NEW YORK — Mario Cuomo’s legacy as a powerful orator, three-term governor and immigrant’s son whose humble upbringing in Queens inspired his approach to public service were championed at his funeral Tuesday by an inarguable heir to his politics — Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his son.
“At his core, he was a philosopher. He was a poet. He was an advocate. He was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels,” the younger Cuomo said in a eulogy that spanned from his father’s biggest speeches to his fierce competitiveness on the basketball court.
The former governor — who flirted with but never made a presidential run and turned down an opportunity to be nominated for a U.S. Supreme Court seat — was a leader whose politics were part-and-parcel of his beliefs, not strategies for pleasing people, the younger Cuomo said.
He was, he said, “anything but a typical politician.”
Dignitaries from both sides of the political aisle gathered to mourn the Democratic Party icon. The 82-year-old died Thursday at 82, hours after his son was inaugurated for a second term.
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, state Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos and Republican-turned-independent former Mayor Michael Bloomberg were among the dignitaries in St. Ignatius Loyola Church’s 800 packed seats. Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver put off taking his seat before the funeral started, standing outside in the snow to await the hearse.
“Mario Cuomo ever communicated a spirit of inclusivity and care, a spirit of decency and uprightness that inspired love and respect,” said the Rev. George M. Witt, the pastor of St. Ignatius, where some of Cuomo’s five children are parishioners and several of his grandchildren have gone to school. “In the end, it was not so much the eloquence of his words that spoke to us but the eloquence of his life.”
Scripture readings — some by Cuomo’s daughters — included the Beatitudes, which were said to be among Cuomo’s favorites, and a quote from the Book of Wisdom that begins, “The souls of the just are in the hands of God.”
The elder Cuomo was known for his oratorical skills, for powerful appeals for social justice that blended liberal ideals with his personal experience as the son of an Italian immigrant grocer, for an intellectual nature given to discoursing on Jesuit philosophy along with discussing public policy — and for his deliberations over running for president, which earned him the nickname “Hamlet on the Hudson.” He came close to running in 1988 and 1992 but decided not to.
Cuomo was most remembered for a speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, where he focused on an America divided between haves and have-nots and scolded Republican President Ronald Reagan for not working to close that gap.
On Monday, hundreds waited in a line that stretched more than a block to pay their respects at Cuomo’s wake. Vice President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, actor Alan Alda and former state Comptroller Carl McCall were among those who paid tribute.
Even after hours of greeting mourners, his widow, Matilda Cuomo still managed to smile as she spoke lovingly of her spouse. “He’s up there, telling God what to do. He’s working with God now,” she said.
Lynda Rufo, a banker lined up outside the funeral home, said her daughter was finishing law school because of Cuomo’s encouragement.
“He was a part of New York,” Rufo said. “He always took the time to be there for everyone, no matter who you were or where you came from. He loved people.”
DAVID KLEPPER AND JONATHAN LEMIRE, Associated Press
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.