Mario Cuomo

(b. 1932)

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(b. Queens County, New York, 15 June 1932)

US; Governor of New York State 1983–94 The son of Italian immigrant parents, Cuomo was educated at St John's University, from which he graduated BA in 1953 and LLB in 1956. He was called to the bar in New York that same year. After a spell as a professional basketball player for Pittsburg Pirates, he practised law 1963–75. He did not embark upon a political career until his forties when, in 1947, he made an unsuccessful attempt to become Democratic candidate for New York state Lieutenant-Governor. He was, instead, appointed Secretary of State to New York Governor Hugh Carey. In 1977, electoral success once again eluded him when he ran for mayor of New York City but lost in the primary. In 1978 at his second attempt, he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of New York and, in 1982, gained the governorship. He was re-elected by a record margin in 1986. He won a third term in 1990 but lost to the Republican George Pataki in 1994.

In office Cuomo established a reputation as a caring liberal, preaching family values and compassion for the needy. He has been acclaimed for his innovatory policies in higher education, for taking moral leadership on New York's Aids epidemic and for his success in balancing the state budget whilst at the same time cutting taxes. But he is not without critics. Questions have been raised about his management style, in particular his failure to delegate and his excessive reliance on the advice of a ‘kitchen cabinet’ dominated by his lawyer son.

Cuomo's leadership credentials have also been questioned because of his tendency to self-doubt. He writes a detailed daily journal of his activities and reflections. Several volumes have been published, and provide ample testament to the reflective side of his nature. His reluctance to seek national elective office has also been attributed to this brooding self-doubt. In 1984 he achieved national prominence by delivering an electrifying key-note speech to the Democratic national convention, in which he urged the party to stand by its liberal traditions. In 1987 he was widely expected to make a bid for nomination as Democratic presidential candidate but he shocked the party by insisting he had no intention of running. His reluctance to stand aroused speculation about his Italian roots and the possibility of Mafia connections. He furiously denied these rumours and they were subsequently declared unfounded after investigation by the New York Magazine. As the primary campaign drew to a close in 1988 Cuomo remained the non-candidate whose shadow nevertheless loomed over the convention. He disappointed many in the party when he failed to play ‘white knight’ and deliver the convention from the unenviable task of choosing between the charismatic black candidate, Jesse Jackson, and the lacklustre Michael Dukakis.

Cuomo is a man of paradoxes: a charismatic leader able to inspire with his vision, eloquence, authority, integrity, and charm; but also a brooding self-doubter reluctant to seek the nation's highest office. He is the author of several books, including Forest Hills Diary (1974), Diaries of Mario Cuomo (1983), and Why Lincoln Matters (2004). Co-authored works include Lincoln on Democracy (1990) and The New York Idea (1994).


Subjects: Politics.

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