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MMC

January 8, 2015

Would Mario Cuomo have debated his own eulogy?  You bet he would. And to honor him, we will, too.  We’ll try to do it respectfully, because it was a very good speech that his son delivered. It’s just that we, as long time observers and fans of the man, disagreed mildly with certain aspects of it.

First, there was the opening construct in which Andrew described Mario as a person who told people, not what they wanted to hear, but what he wanted to tell them.  There’s definitively something to that articulation, but it strikes a chord of defiance and even arrogance that obscures something deeper in what Mario was trying to do. For example, when Mario was talking about the death penalty, he knew that the majority of people supported it. He understood how people felt and contrary to what many think, he identified with it.  He wasn’t Michael Dukakis, who, when asked what he’d do if his wife was assaulted, demurred. When that question was posed to Mario, there was a look in his eyes that made it clear he’d rip the person apart.  But a special thing about Mario was that he could take that intensity of feeling and turn it into something positive. He said that when people are at their best, they know that the vengeful, violent impulse is wrong.  Triumphing over that natural impulse was hard, really hard, but it had to be done and could be done for the betterment of all.  Mario would say this and more in a way that was truly convincing.

This wasn’t Mario spouting off about his views on how things should be. It was not him opining gratuitously, as in: “I think this … or I think that.”  It was him saying that far above and beyond him, there was a larger, grander, imperative logic that we’re all supposed to respect.

This was always meant to be unifying. Again, it wasn’t:  “I’m right and you’re wrong”–  although it was often taken that way. Instead, it was Mario saying: “Please, go home and think about it and I’ll bet, when you and I are at our best, we’re going to agree.”

This isn’t inconsistent with what Andrew was saying, but it adds a nuance that we think was the essence of Mario. There are some other additional, smaller, funny points to be made:

There was a line in Andrew’s speech about Mario finding “tedium in the minutia of bureaucracy.”  While all due respect, that’s Andrew speaking, not Mario. Mario loved the minutia. All of it. Ask any of the people who worked for him.  There simply was no aspect of government that he didn’t want to know about. No policy. No function. Not even the interrelationship between levels of government. He was into all of it. That’s why his State of the State addresses provided updates on virtually every public policy. That’s why he compiled voluminous reports chronicling every achievement in every program area.

And then there was Andrew’s representation of Mario’s relationship with the media. Where to begin on that one?  Well, he got it right in that Mario loved to engage directly with the reporters and that he frequently became quite animated in doing so. But the part Andrew didn’t capture because he doesn’t share it is that Mario truly respected reporters and the job they did. In fact, he’d always say of them: “These are people who could be successes in any field, but they choose a field with long hours and low pay because they believe in what they do.” The father really respected reporters; the son, less so.  It was telling that Andrew reeled off half a dozen names of reporters with whom Mario enjoyed a close relationship. Andrew can’t do that and it’s not because journalism has changed.

Ah, but this post isn’t meant to be critical of Andrew. It’s meant to give a different perspective on Mario. In this regard, while a son, as well as other family members, certainly have a claim on a man’s legacy,  so, too, do others who knew him and had great respect, affection and even love for him.

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