Former New York governor Mario Cuomo — who served three terms, from 1983 to 1994 — has passed away at age 82. A hugely consequential figure in New York, he is known nationally for flirting with a presidential run in 1992 (he famously had a plane waiting on a runway to take him to New Hampshire the day ballot applications were due), for his strident opposition to the death penalty and his 12 consecutive vetoes of bills to resurrect it in New York, and for being Bill Clinton's first choice for the Supreme Court vacancy Ruth Bader Ginsburg would wind up filling.
But the moment that made him a national figure was his keynote address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, one of the most forcefully and unapologetically liberal speeches that any major Democratic politician has given since the 1960s. Responding to President Reagan's reference to America as a "shining city on a hill," Cuomo declared, "Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill.'"
Democrats, he said, "believe in a government strong enough to use words like 'love' and 'compassion' and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities." The party speaks, he claimed, for those who "work for a living because they have to, not because some psychiatrist told them it was a convenient way to fill the interval between birth and eternity." Cuomo attacked the Reagan administration on everything from social issues to welfare policy to foreign affairs: "We give money to Latin American governments that murder nuns, and then we lie about it."
To this day, the speech is remembered as one of the finest political speeches of recent decades. Jon Favreau, President Obama's former speechwriter, said today it's "in my top five of all time. Used to read it constantly for inspiration." It also serves as a stark contrast to the rightward move the Democratic party would take under Clinton, a move enthusiastically embraced by Cuomo's son Andrew, the current governor of New York.