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Post Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015
Created by John Eipper on 01/02/15 5:50 AM

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Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015 (Bienvenido Macario, USA, 01/02/15 5:50 am)

Mario Cuomo once said: "It is not a government's obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided."

We could write "jobs," "recovery," or even "progress" instead of "services." This is how the private sector should approach their respective challenges. A lot of government critics fail to offer alternatives or possible solutions. Mario Cuomo with this statement is encouraging us to think outside the box. He is asking the private sector to sharpen their pencils and do their homework.

This style of public administration made Mario Cuomo my kind of progressive liberal. Job well done.


JE comments: From his resounding address at the 1984 Democratic convention, at least until the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Mario Cuomo was the one politician everyone was certain would become president. Has anyone in US political history come closer without ever actually running? I can only think of William T. Sherman in the 19th century.

Mario Cuomo also has the distinction of being the one liberal progressive my father really liked.  Cuomo was an excellent orator, and gave off a confident aura of intelligence and approachability. A classy guy.  We haven't had too many of those in US politics.

I second Bienvenido Macario's warm farewell to the Governor.

Did anyone in WAISworld meet Mario Cuomo?  I suspect that David Duggan, who was an attorney in NYC during the Cuomo era, might have.

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  • Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015 (David Duggan, USA 01/02/15 2:26 PM)
    I never met Gov. Mario Cuomo personally, but he and I shared the 57th floor of Two World Trade Center for a time in the early 1980s before his office decided that that it needed the entire floor. I was a Special Assistant Attorney General with the Office of the Special State Prosecutor for the New York City Criminal Justice System (a fancy title for a fancy office), and Cuomo and I took public office in the same year, 1983.

    Cuomo was a moderately successful Queens County lawyer who had made his reputation in several open (read public) housing disputes in the 1960s and '70s. He had run for, and lost several elections (NY state senator, NYC mayor, NY lieutenant governor) before running against NYC Mayor Ed Koch in the 1982 Democratic gubernatorial primary. The media had anointed Koch as the new messiah until he gave an interview to Playboy magazine (remember that) showing utter disrespect to New Yorkers living north of the George Washington Bridge, claiming that they had nothing to do except drive their shotgun-racked pickups to the Sears store and buy a gingham dress and a polyester blend suit. Needless to say, the 60% plus of New York voters living outside the five boroughs did not take kindly to this comment, and Cuomo was the surprise winner. He beat a credible and wealthy Republican opponent, Lew Lehrman, in the 1982 general election by only two points. He was reelected two times until New Yorkers finally realized that he was "too liberal for too long" and sent him into an early retirement after the 1994 election when he lost to George Pataki. His son, now the Governor, broke the news to him. Had Cuomo won a 4th term, he would have been the longest serving governor in NY history, eclipsing Nelson Rockefeller's record of 14 years.

    This is where it gets interesting. Rockefeller was governor when Cuomo hit the Queens County open housing radar screen and John Lindsay was mayor of Fun City. The 1970s were an interesting time in NYC's political history if for no other reason than you had NYPD officers Frank Serpico and David Dirk making allegations of widespread corruption in the criminal justice system: not only police officers, but DA's and judges were on the take. Cuomo, not a "clubhouse guy," was nevertheless the beneficiary of the upsetting of the Queens County DA's office after it was revealed that the DA was selling cases against organized crime types at the grand jury level. (Once a no-true bill [i.e., no indictment] is voted, it's very difficult to have a new grand jury re-consider the evidence.) Rockefeller appointed a new Queens DA, and together with Lindsay, they appointed the "Knapp Commission" to investigate Dirk's and Serpico's allegations. One of that commission's recommendations was to have a separate Special Prosecutor, independent of the elected county DA's, handle cases against corrupt cops and the like. The idea, of course, was that with the "blue wall," DA's could not make their significant cases (murder, rape, robbery) if they were also prosecuting corrupt cops for taking bribes from drug dealers. The Special Prosecutor's Office was created in the late 1970s and some of its exploits were chronicled in the film, Prince of the City, with Treat Williams playing the role of NYPD officer Bob Leuci, a once-corrupt cop who went straight (and saved his pension), serving out his 20 years taking attendance at the police academy on 21st Street.

