The death of Mario Cuomo today at age 82 marks the final end for one of the great “what if” figures in American politics.
Today, the Left’s standard bearer is Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts who was first elected to office only two years ago. Back in the 1980s, the liberal heartthrob was Mario Cuomo.
The governor of New York from 1983 to 1995, Cuomo was long considered the great hope of the Left, especially after his riveting keynote speech to the 1984 Democratic National Convention. In it he contrasted Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a “shining city on a hill” with what he claimed was a more accurate description.
“There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit, in your shining city,” Cuomo told the Democratic delegates, who went on to nominate Walter Mondale and lose 49 out of 50 states that year.
But liberals believed Cuomo had the magic to win and relentlessly promoted him as the Democratic stand bearer in 1988 and 1992. Both times, Cuomo stalled and finally declined to run, earning the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson.”
Cuomo ultimately turned down another big opportunity after Bill Clinton became president in 1992. Last year, Clinton told a New York fundraiser that he offered Cuomo a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
“He is the first man in the history of this country to turn down a position on the Supreme Court, and it’s because he was dedicated to New York,” Clinton told a gathering of donors to Help USA, a homeless aid organization founded by current New York governor Andrew Cuomo, Mario’s son.
Only 18 months after he turned down the Supreme Court appointment, Cuomo was defeated for a fourth term by Republican George Pataki. He retired then from politics at the age of 62.
A decent man who believed passionately in his liberal ideology, Cuomo lived to see the economic policies he championed gradually leave the state he so loved in steady decline. Just last week, the Census Bureau announced that New York has been surpassed in population by economically thriving Florida as the nation’s third-largest state.