Where did Mario Cuomo come from?
That was my initial thought when the future governor emerged on the political scene in 1978. My own experience had taught me that any aspiring public servant had to rise slowly through the world of organized politics. Mario Cuomo was not part of that system. But now, Gov. Hugh Carey had replaced Lt. Gov. Mary Anne Krupsak with Mario Cuomo, a relative outsider, as his running mate. I was stunned. The only thing that Mario had in common with Gov. Carey and me was that he attended St. John’s Law School.
But Mario proved that you don’t have to go to the political clubs to find someone who can best uphold the principles we believe in. For those of us who selected politics as a lifelong endeavor, Mario made us proud to serve the public. He eloquently gave voice to the people whose needs too frequently go unheard and to the values of integrity and honesty that we need most from our leaders.
The ideas Mario Cuomo avowed transcended political parties. His “Tale of Two Cities” speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention is often referred to as one of the great liberal speeches, but by labeling the address “liberal” we fail to understand the universality of its message. Mario’s speech was about the principles our Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution. He stood for every individual’s ability to pierce through racism and poverty to achieve success.
The values of the American Dream, which Mario championed tirelessly, defined his life and legacy. A second generation Italian-American, he rose to prominence through perseverance and hard work. But if not for our tradition of welcoming new immigrants to our shores, New York would have missed out on a transformational leader. We must honor Mario’s legacy by ensuring future generations have access to the opportunity he was afforded.
Mario was committed to removing the obstacles standing between working class families and the American Dream. He raised the minimum wage and ushered in the “Decade of the Child” with initiatives to make education and healthcare affordable for all. Today we are fortunate to have Gov. Andrew Cuomo leading our state’s effort to fulfill his father’s vision. When I hear the current Gov. Cuomo speak, I am reminded of his father. The two are so much alike in substance and style. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to restoring economic mobility and providing affordable education to all children are precisely the issues his father prioritized.
For my part, I will continue to work vigorously to advance Mario’s goals in Congress. I will fight to raise the federal minimum wage, protect the Affordable Care Act, ease the crushing burden of student loans and reform our immigration policies. Everyone in America deserves a living income and access to affordable healthcare and education. Everyone—regardless of background, race, religion or gender— deserves an equal opportunity to succeed.
When Mario’s parents settled in Queens, they were welcomed by a supportive and caring community. It was from this community that Mario Cuomo came. And it was from this community that he built his vision of government. A government, he declared in 1984, that should be “the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, [and] sharing one another’s blessings.”
So many people have come to this country from faraway places. When they achieved success they forgot where they came from. But Mario was different. He was proud of his origins. Proud that his parents were immigrants. Proud that they sailed into New York harbor with nothing but a dream that their son would succeed. The Statue of Liberty’s beacon burns at the gateway to America, through which his parents passed, as a symbol for what Mario Cuomo represented— access for all to the land of opportunity.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the dean of New York’s Congressional Delegation, is serving his 23rd term in Congress as representative of the 13th Congressional District that includes Upper Manhattan and the Bronx.
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