    The Queens DA: Rockefeller's appointment, Michael Armstrong, lost the next election to one Nick Ferraro, whose daughter Geraldine was appointed to head up a sex crimes unit. Geraldine was married to one John Zucotti who had a real estate business in the Little Italy section of Manhattan. What any of these persons of Italian descent knew about how the mob controlled Queens is open to speculation. I merely note that no less an authority on criminal behavior by those in public office than Bill Clinton commented on Cuomo's "major mafiosi" connections in a tape recorded conversation released during the 1992 presidential campaign.

    Wanting trial experience and not likely to get it at Wall Street or Park Avenue law firms, I applied for a job with the SPO, and perhaps because I had experience investigating fraud, I was offered the appointment, which is how I shared the 57th floor of 2WTC with Mario Cuomo. About a year after Cuomo had displaced us from our offices (he was already commandeering it so that the news types could place their antenna in our northern-facing windows to send signals up to their Midtown media headquarters), our specially appointed Special Prosecutor decided he wanted a better job (he was already the second highest paid state or local prosecutor in the nation), and Cuomo appointed him to the position of director of the State Liquor Authority. (Some wags suggested that this might be a conflict of interest.) The then NY Attorney General, Robert Abrams, a Bronx County clubhouse guy, mused that here's one of my deputies, who signs court documents on my behalf, going to my arch-rival for a better job. Abrams then tried to appoint one of his deputies to the now vacated post. Wait a minute, Cuomo said: you didn't consult me, and this office is paid for out of my budget, not yours. Abrams backed down, Cuomo appointed Charles J. (call me "Joe") Hynes, a former Brooklyn Assistant DA from the clubhouse days, who brought all his cronies back and fired all of the assistants save one (who had a rabbi among the new arrivals: that's Newyorkese for sponsor). I had to find new work and because my career had hit the wall in NYC; I returned to Chicago.

    Nearly 30 years hence, perhaps people will note a tinge of bitterness, certainly cynicism about my personal experience with the Hon. Mario Cuomo. Not so: I've had a fine life in Chicago and have been able to do much that may have been out of reach in the Apple. I would never say that Cuomo was a fraud (like so many Illinois governors), but unlike a Reagan, Roosevelt or a Lincoln, he was unable to match his oratory with practical application of the often sordid task of politics. It was not for nothing that he was regarded as the "Hamlet of the Hudson," but unlike the Prince of Denmark, he could not wield the knife (or pull the trigger in the modern vernacular). At best, he was a junior grade William Jennings Bryant who could charm the crowds but never overcome his innate sense that he was too good to bear the cross before he would wear the crown. May he rest in peace.

    And Joe Hynes: after serving six terms as Brooklyn DA, in 2013 he was defeated (by a 4-1 majority) by Kenneth Thompson, who had represented Dominique Strauss Kahn's alleged victim of sexual assault in the Manhattan hotel room. I'll let others decide as to his legacy in office (knowing he had designs on the Brooklyn DA's job, I turned down an offer to join that office after Hynes had requested my resignation, dodging at least one bullet), noting that Wikipedia has a reasonably thorough analysis of his quarter century as chief law enforcement officer of America's 3d most populous county. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_J._Hynes . I merely note that many have taken "Tailgunner Joe" (he was known for his self-aggrandizing tendencies) to task for the kid gloves way in which he handled prosecutions of the Hasidic community in Williamsburg, and other prosecutorial excesses against political opponents. Some think he may even be indicted. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

    JE comments:  Few in WAISworld can dish the political skinny like David Duggan.  David not only waxes an eloquent Chicago, but also (as he proves above), New York.  Many thanks for this comment, David.

    Remember the film Serpico?  I barely do, but I must have seen it sometime in the '70s.

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