Op-ed: Farewell to Mario Cuomo, a longtime friend and dedicated public servant


We were so young and energetic and believed we could solve the problems of the world.

Such was one evening many years ago at Jeantet’s restaurant in Corona.

We frequently congregated there to discuss serious issues of the day.

Around the table eating pasta were Mario Cuomo, Marino Jeantet, Steve Tromboli, Mike Dowd and me, all planning board aficionados.

I remember Mario, the young lawyer full of zip and vinegar who never changed from that young, idealistic warrior for the rest of his life.

What Mario would eventually do considering his early history is anything but amazing.

Two hard-working parents operate a grocery, raising their children above the store. And as in so many immigrant homes, English was not spoken until children entered grade school.

But the parents’ strong values were imbued into the children at an early age and left a decided imprint on Mario’s mind. He remained faithful to his beliefs without apology.

The beautiful thing about Mario was his bearing as an honest, down-to-earth guy. Yet behind all that was an incredibly brilliant and analytical mind.

Whether it was the Corona 69 or the resolving of the problem around the Forest Hills low-income housing, Mario worked hard and won.

Creating a structure for the new concept known as the Forest Hills low-income co-op was not easy but certainly necessary.

A board was formed, consisting of community people and clergy. Across the table from an African American minister was a rabbi — and a plan was created that would solve the tenancy question — a place for seniors, veterans and community folks from the neighborhood ZIP codes was selected that would please the board members. At the end of the day and after much negotiating when the plan was finally approved, the minister and rabbi shook hands.

What Mario started finally ended successfully.

He dedicated his life to making things better for the most vulnerable and at the same time keeping our great city stable and secure.

Whether as secretary of state or governor, he never lost the energy and excitement in trying to improve conditions for everyone.

He understood how to use the incredible power for good and he had the gift of language to explain it so all could understand.

And so now that Mario has gone, his aura of gentleness and kindness still hovers over us. Perhaps we can grab it and hold on forever. So rare.

This week, Courier publisher Vicki Schneps and I went to the wake. Hundreds of people were lined up around the building. But we managed to get there early as we were instructed to do by his wife, Matilda. As we approached the receiving line it was apparent that the whole family was there. When I reached Matilda, we hugged and hugged tearfully, remembering all the good times we had as young people.

Gov. Mario Cuomo in the political world was a unique individual. Who will ever forget the stirring speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention when the whole world was introduced to the great Mario Cuomo.

Our neighbor, our friend from Jamaica, was and still is the American Dream.

Claire Schulman served as borough president of Queens from 1986 to 2002.