Former Gov. Mario Cuomo eulogized as advocate, crusader

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Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Flickr

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo was laid to rest Tuesday after a funeral that was attended by hundreds, including the state’s leading political figures, who mourned the passing of a three-term governor who rose from humble roots in Queens to become a standard bearer for Democrats across the nation.

The funeral at Manhattan’s St. Ignatius Loyola Church was attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Mayor Bill de Blasio and dozens of politicians from both sides of the political aisle who heard his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, deliver the eulogy.

Gov. Cuomo, during remarks that were broadcast live on TV, described his father as more of a humanist than a politician.

“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,” Gov. Cuomo said.

The most prominent political figure to come from Queens, Cuomo died on New Year’s Day at age 82 only hours after his son,  Andrew Cuomo, delivered an inaugural address for his second term as New York’s governor.

Holder attended the funeral as a representative for President Obama. A day earlier, several national figures attended Cuomo’s wake, including Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo’s former Republican rival George Pataki, who defeated Cuomo in a 1994 race for governor.

Most knew Cuomo for his role as governor and a lone voice of opposition against Ronald Reagan’s conservative vision for America. But Cuomo first gained recognition in Queens, where he was born, when a bitter dispute arose in 1972 over a proposal to build low-income public housing towers in Forest Hills. Then Mayor John Lindsay appointed Cuomo to mediate the dispute and he was ultimately successful, gaining him the title of the great facilitator.

“It’s to his credit to care enough about lower income New Yorkers and put that housing in such a nice area,” said Diane Shaffer, who lived in Forest Hills during that time. “He left a wonderful legacy and I wish there were more people like him in government.”

Cuomo lost two early political contests — first a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1974 and then the 1977 Democratic primary for mayor of New York City when he was defeated by Ed Koch. He won his first campaign in 1978 in the race for lieutenant governor.

He ran for governor four years later, defeating Koch in the Democratic primary before going on to win the general election.

Cuomo graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School and attended one year at St. John’s University before he was lured away from college by an offer to play baseball for a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. But after suffering a serious injury when he was hit in the back of the head by a baseball, he returned to St. John’s University.