I was lucky enough to have had run-ins with Mario Cuomo. Yes, I say lucky because the late Governor did nothing if not challenge journalists on a daily basis. He wasn’t always the nicest, most easy going politician when it came to talking to the press but he was one of the most upfront, candid, pull no punches people you would ever meet…and readily available, no matter the day, no matter the hour.
I tailed after him for his three terms, from lower Manhattan to Westchester and beyond and it was always an event, never boring. I could actually say he readied me for law school because with every question I posed came two or three right back at me. He saw every side and then some. His professorial approach to addressing issues fueled his critics with plenty of cries of “liberal elitism,” when nothing was further from the truth.
I remember one night, late night, Election Day eve back in 1992. I had to call him at home. Mrs. Cuomo answered and let me speak to him at once. He was eager that night. Many had thought he would be running for President that year but he didn’t. Instead, he was fighting for New York, as he had done for decades. This night he was eager to talk with me about whichever referendum New Yorkers were voting on. I don’t remember whether it was education, jobs or the judiciary, since he fought for them on all fronts. He wanted to talk about the referendum and I wanted to talk about Bill Clinton. Details of the issue are fuzzy now some 22 years later but I clearly remember saving the Clinton question till the end because after 15+ years of chasing Mario around the totem pole, I knew when to time the zingers. I asked him and he let loose…….
“You’re all alike. I’m coming after you Fantino, if you don’t use the soundbite on that referendum, I’m coming after you.”
I knew he was teasing. He had that way with us. My journalism students, on the other hand, were shocked when I played back the tape (yes, tape) for them.
Today, I just smile, knowing that he served New York and served it well. Godspeed, Mr. Governor.