Mario Cuomo: Hero or ‘Hamlet on the Hudson,’ depending on who you ask

January 2, 2015


Mario Cuomo, who died yesterday, was a liberal lion or a dithering do-gooder, depending on which New York publication you ask.

One of the city’s last great columnists standing, Mike Lupica, writing in the New York Daily News, talks about his admiration and reverence for the former governor, who led the state from 1982 to 1994.

“It was, and is, the country’s loss. Everyone who ever knew Mario Cuomo, dead now because his great heart has given out at the age of 82, knew about the beauty in the man’s soul, all the good in him. But that does not tell the whole story. This was a great man, as great as his city has ever produced …

“We need him today, of course, as much as we ever did, need his mind and his decency and his fairness. We need his voice, to be talking about cops and race in America, about Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, about Michael Brown and Eric Garner.”

The headline on the front page of the tabloid, as it has read before, was “Super Mario,” referring to the hero of the long-running Nintendo video game franchise.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo embraces his father Mario after being re-election at the U.S. midterm race in New YorkThe New York Post, which never made a secret of it’s opposition to Cuomo, and the liberal agenda he stood for, went with the much more subdued, “Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015.” Inside the paper, a column by Frederic U. Dicker, who covered the former governor for decades, had a far less-than-favorable view.

“To nearly all who knew Mario Cuomo well, he was an underachieving enigma — brilliant yet indecisive, accomplished as a lawyer yet riddled with self-doubt as a politician, an initially popular governor who was eventually booted from office for failing to use that popularity to lead New York in a direction that would have made this a better state.

“Mario Cuomo was one of the nation’s greatest orators, but his sometimes-dazzling speeches — like his keynote to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco in 1984 — almost always lacked answers to the problems they addressed.”

And Dicker’s final verdict? “But his legacy as governor was anything but positive.”

Stephen Schlesinger, who served as one of Cuomo’s speech writers and as his foreign policy adviser during his time in office, saw things differently, as one might expect. He offered a very personal view in the New York Observer.

“He had a genuine presence and a warm, bantering personality, a sense of camaraderie and fun. I remember he also had a lawyer’s way of arguing fine points with visitors.”

Schlesinger also offered a view into one of the great mysteries of Cuomo’s public life: why he never ran for president.

In 1984, Cuomo made a speech to the Democratic Convention that immediately made him a hero of the party. President Ronald Reagan spoke of America as “a shining city on a hill.” Cuomo had a different metaphor. He spoke of a “tale of two cities,” one rich and filled with opportunity, one poor and in need of help and hope.

By 1988, the media was rife with speculation over whether the governor would run. He didn’t. It was the same in 1992. That seeming indecision earned him the moniker “Hamlet on the Hudson.”

Here is Schlesinger’s view of what happened.

“In my view, though, he never really felt he could be president. I believe he felt a genuine irresolution about it, questioning whether it was truly for him—but not because of possible skeletons in his closet or because of his Italian first and last name, but for the very reasons that he was not at ease talking about American foreign policy. It was just not a place he was comfortable going to—it was beyond his aspirations.”


PHOTO: Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo embraces his father Mario after being re-election at the U.S. midterm race in New York, Nov. 4, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson


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The man isn’t even buried and the Press is already making commentaries on his Life? W/T/F kind of Ghouls have the Press hired? It’s disgusting that comments of him being good or bad are being tossed about already. Have we as a Society devolved to such an extent that we allow the media to Disect people before a proper burial or a family gets to grieve in Peace? Are we so hungry for cheap commentary or conflicting opinions by Morons that are paid obscene amounts to voice an opinion or air dirty laundry to line thier bank accounts or make a name for themselves? You The Media have turned into nothing but Greedy F’ing Tabloid gossip mongers. You are nothing but Whores now who sell themselves for any price to get a story. God you people make me Vomit. May you Rot in Hell!

Posted by Gopersuck | Report as abusive

the world, not to mention the united states is better off without him. one more socialist bites the dust.

Posted by 1364a | Report as abusive

many agree that ny is a complicated state where governing is thought rightly to demand exceptional skills. while a resident of ny near the Love Canal crisis, for example, i remember many reports of his impressive comments for parties to the events then, to the effect that while final results concerning Love Canal could certainly have been better, the governor was able to make sure things did not get worse, and outlined the the-intractable reasons for what caused the problems and less-than-optimum results of many efforts. all this is partly why some thought of him as capable of occupying the White House later. for certain of those who remember his comments then (and others), tho, it was clear that he positively had no intention of having a public role in such as American foreign policy, tho he had well-known insights about such. he therefore might best be remembered for his principled accomplishments rather than for what instead he left for others to undertake. as yet, no one is sure that his son, now holding down the office he had himself held, will similarly, or completely, eschew becoming another POTUS, etc. clearly, tho, the son’s public service already has long been one of the father’s best legacies, and in ny, many must thankful for that also, even if they must protest some executive decisions when contending for office, for example, as expected in healthy democratic contests, etc.

Posted by cdmcl3 | Report as abusive