My Electrifying Phone Call With Mario Cuomo

My Electrifying Phone Call With Mario Cuomo

My Electrifying Phone Call With Mario Cuomo
January 1, 2015

When I was a child my mother told me that the Governor Mario Cuomo was “a great man." Later, I had the privilege to know it for myself. 

When I was working for Andrew Cuomo, then the Attorney General, I had the task of prepping his father for an interview with a reporter. The younger Cuomo had not yet announced his intentions to run for Governor, but buzz was building. It was my unenviable job to get Mario on message.

As I picked up the phone and began my attempt to provide instructions to one of the giants of the Democratic Party, a master of rhetoric, and hero to millions, I felt especially foolish.

And rightly so.

About 15 seconds into my ridiculous spiel about talking points, Mario cut to the chase:

“Have you read Thomas Aquinas?”

“Ummm, yes?”, I stammered, “but I don’t think the Daily News is going to ask….”

That was the last time he asked a non-rhetorical question.

For the next 45 minutes, the son of Italian immigrants conducted a thrilling exegesis on theology, Aristotelian philosophy, and Martin Luther’s Reformation. I was rapt. I’d never met anyone in politics with the intellectual range of a scholar. He couldn’t care less about some exceedingly irrelevant interview. How could he, when there was the life of the mind to live? Each sentence sent me further into the futility of my task. 

But from that one phone call I was electrified. And I’ve never gotten over it. Mario Cuomo is everything I hope Democratic politics can be, and fear will never be again. 

When he was finally done, I attempted feebly to return to the purpose of my call:

“Soooo, you’re good then?”

“Yeah, goodbye”

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Alexis Grenell
20201022