Common Sense: Sad beginnings

January 9, 2015 JERRY KASSAR
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The new year started out in a most poignant manner with the funeral services for Police Officer Liu, and the passing of Mario Cuomo juxtaposed against the inauguration of Andrew Cuomo and the hopes for the year ahead.

Police Officer Liu, a Bensonhurst resident, was honored with one of the largest turnouts for a wake and funeral the community has ever seen. Literally thousands attended, causing the closings of numerous streets and avenues for parking and lining up for the viewing. It’s a tribute to the man and a show of respect for the family.

Comforting in itself, nothing can ever truly speak to the loss of an individual who gave his life in service to the people of the City of New York. May he Rest In Peace! And may God watch over him and his family.

Governor Mario Cuomo could be a lightning rod to controversy. Many of us disagreed with him and in fact ran against him and his policies (mostly unsuccessfully) for a good 12 years. Yet, it is evident in recent days that, much like Ronald Reagan, in death people from all sides of the political spectrum could come together in sincere praise for his tenure and character.

As a young man working my first real political effort on behalf of the Conservative Party candidate for mayor in 1977, I traveled with the candidate and  had the opportunity to march in quite a few parades with then Liberal Party candidate Mario Cuomo.

We all marched in the back of the pack.  He had lost the Democratic runoff to Ed Koch and, just like the Conservative Party candidate who had lost the Republican primary, was continuing his efforts in order to provide voters with a choice.

I was just a kid barely old enough to vote, but as the adults talked politics during those long marches or at the many civic and debate appearances, I would overhear the philosophy of Mario Cuomo from Mario Cuomo himself. Not surprisingly this would cause plenty of conversation as we drove along to our next stops.

It was very clear to me that  these seasoned political people I was working on behalf of had strong disagreements with him, but at the same time held him in the highest regard. I was finding my political compass and Mario Cuomo was indirectly causing the wheels to turn.

I remembered this as he ascended to be the Democratic nominee for governor in 1982 and we began our effort for Assemblymember Florence Sullivan of Bay Ridge who was running statewide for U.S. Senate on a ticket headed by Lew Lehrman.

That was an incredible campaign cycle between two strongly grounded yet polar opposite candidates who went toe to toe on most every issue.

In those days, politics was less likely to make you cynical and more likely to make you mad. Mario Cuomo could make you real mad because he was a true believer, almost a philosopher for what he believed and he never backed off. We would be better off today if there were more political types today on both sides of the aisle that actually believed in something.

And then there is something else which I thought about as I rehashed in my mind the days Mario Cuomo governed our state. I worked in the State Assembly all those years – many in Albany during session days. I would each State of the State day attempt, sometimes successfully, others times not so, to obtain a spot in the extremely cramped Assembly Chamber for his messages.

He was such an eloquent speaker. You knew you were going to need to dispute much of what he was saying, but if possible you did not want to listen on what we called back then the “squawk box” which we had in our offices.  You wanted to hear and see him in person.

I have been in  Albany for just about every State of the State these past 30 some odd years. Since Mario Cuomo, I have rarely had  an interest in  entering the chamber or other venue for the speech, regardless of knowing a governor personally or having become senior enough to command a decent seat.

For the most part, the speeches have seemed more routine, nothing particularly special. You could never say that about Mario Cuomo.

May he rest in peace!

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