Monday, May 02, 2005

The Man Who Should Have Been King: Governor Mario Cuomo

I wish I could create a POTUS picture and bio for Mario Cuomo. I don't know why he didn't run for President. I wish he had. I can guess:

a) The best guys never run for president.
b) The timing was never right. This is a perennial problem in Presidential politics--when do you make the run? There are scores of factors and infinite variations to consider.
c) Skeletons rattling in the closet? Those skeletons are often alluded to, but we have yet to see any substance. He ran for Mayor of New York and Governor of New York and nothing emerged. I never believed in those skeletons.
d) He didn't want to know if he would win or not. He wanted to keep that certain aura, which he would have sullied by jumping in.

In 1984, We ran Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. We lost. I'm not sure anyone, even Mario could have beaten President Reagan.

Michael Dukakis was our '88 candidate. I was a delegate for Jessie Jackson at the state convention, where we were rolled over by the other sides. Would Mario have had a shot at George Bush? I think so...

Could Mario have beaten Clinton in 1992? I don't know...but I'm pretty sure he could have beaten George Bush in the main event.

My favorite speech by Governor Cuomo (and he didn't give many bad ones) was at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco in 1984. I lived there at the time. I didn't get to see Mario (I came close to a ticket, but I blew it!) I did get to see speeches by VPOTUS candidate Geraldine Ferraro and Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles. Here is an excerpt of Mario's 1984 stemwinder. Read the speech, or better, listen to the audio here:


It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and
confidence. The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. The strong, the strong they tell us will inherit the land.


Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you visited some more places. Maybe if you went to Appalachia where some people still live in sheds, maybe if you went to Lackawanna where thousands of unemployed steel workers wonder why we subsidized foreign steel. Maybe, maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn't afford to use.



Kevin Curran said...

Jack Note: I had to post this comment Kevin emailed me, because the basketball story was so good!
Jack, I wish I could locate a complete audio version of the speach. I still play, now and again, the excerpt you sent to me, was it 10 years ago? I remember breaking down in tears just reading the text version in the
NYTimes the morning after the keynote. I stop by your site regularly and was tempted to leave a comment about the halo tilted above FDR's holy noggin and then again to offer my 2bits on why the Gov's plane didn't leave the Albany tarmac in the runup to the 92 election. I do think Mario could have beaten Bill. No matter what we think of the Slickster's prowess now he probably would have trembled at least a little before the 800lb gorilla on the Hudson. Mario has been pretty well defanged since then but don't forget the press, especially the NY contingent, still adored him in the early 90's and he wasn't shy about hitting hard. I still love his smackdown of Dan Quayle back then. You may know that Mario played regularly in a Albany pol basketball league whenever he was in the Gov's mansion. He had a nasty reputation on the court and it's hard to imagine any local ref calling him for a foul back then. So he bloodied a lot of opponents. Anyway, I don't remember why Mario fired but he essentially called Quayle a golf sissy and said if he wanted to play a real game he should come to Albany any weeknight and suit up for an old fashioned scrim NY style.

Kevin Curran said...

And more on Mario, again from Kevin Curran, when I wrote him back about his first email. Kevin is the one other person I know who is as big a Mario fan, and we both always hoped that that plane would leave the tarmac! /jb
from kevin curran email 5-2-05

Why didn't Mario run? I think now I agree with the Belluvian dogfish who asserts that Mario made a which way is the wind blowin' decision. He withdrew when he considered that the post Desert Storm frenzy surrounding GHWB made him a shoe-in two termer.. I think it's important to remember that Bill wouldn't have beaten George the elder had it not been for the Texarkana muskrat sucking 20 points in the general. I totally agree with you about Mario's thin skin. At that time most pundits thought it signaled his honesty when only a few years later they saw it as bellicose and bullying. I do remember that Mario did a fairly serious turn as a weekly radio host, national too, I think, for a while after losing office to Pataki. His ratings were quite poor though and he didn't last more than a few months, six at most.

And the basketball crack was really pointed and in response to some smart ass crack Quayle made about him. Oh, I was so hopeful that he would enter. I was returning to lower Manhattan about to enter the Brklyn Battery tunnel when WNYC gave notice of an important statement from Gov Cuomo whose plane had been staged on the tarmac all day long in anticipation of his flight to enter the race in the live free or die state. When I came out the otherside the dream was all over. I kew it in my guts even though I had to fiddle through a 1010 Wins news cycle before I learned for sure. DRAT.

Jack Brummet said...

You know, Kevin, I remember that day too. . .the plane waiting. It was even more exciting than that moment when McCarthy beat LBJ and we all waited to see "Will Bobby run?" And when he decided to make a go of it--of course, all hell broke loose. LBJ threw in the towel. And Nixon had to be in agony, to be facing the next Kennedy in line.

But back to the speech: it didn't actually bring me to tears, but it moved me deeply. Not only because of the political message, but because of the cadences. Mario was a poet in the best sense of the word, and whether it was a thin skin. . .or whatever it was, we lost something when he pulled back.

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, brought something else to the table. Slick Willy was an extremely intelligent man, like Mario, but he also had that certain something that Mario probably never have mustered. You could always picture giving Bill a hug. With Mario it would have been a warm handshake.

With Mario, you did feel the enormous depth of his compassion and his deep empathy. . .like you did with Bobby. With Bobby, it was a fragile and palpable hurt; with Mario it was compassion tinged with a stentorian rage...which was what made him so magnificent.

Did I ever tell you that I used to listen to him on the radio in NY? I think he was on WBAI. He was a comparitive nobody, just about to run for mayor I think. He was so Mario, even then.

I have yet to read his recent book:
Why Lincoln Matters: Today More Than Ever. But I will soon.

More soon. /jack