Governor Andrew Cuomo
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
New York, NY
March 22, 2017
The Cuomo and the Breslin families grew up together in Queens. Mr. Breslin and my father had bonded over the Corona 69 homeowners versus Mayor John Lindsay conflict. Obviously, they were with the homeowners. Together they were fighting City Hall — literally and metaphorically — and they would all their lives.
I was 12 at the time and to me Mr. Breslin was just plain scary. Mr. Breslin smoked a cigar and he smelled like it. He had a gruff air and apparently had no time or love for little children.
With his broad chest, open collar and full head of curly black hair, he looked like a lion with a flowing mane. Although I was frightened by Mr. Breslin, I couldn’t help taunting him occasionally, the way a mouse would run through the paws of a lion.
I was too small to really engender his wrath. He would call the house multiple times at night and I would imitate the way my father answered the phone with a simple, deep throated “Yup.”
That’s all Mr. Breslin needed to start a diatribe. He would normally begin by cursing some politician and then continue for several minutes stringing together profanities and comments on parts of the human anatomy that I had never heard before.
He would pause for a breath and I would say, “Oh Mr. Breslin, you must want to talk to my father.” This would incite the lion’s rage and he would say, “You little blank-blank,” and just hang up.
He would come to the house and sit with my father at the kitchen table — a round, blue Formica table that was designed to look like marble. They only have blue marble in Queens. I would sit down the hall and listen. They would have a drink — and talk for hours, railing against the injustices in life and the failures of the system.
My father was a lion too — a different species without the mane or the colorful language — but a strong, aggressive lion nonetheless. And together they would roar.
They were great crusaders for justice. Always on the side of the little guy. Dismissing the liberal elites and professional agitators, their True North was the common man. They were always looking to step into a fight against the bully. And they loved each other.
As they were two tough Queens guys, I’m sure they never actually said they loved each other. Queens men didn’t say that to each other then. But they did. And they knew it.
There was a softer side to their relationship. Mr. Breslin in the quieter moments, would talk about his family, and his face would change. His first wife Rosemary, and how she was a saint — his daughters: Rosemary the superstar, the writer, my sister Maria’s best friend. And Kelly, the enchantress. His boys, his sons — Kevin, James, Patrick and Christopher. He talked with great pride and love in his voice. And listening to him speak I hoped that my father had that same love for me.
My mother and Jimmy had a sweet, caring relationship. There was a vulnerability to Jimmy and my mother, always the nurturer, was naturally drawn to him.
Jimmy met Ronnie Eldridge, a strong, brilliant woman, and a political force in her own right and the two married. I can only imagine being married to Mr. Breslin was more than a full-time job. And God bless Ronnie for all of the support and love. My mother believes Ronnie literally kept Jimmy alive for years. And with Ronnie came a bonus — Daniel, Emily, and Lucy. And they all brought him much joy.
If my father were here today, he would say Jimmy was an artist and his pen was to paper what Picasso’s brush was to canvas. He would say Jimmy was never a Newsday reporter or Daily News employee — he was just “Breslin,” anywhere and everywhere. He would speak of his superb God-given gifts and selflessness in using them to do good. He would say Jimmy faced many hardships in life. That he came from a family of hardships and suffered much pain, early and later in life, losing both Rosemary and then Kelly.
But my father would say while a lesser man would have grown angry and bitter from the loss, Jimmy grew more empathetic and compassionate.
I hear Mr. Breslin’s voice often. I hear his voice as governor. I recently commuted the sentence of a woman in Bedford Correctional after 35 years of imprisonment. It was clear she committed a terrible crime. But after visiting her it was also clear to me she was a different person now. It was a hard, political decision. I spoke to Ronnie, her fierce advocate, about it many times. I could hear Jimmy’s voice saying, “She made a mistake — we all do. She learned, she paid the price, she spent her life in a cage, and she is now different. Jesus would pardon her. Who the hell made you better than Jesus?”
Mr. Breslin’s life was a life well-lived. We mourn today not for him, but for ourselves — for his family’s loss and our loss — because, in truth, in today’s world we need his voice more than ever. A voice with power and credibility, who wrote stories from the street not from a laptop. Who believed there was no truth worth telling that could be told in a tweet. Whose voice was authentic because he was authentic. He was New York — hardscrabble, brilliant, difficult, gifted, complicated, argumentative, accepting … and loving.
But as the spirit lives … his voice lives in all of us. And if we listen we can hear him saying today, “What do they mean they are going to cut the taxes for the richest Americans and tell the poorest we can’t afford to give you health care? Who do they think they are — who made their lives more important than the rest of us?”
It’s not over. Mr. Breslin’s quest for social justice and integrity goes on. He is here today with his good friend Mario and they are reading the papers — the hard copies — and railing at the outrage, disgusted by the political cowards, and ready to fight the good fight.
I say “Roar, gentlemen, roar! Let it echo down from the heavens! And we will hear you!”