St. John’s alumnus, former NY governor Mario Cuomo passes away


Governor Mario Cuomo speaks at Cornell University in 1987. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

On Jan. 2, just hours after his son Andrew Cuomo was sworn into his second term as governor, former New York Governor and St. John’s alumnus Mario Cuomo passed away due to heart failure.

A fixture of the Democratic Party, Governor Cuomo was loved and admired by New Yorkers from all walks of life and by members of both sides of the political spectrum.

Cuomo was born in 1932 in Queens, NY to Italian immigrants. He grew up in South Jamaica, Queens and attended St. John’s Preparatory School at its former location in Brooklyn, according to the New York Times.

After graduating, he attended St. John’s University where he was a member of the baseball team. In 1952, he was signed to a minor league baseball team, the Brunswick Pirates, but his baseball career abruptly ended after he was injured, according to his obituary written by the New York Times. He returned to St. John’s and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1953, graduating summa cum laude.

Governor Cuomo continued his studies at St. John’s University School of Law. While he was working on receiving his juris doctorate degree, he was an editor of the St. John’s Law Review and was one of the founding members of The Catholic Lawyer, according to a statement released by the university. He graduated from St. John’s law school cum laude in 1956.

After many years of working in the legal profession, as well as working as an adjunct professor at St. John’s, Governor Cuomo entered the field of politics in 1972, according to a statement released by St. John’s law school.

After Mayor Lindsey asked him to help resolve a housing issue in Forest Hills, Queens, Governor Cuomo entered the political realm. He was later appointed as New York Secretary of State in 1975.

In 1977, he ran for mayor of New York City but lost the primary to Edward Koch, who would ultimately win the election. This was a minor setback for Cuomo as he was elected lieutenant governor in 1978 and was later elected into New York’s highest office when he won the gubernatorial election of 1982. He was re-elected in 1986 and again in 1990.

As governor, Cuomo transformed the economic, social and educational infrastructures of New York. He led the state through two recessions, reformed education and created more than half a million jobs. Among many other accomplishments, he also created social programs that supported the mentally ill and aid victims and appointed the first African-American, first Hispanic and first two female judges to the Court of Appeals, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Governor Cuomo rose to national prominence when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. In his speech, he described the desolate situation plaguing America at that time. His views differed from President Reagan, who thought of America as a “shining city on a hill.”

In his speech Governor Cuomo said, “But the hard truth is that not everyone is sharing in this city’s splendor and glory. A shining city is perhaps all the President sees from the portico of the White House and the veranda of his ranch, where everyone seems to be doing well. But there’s another city; there’s another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can’t pay their mortgages, and most young people can’t afford one; where students can’t afford the education they need and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate.”

According to the New York Times, Governor Cuomo’s speech captivated his audience and he became the story of the convention. He was encouraged to run for president in both 1988 and 1992 but declined.

After Governor Cuomo left office, he returned to private law practice, wrote several books and also gave speeches.

Over the years, Governor Cuomo was presented with numerous honors from his alma mater, including the Pietas Medal, an Honorary Doctor of Laws, the Medal of Honor, the President’s Medal, the International Medal and was also honored by the St. John’s Law Review, as stated in a statement released by the university.

In 2011, Governor Cuomo returned to campus and served as the Joseph W. Bellacosa Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence, during a daylong program. Most recently, he was the distinguished guest at the St. John’s Center for International and Comparative year-end reception.

Governor Mario Cuomo was survived by his wife Matilda, their five children and fourteen grandchildren.