Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo Dead at 82

President Obama: Cuomo was "a determined champion of progressive values."

ByABC News
January 1, 2015, 8:17 PM

— -- Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, known as a force for liberalism and a would-be Democratic prospect for president in the 1980s and 1990s, died Thursday at age 82, multiple sources confirmed to ABC News.

The cause was heart failure, which took him "this evening at home with his loving family at his side," his family said Thursday in a statement issued through the office of his son, current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The former governor's imprint on liberalism in American politics was nearly without parallel. The strains of liberalism and populism coursing through the Democratic Party today -- through the voices of Elizabeth Warren and others -- are echoes of Cuomo, who served as governor of New York from 1983 to 1994.

President Obama saluted the liberal icon following his death.

"He rose to be chief executive of the state he loved, a determined champion of progressive values, and an unflinching voice for tolerance, inclusiveness, fairness, dignity and opportunity," Obama said in a statement. "His own story taught him that as Americans, we are bound together as one people, and our country's success rests on the success of all of us, not just a fortunate few."

Andrew Cuomo earlier in the day had noted his father was physically absent, yet spiritually present, during the younger Cuomo's inauguration as the first multi-term Democratic New York governor since his father.

PHOTO: Governor Mario Cuomo appears during the annual Columbus Day Parade at Fifth Avenue on Oct. 8, 1984 in New York City.
Governor Mario Cuomo appears during the annual Columbus Day Parade at Fifth Avenue on Oct. 8, 1984 in New York City.

"We're missing one family member," the current governor said, according to an initial transcript from his office. "My father is not with us today. We had hoped that he was going to be able to come; he is at home and he is not well enough to come. We spent last night with him. ... I went through the speech with him. He said it was good, especially for a second-termer. See, my father is a third-termer.

"He sends his regards to all of you," Andrew Cuomo added. "He couldn't be here physically today, my father. But my father is in this room. He is in the heart and mind of every person who is here. He is here and he is here, and his inspiration and his legacy and his experience is what has brought this state to this point. So let's give him a round of applause."

One of Mario Cuomo's finest hours on the national stage came when he delivered the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, lashing out at President Reagan and Republicans.

"We Democrats must unite so that the entire nation can unite, because surely the Republicans won't bring this country together," Cuomo said. "Their policies divide the nation into the lucky and the left out, into the royalty and the rabble."

Later, he was twice considered a likely candidate for president, though he never sought his party's nomination. In 1991, Cuomo famously left a chartered plane on a tarmac in Albany, New York, as he decided against flying to New Hampshire to file the necessary paperwork to run for the White House.

PHOTO: Governor Mario Cuomo attends the Hands Across America Benefit on May 25, 1986 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Governor Mario Cuomo attends the Hands Across America Benefit on May 25, 1986 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Nevertheless, he left a huge political mark, particularly on New York.

Andrew Cuomo's office noted that, despite a recession, the elder Cuomo "presented 11 consecutive balanced budgets, reduced taxes and implemented comprehensive governmental ethics and fiscal reforms. From the time Cuomo took office, New York experienced an increase of hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses."

Nationally, Cuomo's fame rested heavily on his reputation as a stirring public speaker.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Republican, also remembered "a giant" from across the political aisle.

"He was a strong, eloquent leader who loved New York and its people," Christie said in a prepared statement. "As an Italian-American, he was also a role model for future generations that anything was possible through hard work and education."

Cuomo was born June 15, 1932, and raised in Queens, New York.

He worked as a lawyer before entering public office. He was appointed as the secretary of state of New York in 1975, elected lieutenant governor in 1978, and became governor in 1983.

Cuomo was married to Matilda Raffa Cuomo for 60 years. They had five children, who also included the television personality Chris Cuomo, and 14 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.