Former New York governor Mario Cuomo dies

2015-01-02 16:24
Mario Cuomo. (File: AFP)

Mario Cuomo. (File: AFP)

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New York - Mario Cuomo, a three-time New York governor who was once considered a leading candidate for the White House, died on Thursday aged 82.

He died at home from heart failure, just hours after his eldest son Andrew was inaugurated for a second term as New York governor.

"He couldn't be here physically today, my father. But my father is in this room. He's in the heart and mind of every person who is here," Andrew Cuomo's office said in a statement.

"His inspiration and his legacy and experience is what has brought this state to this point."

Known in part for his eloquent speeches and his steadfast opposition to New York reinstating the death penalty, Cuomo rose to national prominence thanks to a famous 1984 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

"Shining city on a hill"

In it, he delivered a rebuttal to Republican president Ronald Reagan's depiction of the US as a "shining city on a hill" filled with opportunity for all, saying many Americans remained impoverished or feared losing their jobs.

"The hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city's splendor and glory," Cuomo told rapt Democrats in the San Francisco address.

"Mr President, you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'shining city on a hill.'"

Despite being considered a possible frontrunner in subsequent presidential nomination battles, Cuomo never ran for the White House.

In 1993, he asked president Bill Clinton to consider him for the Supreme Court but he withdrew his candidacy just before an offer was made. Eventually, another New Yorker, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, secured the nomination. She still serves in the US's top court.

'Embodied the American dream'

The former president and his wife, Hillary Clinton - widely viewed as the leading Democratic contender for the 2016 White House race - in a joint statement called Cuomo "the embodiment of the American dream".

"It was Mario Cuomo's great gift and our good fortune that he was both a sterling orator and a passionate public servant. His life was a blessing," the Clintons wrote.

Cuomo first became New York governor in 1982, and easily won reelection in 1986 and 1990.

But by 1994, following a recession and a weak economic recovery, New Yorkers were fed up with Cuomo. He lost his fourth-term bid in a 1994 Republican landslide that left George Pataki the victor.

"Our deepest condolences on the passing of Gov Cuomo, a proud son of immigrants, possessed of a soaring intellect & a great New Yorker," Pataki said in a Twitter message.

Other US politicians were also quick to pay tribute, including current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"Mario Cuomo was a man of unwavering principle," de Blasio said. "He established the gold standard in New York state for how public servants should act, and set an example that the rest of us continue to aspire to."

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, called Cuomo a "giant".

"He was a strong, eloquent leader who loved New York and its people. As an Italian-American, he was also a role model for future generations that anything was possible through hard work and education," Christie said.

And New York Senator Chuck Schumer called him "a colossal political mind [who] represented the very best of public service; he leaves an indelible legacy on the state he loved".

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