Down to Earth, Larger than Life

I was the president of the College Democrats at the University at Albany during Mario Cuomo’s 1984 campaign for governor, and I was quickly enraptured by his sense of social justice and commitment to people. From the beginning I believed that he wanted to make New York a better place to live, to raise a family and to realize the American Dream. I worked as a volunteer coordinator on his first two campaigns, and I worked harder than I had ever done before, because he was just what New York needed. He was always a charismatic speaker, and when he delivered a message in public, much like President Clinton, you had the sense that he was talking to you. His messages were powerful because they touched on issues important to all.

I never intended to stay in Albany after graduation, but the fact that Cuomo was the governor drew me to work for his administration. As a law student I worked in two different state agencies, and as a young lawyer I was fortunate to work on important human rights issues—like making sure we did not forget rural New Yorkers who could not access electricity to power their homes. After I left state service, Cuomo’s commitment to integrity in government inspired me to teach and write on government ethics. He was a true pioneer.

I was also fortunate enough to spend time with Cuomo’s family. I got to see an iconic giant of a governor who, like the rest of us, was also a human being who loved his family and cherished time at home—looking no different than my own dad. He was a family man, a partner in every sense of the word with his wife Matilda, and he cared about each of his children. He could work the room at public events and still be 100 percent engaged with his family. He was grounded. He did not think of himself as larger than life—though many of us viewed him that way. He was proud of the accomplishments of others and was a true people’s governor.

I did not work with him daily on the second floor, and I may not have been in his presence on a regular basis. But when, a dozen years later, I waited in line at one of his book signings for another chance to say “Hello” and “Thank you,” he remembered my name and immediately placed me in context.

Patricia Salkin volunteered on two of Mario Cuomo’s political campaigns and held jobs in two state agencies during his tenure as governor.

NEXT STORY: A Working Relationship

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