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Local Officials Remember Governor Mario Cuomo


Upstate New York had a very special bond with the late Mario Cuomo, who lived in Albany during his three terms.

"Mario Cuomo was the quintessential American Dream, embodied within a philospher-political warrior's body. His commitment and drive are legendary, and his commitment to public service is a model for all lucky enought to be elected to serve."   That's Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners, his thoughts reflecting those of many across the state, nation and around the globe, saddened to learn of the death of New York's 52nd Governor Thursday at age 82.

Longtime Albany political activist Theresa Portelli agrees Cuomo had a tremendous impact on the city:  "He lived here. He was actually a member of the community, and I think that was a powerful message to the citizens of Albany. We just really haven't had too much of that since then. And I think it's desperately needed. He was a man of the people and a man of the community and a man of Albany."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy also recalls the elder Cuomo as a pioneer, innovator and friend to all.   "Growing up in the City of Albany, I remember living on Second Avenue and you'd see the governor run by and you'd say 'Is that the governor?' and the detail would be three blocks behind him. He played baseball down at Lincoln Park. The governor would come down and say 'Hey can I jump in on shortstop, at second base,' and he would play, and they couldn't believe the governor of New York was playing baseball with us.”

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who entered politics at a young age, says Cuomo inspired his own career when he met the governor as a young high-school student.    "...while I was interning for then-State Assemblywoman Eileen Hickey, and he was kind and generous with his time. He offered advice and it was just a true pleasure to meet the governor then. Certainly he is symbolic of the American Dream and is perhaps among the greatest orators, certainly of my lifetime."

Albany Community Advocate Marlon Anderson hails Cuomo as "a political legend" - responsible for the New York we have today.   "He put New York back on the political map when it was in political limbo. A lot of people have forgotten that. Mario Cuomo made New York 'prime time' once again. With what he did, the stance he took on social issues, like standing against the death penalty, standing up for social justice. Mario Cuomo was the one who set the template for things like Medicaid in New York and social services in New York. He stood for all that. While other people were cutting them, he stood up for them to be raised."

Mark Dunlea is Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State.   "Mario Cuomo as governor was a national champion for the need to address poverty, including his campaign for the decade for a child.  He helped pass several increases in welfare benefits and created perhaps the first state-level food policy council in the country. He was also the first governor to provide funding to community  groups to help people apply for food stamps."

Former Assemblyman Jack McEneny is a historian of Albany and is a fellow Democrat:   "His independence was certainly admirable. He was the voice crying in the wilderness for liberals back in the heyday of Ronald Reagan and Reagonomics, when government was considered only the problem and seldom the solution to anything."

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen met the governor when she was director of trustee affairs and college events at Skidmore, pregnant with her third child.   "He came because he had just written a book called Reason to Believe, and it was my job to meet the governor at the back door and escort him into the auditorium where he would be speaking. We proceeded down the hall together, just he and I and probably one of his staffers. He didn't want to talk about New York or issues. he wanted to talk about me and the baby I was about to have. He only spoke from that and how he wished our family such good luck and good health for our new baby."

Dan McCoy believes Cuomo set the stage for future New York governors, including his son.    "How you can really make a difference. How you can influence policies, how you can make people's lives better here in New York State. When you walk away from the president's nomination not once but twice, and a judge nomination to say 'I wanna be governor where I can make a difference, where I can affect the people and change your life for the positive.' These are the things we should remember about him.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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