Tags: Presidential History | mario cuomo | governor | democrat | new york | george marlin | book

A New Look at the First Gov. Cuomo: The Man Who Would Be President But Wasn't

mario cuomo sits and smiles during an unveiling of a charity in nineteen eighty-eight
Late New York Democrat Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1988 (Frankie Ziths/AP)

By Saturday, 05 December 2020 07:29 PM Current | Bio | Archive

"Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man" – by George Marlin (St. Augustine's Press; 348 pp.)

It is hard to believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo is nearly finished with his third term as governor of New York. At 64, Cuomo's presidential dreams long behind him, and an appointment from Joe Biden highly unlikely, he has a fourth term in 2022 as his lone political option.

In an odd case of déjà vu, Andrew Cuomo is in identically the same situation as his father-governor Mario in 1994.

The elder Cuomo lost his fourth term bid. But he remained — and indeed remains — a beloved icon with the Democrat Party and, nearly six years after his death, is revered by liberals nationwide.

Like Adlai Stevenson, Mario Cuomo's soaring oratory — rich in aphorisms and history — "made us all proud to be Democrats," as late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., said of the two-time presidential nominee as he place his name in nomination for a third run at the 1960 Democratic National Committee Convention.

Incredibly, the Adlai-of-the-80's enjoys a similar iconic status without having taken a single step toward pursuit of his party's presidential nomination — finally saying "no" twice after much very public soul-searching and breast-beating.

In "Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man," George Marlin takes a look at this curious and complex politician with no holds barred. Marlin's mastery of history and detail, so evident in his earlier books on the New York Conservative Party and the Catholic Archbishops of New York, is put to excellent use as he unearths Cuomo's defeats and eventual victories, his influence on the current Democratic party (notably on the issue of abortion), and just why he never became president or even tried to.

Cuomo's "no go" for president, Marlin explains, had nothing to do with the incessant rumors of Mafia ties — which the uber-sensitive Cuomo himself frequently evoke to demonstrate he was the target of bigotry — and almost certainly had to do with his own prickly personality and dislike of criticism from the press or just about anyone.

"I have difficulty with the notion of wanting [the presidency] badly," he said following his decision not to run in 1992. "I'm not sure what that means. I'm afraid some people want the office too much and I always tried to guard against that."

This, after Cuomo had two chartered planes — one for him and one for the press — ready to fly to New Hampshire on the final day of the filing deadline for the first-in-the-nation primary. But the governor backed down, citing his inability to get the Republican-controlled state senate to agree to a budget.

Cuomo also sent out exasperating signals to President Clinton in 1993 he was not interested in a Supreme Court appointment Clinton and wife Hillary very much wanted him to take.

(The press eagerly anticipated some highly intellectual jousts between Cuomo and the Italian-American jurist already on the court, Antonin Scalia. Incredibly, Cuomo was a fan of the conservative Scalia and said at the time of his appointment: "[He] should be confirmed immediately. I'll take on the whole Democratic Party if they try anything on Scalia").

After telling son Andrew "if you want me to, I'll call Clinton and I'll take it [the high court appointment]." He then faxed Clinton a letter declining the appointment.

As beloved as he remains among Democrats, Cuomo's relations with his contemporaries are fraught with bewilderment and animosity. After an embarrassing loss of the lieutenant governor primary in 1974 despite party organization support, Cuomo was rescued from oblivion by Democrat Gov. Hugh Carey with an appointment as secretary of state.

But Cuomo and Carey never had a close relationship, even after Cuomo ran for mayor of New York with Carey's blessing and made it to lieutenant governor the following year.

In an acrimonious race that is still discussed among New York pols, Cuomo lost the 1977 mayoral contest to future three-term Mayor Ed Koch — both in the Democratic primary and in November as the candidate of the Liberal Party.

Marlin captures the contest brilliantly, and offers powerful evidence that candidate Cuomo and his son-campaign operative Andrew were behind the ugly posters suggesting lifelong bachelor Koch was gay: "Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo!"

Cuomo got sweet revenge by defeating the mayor for the Democrat nomination for governor in 1982. Koch, who Marlin and most who knew him believe was asexual, never forgave the governor for what he considered a brutal smear.

More than a quarter-century after he last sought office and five years after his death, Mario Cuomo's influence on his party is primarily in its approach to abortion. Once pro-life, Cuomo, as the politician on the make, sculpted the position that while "personally opposed" to abortion, he would not impose his position and that of his church on the public as a whole.

As much as Cuomo irked many of his church's leaders (notably the late John Cardinal O'Connor of New York, who hinted at excommunication of the governor), his explanation of how he differed with it on the public handling of abortion inspired a generation of Catholic Democrats to style themselves "Mario Cuomo Catholics" — stating loyalty to their faith but exempting themselves from its teaching on the right to life.

The most notable "Cuomo Catholic" is, of course, Joe Biden.

This is a major part of the legacy of Mario Cuomo, a politician whose life author Marlin clearly demonstrates is worth delving into and examining.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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In "Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man," author George Marlin takes a look at this curious and complex politician with no holds barred, and just why he never became president or even tried to, Newsmax's John Gizzi reports.
mario cuomo, governor, democrat, new york, george marlin, book
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2020-29-05
Saturday, 05 December 2020 07:29 PM
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