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Brian H.
Democrat NY 26

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  • Commemorating the Life of Mario Cuomo

    by Representative Brian Higgins

    Posted on 2015-01-12

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    HIGGINS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today, along with my colleagues, to honor the life and legacy of Governor Mario Cuomo who passed away on January 1 at the age of 82.

    When we think of Governor Cuomo, we think of him along with his son-- now Governor Andrew Cuomo--and then his counsel Tim Russert from Buffalo driving in a car, riding from the airport to the Moscone Center in San Francisco, still writing new sections of his historic keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention which catapulted him forever as a prominent figure within the Democratic Party.

    Less remembered than his speeches but just as admirable were his writings. He wrote extensively on the American Dream his immigrant parents achieved, and the numerous causes that he cared about, ``Diaries of Mario M. Cuomo,'' ``Reason to Believe,'' ``Why Lincoln Matters,'' and ``More Than Words,'' which is a collection of 31 speeches he wrote going back to 1974.

    As a student of government, a teacher of government, and now as a practitioner, in 2006, I went to see Governor Cuomo, former Governor Cuomo, who was practicing law in Manhattan at a place called Willkie, Farr, and Gallagher. Remember, I had 15 minutes scheduled with him and left 2 hours later. I told him that his writings, going back to 1974, were as relevant today as they were when they were written. They were timeless; they were classics.

    My favorite story is the one that he told about how he came to edit the book, ``Lincoln on Democracy.'' In 1988, Governor Cuomo met in Albany with a delegation from the teacher section of Poland's Solidarity Union, which was the leading advocate for bringing democracy to Poland when it was under Communist rule.

    The teachers told the Governor that they were building an archive of influential and insightful writings on democracy. They asked if he could recommend writings by American thinkers that had influenced his approach to public service and democracy. Cuomo immediately identified Abraham Lincoln as his favorite source of wisdom.

    The Polish delegation said, ``Governor, Lincoln's writings and speeches are not available in Poland.'' In fact, they were banned. Cuomo promised to give them the speeches that they needed in order to appreciate what he had come to appreciate in Lincoln.

    Cuomo says, ``Delegation, come over here.'' He pulled out the 378- page index of the collected works of Abraham Lincoln--not one mention of democracy in those works; so together with Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, he wrote, edited, and published ``Lincoln on Democracy,'' a book that to this day is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the uniquely American approach to democracy and governance. True to his word, the Polish version of the book appeared in Warsaw in early 1990 before its English version was available in the United States.

    Mario Cuomo's gift was that he forced us to think for ourselves. He forced us to consider our history, and he forced us to recognize our responsibility to build a foundation that is better than the foundation that those who came before us built for us.

    That is the true meaning of the American Dream, and it was embodied by a unique individual who was an unlikely successful lawyer, an unlikely Governor of New York, Mario M. Cuomo.

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