Former NY Gov. Mario Cuomo, Dies at 82; Remembered as a Friend to the Jewish Community
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) mourned Friday, January 2, the passing of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, whom they called “a man with a unique ability to inspire, and a staunch friend of the Jewish people.”
Cuomo “was a man who never failed to talk about his experiences as a young man which made him feel so comfortable with the Jewish community. Th t comfort level revealed itself in a number of appearances the Governor made before ADL audiences,” said ADL’s National Director Abe Foxman.
The ADL hailed the former 3-term governor for speaking out in support of the state of Israel, and over the need to take anti-Semitism seriously, as well as taking on the challenge to fix the continuing struggle for equality in America.
“Those who heard Mario Cuomo’s address at the 1984 Democratic convention never forgot it and never forgot him. He was a true leader, whether or not he opted to run for president. At this time when all the talk is about polarization and the need for leadership to bring us together, Mario Cuomo and all he represented will be sorely missed,” Foxman stated.
Agudath Israel of America in a statement on Friday also highlighted that fact that throughout his tenure as Governor of the State of New York, “Mario Cuomo displayed great friendship to the Jewish community, and played a leadership role in addressing many issues of Jewish concern.”
“Governor Cuomo enjoyed a close working relationship, and an especially warm personal relationship, with the late president of Agudath Israel, Rabbi Moshe Sherer. Rabbi Sherer befriended Mario Cuomo even before Mr. Cuomo was elected to public offi , and the bonds of friendship grew only stronger with the passing years,” read the statement. “Their relationship translated into a number of tangible benefits for the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole and for needy members of the community as individuals.
Governor Cuomo’s “deep respect for the senior rabbis, and his willingness to engage them in dialogue on major issues of public policy, set him apart from his contemporaries in the political world. Agudath Israel extends its deep sympathies and sincere condolences to the Cuomo family, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has clearly inherited many of his father’s outstanding leadership abilities, Agudath Israel added.
In a recent event in Borough Park, reaching out to Jewish voters ahead of his reelection bid, Governor Andrew Cuomo evoked his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, whose “Shabbos goy” spiel of his time growing up in the Bronx delighted Jewish audiences the 1970s. He was quoted as saying, “The Jews need a shabbos goy [Sabbath gentile] because they can’t do everything for themselves,” when he first ran for governor.
Today’s “Shabbos goy,” Cuomo suggested, was that “government has to get involved in helping Jews live their faith.”
Mario Cuomo was said to have succeeded in becoming governor in 1982 with the help of Jewish voters. His 12,000 vote advantage over his Jewish Republican opponent Lew Lehrman, was due to a substantial margin of votes in heavily Jewish populated districts of New York City, according to JTA. In Manhattan’s upper West Side where there was at the time a large Jewish population, Cuomo polled over 9,500 votes to about 1,400 for Lehrman. In the heavily Jewish Midwood section of Brooklyn, the vote was about 5,500-2,500 in favor of Cuomo. Similarly, in Manhattan Beach, Cuomo polled over 13,900 votes to about 9,700 for Lehrman. In Forest HillsKew Gardens, Queens, he won 14,200 to 9,500. In the Co-Op City, Pelham Bay, Morris Park districts of the Bronx, home of many Jewish retirees, Cuomo topped Lehrman by 21,600 to 11,500.
In his fi st reelection bid in 1986, Cuomo received 80 percent of the Jewish vote, relatively similar to the 70+ percent his son Andrew Cuomo got in his 2014 reelection campaign.
And it seemed to have paid off for the Jewish community. In 1994, when Cuomo lost his 4th bid to Republican George Pataki – who was endorsed by Assemblyman Dov Hikind – NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver campaigned with the incumbent governor in the Lower East Side, reaching out to Orthodox Jewish voters and touting Cuomo’s record – signing a number of bills signific nt to Orthodox Jews, including laws that accommodate religious divorces and that enable families to block autopsies for religious reasons. Silver also recalled that Cuomo had helped protect the school district in Kiryas Joel from a Supreme Court decision that declared the district unconstitutional. “Jewish voters have been serviced by a Governor over 12 years who’s been sensitive to accommodating their religion,” Silver told reporters at the time.
Sholom Eisner, according to the NY Times, stitched a “Gov. Mario ‘Moishe’ Cuomo” sticker onto the elder Cuomo’s chest.
When Suri Feldman, a 14 year-old girl was reported missing in the woods, Governor Cuomo took a personal interest in her rescue, urging the State Police Superintendent to do everything possible to find her, the site Kim Hill noted. During his tenure, he also signed into law the “Hatzolah Bill” allowing Hatzolah, a Jewish-run ambulance company, to continue its important work of providing vital EMS service and expand its service into Nassau and Suffolk.
His pro-Israel record was at the time one of the strongest for any public official in the nation. According to the Jerusalem Post, “There is something unique about New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo’s devotion to the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Cuomo has been a friend in need, often taking lonely and unpopular positions in Israel’s defense.”
During Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s summertime trip to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his remarks during a joint appearance by sending his “warmest regards” to the elder Cuomo, whom he came to know while he was serving as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. “I remember how strongly, firmly and clearly Gov. Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, stood with Israel at the time,” Netanyahu said.
During his 1992 visit to Israel, Mario Cuomo met with Prime Minister Yithak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, promising Israeli leaders that they would see greater involvement by New York State to stem the Arab boycott against Israel. Cuomo said the Arab League boycott “is in fact an economic boycott against New York State, the United States and the nations of the world.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, with his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, after being re-elected to a second term.
Mario M. Cuomo in 1982, during his first run as the Democratic candidate for governor of New York, with his son and campaign manager, Andrew, at campaign headquarters.
Satmar Rebbe at reelection rally for Mario Cuomo.
Mario Cuomo during visit to Kiryas Joel.