Before His Rise, Mario Cuomo Started as Creative Queens Mediator 

The year was 1970. The celebrated New York columnist, Jimmy Breslin, in the prime of his illustrious career, pleaded with me, then deputy mayor under John Lindsay, to meet a “ brilliant, impressive” young Queens lawyer representing a group of homeowners who had been fighting for years a city plan to condemn 69 homes in their community in order to build a high school and athletic facility. The lawyer, Mario Cuomo, then 38, was arguing passionately that the city's plan would effectively destroy the charming Italian-American community of Corona, Queens.

A few days later Cuomo was sitting at a coffee table in my City Hall office, using ash trays, pencils and other random items to demonstrate how the scope of the project could be reduced to affect only 14 homes, each of which would be moved by the city to new sites a block or so away. I was intrigued—not only by Cuomo’s creativity but also by how he articulated his case with heartfelt feelings for the powerless.

Even with Mayor Lindsay’s support, a stubbornly resistant city bureaucracy opposed any changes to the plan and raised a series of obstacles. At several contentious meetings in the Corona community and within city agencies, Cuomo masterfully rebutted each one with clarity and patience, and with sustained pressure and persuasion from City Hall, all parties finally came around. The Corona Compromise was announced in early December with much fanfare, and after overcoming some additional state legislative hurdles, was largely executed as Cuomo envisioned. Corona was saved, and to ethnically sensitive New Yorkers, Cuomo was a hero.

Breslin would later write that for Cuomo, “…out of the Corona experience came Forest Hills." For while Corona was still being settled, a low income housing project in Forest Hills, which Lindsay strongly supported, was becoming the center of a volatile controversy with racial connotations over fears that the largely Jewish neighborhood would be invaded by three high-rise apartments, to be populated primarily by black and minority residents. The protests became ugly, with threats of violence bringing the dispute to national attention, where it was viewed as a battle between whites and blacks. Lindsay, sticking to his fervent belief in low-income housing, had been battered for months over the issue, and by May of 1972 was persuaded that he had to reduce the toxic polarization with some kind of mediation. 

After his success in Corona, Cuomo was on the short list of possible mediators, and Lindsay asked me to call him. Cuomo was amazingly well informed on the issues and sufficiently interested to stay on the phone with me, asking wide-ranging questions, raising tangential issues, discussing the personalities of the opposing factions’ leaders, speculating on how they would receive him and repeatedly asking for assurance that he would be an independent agent. Reporting back to the mayor, I told him that I thought Cuomo would accept the assignment if Lindsay called him directly and pressed him for an immediate answer. Within days, Cuomo was in command, announcing to a skeptical press that he would wrap up the process in six weeks. He did, indeed, produce a report by the end of July, proposing a compromise that reduced the project by half and earmarked 40 percent of the apartments for the elderly. By October it gained all necessary approvals and the project went forward successfully, while tensions gradually evaporated.

Forest Hills brought Cuomo national recognition and made him a rising personality in New York politics. His patient attention to detail, the clarity he brought to complex issues, his ability to calm community tensions, and his devotion to the disadvantaged and the powerless, were all qualities that would go on to captivate New York voters in the 1982 governor’s race. The rest, as they say, is history.

Richard Aurelio is a former deputy mayor under John Lindsay.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.