1982
Mario Cuomo, the first Italian American elected Governor of New York.


More so than any other Italian American of the last quarter of a century, Mario Cuomo (1932- ), born in Queens, New York, made perhaps the deepest political impression locally and nationally. During his time in the public arena, Mario was an authentic embodiment of the best in the Italian ethnic representation by virtue of his articulate and unapologetic espousal of family solidarity and ethnicity. Mario's parents were illiterate and poor Neapolitan immigrants who came to this country in the late 1920s, to do better for the family. Heir to their example, Mario's youth revolved around the family, the Catholic Church where he served as an altar boy, reading, playing ball and working in the family grocery store. Mario, who attended St. John's Prep and St. John's University, was influenced by the liberal teachings of Teilhard de Chardin and Pope John XXIII that permeated his public life. However, he is a very complex personality. Steadfast in his declaration of the primacy of Catholicism in his life, he also split with the Church on the abortion issue, stating, "I believe its wrong, but I won't impose my views." After graduation at the top of his class at St. John's Law School he became a clerk in the State Court of Appeals. Thinking that two years in that valuable background would serve him well when applying for a position with a prestigious New York law firm, he received a rude awakening upon being rejected, convinced that anti-Italianism and anti-Catholicism may have been factors. Instead he became a professor in St. John's Law School. Mario combined teaching with involvement in contentious neighborhood causes -including helping to save an Italian neighborhood from destruction --that brought him to Mayor John Lindsay's attention. While that experience whetted his appetite for elective politics, he was unsuccessful in his initial forays, failing to obtain the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor and for lieutenant governor in 1974. He was, however, appointed New York Secretary of State. Finally, in 1978 Cuomo won his first major office: lieutenant governor. In 1982 he won both the Democratic primary and the general race for New York Governor becoming New York's first elected Italian American chief executive.

It was as the keynote speaker in the1984 Democratic National Convention that he attained national prominence in a speech that some ranked with William Jennings Bryan. Cuomo lashed out against the failings of Ronald Reaganís presidential administration and also extolled the "Family of America" by citing the story of the struggle of his immigrant parents. It made such lasting impression that it elevated him to the foremost ranks of eloquent contemporary orators. He made additional headlines in a 1984 speech at the University of Notre Dame when he took issue with Archbishop John J. O'Connor over the sensitive abortion topic. Maintaining adherence to the Church's position against abortion and personal disapproval of abortion, he also affirmed that, in the absence of a consensus shared by a pluralistic community, he would not foist his views on society. While this explanation was unsatisfactory to some it was lauded by many. Mario Cuomo's landslide victory in 1986 propelled him into the forefront of Democratic presidential candidate possibilities in1988, and again in 1992 after winning his third term in 1990. He declined to seek the nomination declaring his first responsibility was to carry on as governor, however, speculation abounded that he did not want to subject his family to stereotypical Mafia-related innuendoes that many Italian Americans in the public eye have endured. By 1994 support for Cuomo had so drastically deteriorated that he lost re-election to George Pataki, who also is Italian American. Even though Mario returned to private law practice, his son Andrew Cuomo was waiting in the wings for his own foray into politics, becoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton.

Mario Cuomo with NIAF Chairman Frank Guarini
Cuomo with wife Matilda



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