Mario Cuomo was the longest-serving Democratic governor in the modern history of New York State. He was elected New York States 54th Governor in 1983 and twice won re-election, setting records for popularity in both contests. Beginning with his widely admired keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention and his celebrated speech on the relationship of religion and politics at Notre Dame, he has helped define the progressive political landscape for two decades.
In twelve years at the helm of the nation's most populous state, Governor Cuomo steered the state through two recessions, balanced twelve consecutive budgets, created more than half a million jobs, and led the state through two national recessions. He launched the largest economic development initiative in New York history, spurring private sector growth through billions of dollars of public investment in infrastructure enhancements and the creation of an unparalleled network of high-tech research facilities. During Cuomo's tenure, foreign investment in New York almost doubled and thousands of new export opportunities were created for New York firms. He furthered the national debate on economic policy and trends through the findings of the Cuomo Commission on Trade and Competitiveness: The Cuomo Commission Report (1988) and America's Agenda: Rebuilding Economic Strength (1992).
During the decade that rocked the nation with the exploding crises of crack cocaine, homelessness and AIDS, Governor Cuomo also enhanced New York's reputation as a leader in socially progressive legislation. He created the country's most extensive drug treatment network, its largest program of housing assistance for the homeless, a nationally recognized plan for AIDS prevention and treatment, and tough but constructive new approaches to criminal justice, particularly in the area of drug-related crime. Cuomo also launched Child Health-Plus and the Children's Assistance Program, America's first real alternatives to welfare reform later used as models for federal welfare programs. He also initiated a revolutionary ten-year commitment to New York's children called “The Decade of the Child.”
His record was defined by enlightened innovation, instituting first-in-the-nation laws on everything from seat belt use to acid rain controls; the state's first significant ethics laws for public officials; the law requiring the application of generally accepted accounting principles to the state's budget; and the first state statute requiring regular and independent audits of all executive agencies, including the Comptroller's Office, the State Inspector General's Office, and his own Office of the Governor. The Seat Belt Law has since been adopted by every state in the union and has proven to have saved thousands of lives.
Having designated a total of 112 judges, Governor Cuomo also set a new standard for both diversity and judicial achievement on the state's highest court, appointing all seven members of New York's highly regarded Court of Appeals, including the first and second women judges, the first black, the first Hispanic, and the first woman to serve as Chief Judge.
Despite its often emphatic disagreement with him, The National Review, regarded as the bible of conservative thought in the United States, has said this about the former Governor: “Mario Cuomo has for years been hailed as both the philosopher-king and the humble ‘conscience' of the Democratic Party, a formidable, saintly genius of liberalism. Since his efflorescence at the 1984 Democratic Convention, even many conservatives have accorded this, their archenemy, a certain respect.”
The New York Times called his tenure “one of the most celebrated governorships in history.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the Governor's speech at the University of Notre Dame on religion and politics has been described as the most important and influential ever given by a United States Catholic layman.
A March 2007 Marist College poll of 641 registered voters asked whether they thought various governors were good. Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, received a 74 percent favorable rating, higher than those received by Governors Pataki, Carey and Rockefeller. The Marist Poll Director said, “When people reflect, people look back and say: ‘Mario Cuomo, pretty good governor.' ”
Mario Cuomo began life in the struggling neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens, at the height of the great Depression, the son of Andrea and Immaculata Cuomo, recent immigrants from rural Italy. Though he could barely speak English when he began first grade in the New York City public schools, Cuomo graduated summa cum laude from St. John's University in 1953 and in 1956 tied for top-of-the-class honors at St. John's University School of Law. He later served there for thirteen years as an adjunct professor. Cuomo also clerked for New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, under Judge Adrian P. Burke, and entered private practice in 1958 with the firm of Corner, Weisbrod, Froeb & Charles. He appeared in every level of the New York State Courts and the Supreme Court of The United States.
For more than a decade, he fought as an advocate for the ordinary citizen and eventually gained prominent public notice in 1972, when, at the request of New York City Mayor John Lindsay, he stepped in to resolve a bitter dispute over proposed public housing in the community of Forest Hills, Queens. His subsequent book, Forest Hills Diary: The Crisis of Low-Income Housing (1974), captured both the political and philosophical dimensions of the controversy.
Cuomo continued to practice law until 1975 when he was appointed by Governor Hugh Carey as New York's Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, he helped write the first public disclosure laws in New York State and drafted the first reform of New York's lobbying laws in over 70 years. In 1978, he was elected as Lieutenant Governor, a position he held until going on to win the governorship himself in 1982. This hard-fought and unpredictable campaign became the subject of his second book, Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo (1984).
In 2007 Governor Cuomo was the recipient of the Federal Bar Council's Emory Buckner Medal in grateful recognition of his “outstanding public service.” The Federal Bar Council promotes practice excellence in federal courts as well as advancing relationships among the federal judiciary and attorneys. Past recipients of the Emory Buckner Medal have been United States Ambassadors Harriman and Richardson, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Supreme Court Justices Brennan, Berger, Powell, Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, O'Connor and Ginsburg, Attorneys General Brownell and Levi, Governors Dewey and Rockefeller, Senators Javits, Buckley, Moynihan and Ribicoff, and North Carolina State Attorney General Thornburg.
Married since 1954, Governor Cuomo and his wife Matilda Raffa Cuomo are the parents of five children: Dr. Margaret I. Cuomo, married to Howard Maier; Andrew Cuomo, New York State Attorney General; Maria Cuomo, married to Kenneth Cole; Madeline Cuomo, married to Brian O'Donoghue; and Christopher Cuomo, co-anchor of ABC-TV's Good Morning America, married to Cristina Greeven. The Cuomos have twelve granddaughters and one grandson.
Since leaving public office, Governor Cuomo has returned to the practice of law, as a Partner and now Of Counsel in the New York office of the international firm of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, advising public companies, boards of directors and audit committees on issues of corporate governance and financial reporting, and has engaged in a broader practice specializing in national and international corporate law.
He is also a member of the Board of Editors of the New York Law Journal.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters, an organization over one hundred years old, awarded Governor Cuomo its Medal for Spoken Language in 1999. Governor Cuomo was the first lawyer or politician to be so honored by the Academy.
He continues to pursue his wide-ranging interest in public policy, writing and appearing as a guest commentator on radio.
In his, Why Lincoln Matters, Today More Than Ever, published in 2004, Governor Cuomo brings to life the contemporary relevance of Lincoln's message for today's hot-button issues. In 2002, he authored the Foreword for the Second and Third Editions of Accounting Irregularities and Financial Fraud―A Corporate Governance Guide, which is a step-by-step advisory on how crises can overtake a company and how to prevent them from happening at all. In 1999, the Governor published The Blue Spruce, his first children's book, an inspirational tale derived from one of his own experiences as a child. Reason to Believe, published by Simon & Schuster in 1995 and republished in an updated version in 1996, describes the challenges facing us today and points the way to workable answers. Before that, he had written More than Words (1993), a collection of some of the Governor's most famous speeches; The New York Idea: An Experiment in Democracy (1994), the success story of the Empire State; Lincoln on Democracy (1990), a volume Cuomo co-edited that brings together for the first time all of Abraham Lincoln's speeches, writings, and conversations on the central theme of American political life; Diaries of Mario Cuomo (1984), which described his first campaign for governor, and the Forest Hills Diary (1974), a description of the experiences that led him into public life. Editions of Lincoln on Democracy have appeared in Polish, Japanese and Hebrew.