth term as governor, which was defeated by George Pataki in 1994.
But the younger Cuomo’s successful bid for governor served as “redemption for my father,” said Andrew Cuomo. “I loved winning the governorship more for him than for myself…Cuomo was elected governor. The first name was not at all that relevant.”
When Andrew Cuomo was re-elected to a second term, he insisted on bringing his father on stage despite doctors’ advice against it—calling it the “best medicine” he could provide.
At the beginning of December, Cuomo was hospitalized for a heart condition. By the time his son’s inauguration came around, he was too weak to attend. His death came only minutes after Andrew Cuomo finished his inaugural speech in Buffalo.
“He waited,” said his son. “And then he quietly slipped out of the event and went home. Just as he always did, because his job was done.”
Those in the audience listening to Andrew Cuomo deliver the eulogy could recall the father’s spirit in the son’s words.
“You shut your eyes and you hear the father in the son. You hear the values, the voice, and cadence,” said Chuck Lesnick, former Yonkers city council president who used to work with Mario in the ’80s. “It was written like Mario would insist upon.”
Many believed the current governor would continue his father’s legacy. He promised to do so, reminding the audience of his inaugural goals to reform and improve the justice system.
“We will make this state a better state and we will do it together,” said Andrew Cuomo, “On that, you have my word, as your son.”