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Mario Cuomo laid to rest, after son Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers moving eulogy

Karen DeWitt/WXXI

Former Governor Mario Cuomo was laid to rest in New York today after a funeral and wake that was attended by prominent politicians, including former President and first Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden. But the ceremony and the eulogy by his son, Governor Andrew Cuomo, focused on the personal as well as the political. Cuomo called his father “the keynote speaker for our better angels”.

In a moving and at times emotional speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo portrayed his father as a political outsider from the “outer borough” of Queens, who always cared for those who were overlooked in life, who viewed a hard fought game of basketball as his “liberation” from the decorum he felt he had to present as a three term governor, and who hated the “tedium and absurdity of the bureaucracy”.  Andrew Cuomo says his father called himself a “progressive pragmatist” whose soaring rhetoric was inspired not by what people wanted to hear, but what he needed to say.

“And that, my friends was the essence of Mario Cuomo,” said Andrew Cuomo. “He was not interested in pleasing the audience.”  

Andrew Cuomo addressed his sometimes complicated relationship with his father, saying those who try to “psychoanalyze” it have got it all wrong. He says he was devoted to his father, who he called his hero, best friend, confidante and mentor and that they reveled in each other’s political victories. He expressed regret that he decided to remain in Washington DC, where he was HUD Secretary, in 1994, and did not come home to New York to run his father’s final campaign, which Mario Cuomo ultimately lost. Andrew Cuomo, after one failed attempt, became governor 16 years later.  

“I loved winning the governorship more for him than for myself,” said Andrew Cuomo. “It was redemption for my father.”

That 2014 Election night was to be Mario Cuomo’s last public appearance, he died at age 82 on New Year’s Day, just after his son gave two inaugural speeches in New York City and in Buffalo, to begin his second term. Andrew Cuomo says he had hoped that his father could have attended, and held the bible for the swearing in, but it was not to be.  The elder Cuomo was by then too sick. The Buffalo speech began at 4 PM. Mario Cuomo died at 5:15.

“He waited,” said Andrew Cuomo, his voice breaking. “And then he quietly slipped out of the event and he went home, just like he always did, because his job was done.”

The funeral was held at St Ignatius Loyola Church on Park Avenue, near where Mario Cuomo and his wife of 60 years, Matilda have lived, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, since the elder Cuomo left office 20 years ago.

Credit nygovernor.com

Parish priest George Witt, who says Cuomo was “fundamentally a humble man”, says the former governor wanted a simple, local ceremony.

“In the end, it was not so much the eloquence of his words that spoke to us, but the eloquence of his life,” said Witt.  

Outside, a phalanx of state police stood at attention on the gray and snowy day, as the former Governor’s coffin, draped in the New York State flag, was born by pallbearers including his youngest child and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

Mario Cuomo also leaves behind three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.     

Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio.