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Former N.Y. Gov. Mario Cuomo remembered as eloquent liberal

Mario Cuomo's response to President Ronald Reagan's description of the United States as a "city on a hill" at the 1984 Democratic convention was one of the high points of his career.

By
Frances Burns
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo embraces his son, Andrew, on election night 2014. Andrew Cuomo was elected to a second term and was sworn in hours before his father's death on New Year's Day. UPI/John Angelillo
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo embraces his son, Andrew, on election night 2014. Andrew Cuomo was elected to a second term and was sworn in hours before his father's death on New Year's Day. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo

NEW YORK, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was hours from death when his son, Andrew, paid tribute to him as he was inaugurated to a second term as governor.

Andrew Cuomo, speaking at a modest ceremony Thursday in lower Manhattan, said his father was "in the room," even though he was unable to be there.

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"He's in the heart and mind of every person who is here. His inspiration and his legacy and his spirit is what has brought this day to this point," Andrew said.

Andrew was not with other family members when his father died of heart disease because he had traveled to Buffalo for a second ceremony.

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Cuomo served three terms as governor of New York. He was remembered more for his oratory than his efforts at balancing budgets and dealing with infrastructure. The high point was probably his keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic convention when he criticized President Ronald Reagan's picture of the United States as a "city on a hill."

"Mr. President, you ought to know that this is more 'a tale of two cities' than just a 'shining city on a hill,'" Cuomo said.

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He addressed the relationship between religion and politics at Notre Dame University, saying that as a Catholic he believed abortion was a sin but he also believed it was a choice women had the right to make.

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It was those speeches that President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remembered in a statement released through their foundation.

"It was Mario Cuomo's great gift and our good fortune that he was both a sterling orator and a passionate public servant," they said. "His life was a blessing."

President Obama called Cuomo "a determined champion of progressive values."

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"He was probably during his time the most eloquent public official in the nation. ... He certainly carried the torch for progressive ideas," political consultant George Arzt told the New York Daily News. Cuomo seemed destined for higher office than he achieved. His dithering about a presidential run earned him the nickname "Hamlet on the Hudson" and in 1993 he asked President Bill Clinton to take his name off a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

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Instead, after his 1994 defeat by George Pataki, Cuomo returned to private law practice.

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