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JAN 06 - JAN 14, 2015

Mario Cuomo Was Gifted and Proud Italian American

By Tony Farina

January 06, 2015

Mario Cuomo

Today, over 17 million Americans claim Italian ancestry, but the list of prominent Italian Americans, past and present, is impressive not only for its number but for its range of accomplishment and fame with names like Fiorello LaGuardia, Frank Capra, Joe DiMaggio, Lee Iacocca, Antonin Scalia and Frank Sinatra to name just a few.

One of the most famous and influential Italian Americans was the three-time governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, who died this past week at the age of 82. Mario Cuomo was the first Italian American to become governor of New York and some think he might have become the first Italian American in the White House if he had run for that highest of offices in 1988 and again in 1992when, while governor, he decided against becoming a candidate for reasons that may never be completely known even though he was being urged to run by many supporters at home and across the nation.

Cuomo said he was committed to his job as governor of New York and served as the state's chief executive until he was defeated in his bid for a fourth term in 1994 by little known Republican Assemblyman George Pataki. But while in office, and before and after, Cuomo was a champion for his liberal agenda, a powerful orator and debater, and an Italian American who served his fellow Americans with honor and distinction. Along the way, he was a distinguished and proud Italian American who never forgot his roots.

The National Italian American Foundation Board of Directors issued a statement mourning Cuomo's passing, stating "no matter what side of the aisle you come from, Governor Mario Cuomo was a larger than life figure, particularly for the Italian Americans. Maria and Matilda Cuomo are leaders who kept their Italian identity at the forefront of who they are, and always served this community in real ways. This man inspired great pride for so many Italian Americans. He was an intellectual, a well-respected member of the legal community, and most importantly a gifted orator."

The Foundation went on to say that the proud son of Italian immigrants represented the very best for Italian Americans "and leaves a legacy for all Americans as a political leader and pioneer in the field of politics and government."

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, was one of those across the political aisle from Mario Cuomo, but upon Cuomo's passing, Giuliani told the New York Observer he was" a truly exceptional American."

Giuliani, who broke with his party and endorsed Cuomo for a fourth term in 1994, said that while the endorsement was controversial and caused party wounds that took time to repair, "I was proud to have endorsed this truly exceptional man of conscience and of great intellect."

In addition, Giuliani made reference to their shared Italian heritage, saying "he [Cuomo] raised the level of respect for Italian Americans and for all elected public servants."

I was a television journalist during the time that Mario Cuomo served as governor, and I knew him to be a tough political in-fighter who often clashed with members of his own party in Western New York but who also delivered for the Buffalo side of the state with money for things like a minor league baseball stadium the Bisons call home, the modernization of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and money to complete the Southern Tier Expressway and financial help to local businesses to keep jobs from leaving town.

As a fellow Italian American, I was also proud of this intellectual giant who swept to national prominence with his electrifying keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

George Borrelli, the long-time and much respected political reporter for the Buffalo News, covered Mario Cuomo during his three terms as governor and says Cuomo was perhaps the greatest orator of his day. Borrelli, who shares Cuomo's Italian ancestry, also recognized Cuomo's impact on Italian Americans who looked up to the brilliant speechmaker and politician whether they agreed with his agenda or not.

That's the view held by Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo, a proud Italian American who, despite their obvious political differences, saw Cuomo as a man who followed his passion and was an inspiration to many Italian Americans not only in New York but across the nation no matter their politics.

"Gov. Cuomo was a role model to many Italian Americans," said Lorigo, "and he was certainly a force to be reckoned with on the political stage in this state for a very long time."

The memory of Mario Cuomo will stay in the hearts and minds of those of us who saw him at his finest in that 1984 Tale of Two Cities speech that sent the nation the message that this Italian American governor from New York was indeed a force to be reckoned with.







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©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
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Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina