Meeting and Covering Mario Cuomo

A Steve -Gov. Mario Cuomo visiting Upstate New

Over the New Year holiday, we learned of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s passing at the age of 82.

Cub television reporter

As a former resident of the Empire State and a working journalist during most of the Cuomo administration, I covered the Governor during parts of his term.

My memories go back to the first time I met him in 1980.  He was Lieutenant Governor and I was a cub television reporter for station WICZ in Binghamton.  Cuomo was promoting some initiative from Governor Hugh Carey’s office.  I don’t remember why he was in town, but I remember arriving to the press availability late and dealing with a handler who basically chastised me for being late and effectively told me that when you snooze you lose.

Observing my argument that we could set up our camera and ask a couple of questions in a matter of minutes, Cuomo came over to me, smiled, and then told his handler that he had the time to speak to my camera and me.

I spent several of the early Governor Cuomo administration years living outside New York State, but by the time I returned to live in Western New York in the mid-1980s, the Governor had a well-oiled government machine.  He easily won reelection twice, and anyone who remembers the 1980s can hardly forget how his name frequently made the list of potential Democratic presidential nominees.

Livingston County Chamber of Commerce

By 1994, I left the world of television news and became an advocate for business as head of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce.  Once again, my path would cross that of Mario Cuomo.

It was in the fall of 1994 when the Governor arrived at the Livingston County Government Center in Geneseo, New York to announce a package of state incentives to keep a salt mine operating in our community.

The Governor’s office and the State Legislature worked with the County on a package of incentives. The Governor, who was up for re-election, wanted to make the point that his administration cared about those jobs and cared about upstate New York.

As the deal was sealed, it was decided by the Governor’s office that Mario Cuomo, staunch Democrat, would come to the Republican stronghold of Livingston County to personally deliver the goods.

The Governor was in a battle for his fourth term against George Pataki, so there was little doubt that politics played a role in the visit.  But with a population around 65,000, the incumbent wasn’t going to win or lose the state based on how well or poorly he did in Livingston County.  But image was as important then as it is today.

As a guest for the ceremony, I got to the Government Center about two hours early to get a seat close to the front. As Executive Director of the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce, I was in the audience to join with others in thanking the Governor and the Legislature for saving jobs in my community.

"We’re a family"

As he passed by me on his way to the podium, he shook a lot of hands including mine.  He started his speech by addressing the elephant in the room.  I’m not quoting him directly as it was twenty years ago and all I have are memories of that afternoon.  Here’s what I recall the Governor saying to his Livingston County, New York audience:

“You may be asking what am I, a Democrat, doing here in the hot bed of the Republican party?”  he joked with the receptive crowd.   And then, he became serious.  “I’m here because we’re a family, and this part of our family needs help and the rest of the family, the State of New York,  is coming together to bring that help.”

When he finished, he left amid a standing ovation and again he passed by me.  Again, I shook his hand.  I had only been on the job as head of the Chamber of Commerce six months, but I was filled with the satisfaction that comes from knowing things were going to get better for the community.

Within a few weeks, the Governor would lose the election.

About a year later, the original aid package was rejected when the original mine company pulled out.

But a new company was formed, and five years later, long after Mario Cuomo left office, a new mine opened.

But it was those words from Governor Cuomo some twenty years ago that still resonate with me; challenging us to think of ourselves as a family, and coming together as a family when one of us needs help.

Those were powerful words two decades ago, and words that still define former Governor Mario Cuomo.

Steve Newvine has lived in the Central Valley of California for the past ten years.