Gov. Mario M. Cuomo remarks at The Omega Society

Governor Mario M. Cuomo
The Omega Society
Sheraton New York
April, 2005
New York City


A Meditation on Ultimate Values

When I was asked by a representative of Omega to give the closing remarks following the galaxy of distinguished individuals you have already heard, I said I probably could not add much to the intelligent, subtle and splendid articulations that they were sure to deliver.

The representative said “You probably can’t, but as a former three-term governor and still active political voice, you may be able to tell us something about how politics and government might affect our search for meaning, truth and a sustainable future.” 

“That input” – he said – “could be especially relevant given the frightening implications of 9/11 and other current calamities.”

# # #

I agreed to try.

Actually, I attempted to do something similar some years ago when we were in the midst of another troubling period that created greater than usual uncertainty, agitation and anxiety.  Another period when people’s search for meaningfulness intensified.

On that occasion the title of the conference was “Who (or What) is God?” with “God” being the undefined and undefinable label given to ultimate meaning and direction.

# # #

I addressed the question then, as I do now, certainly not as a scholar, or a theologian, or an apologist, but as an ordinary New Yorker—from Queens, from asphalt streets and stickball, from a poor and middle-class neighborhood—who made a living, helped raise a family, and found his way, somewhat improbably, into the difficult world of politics.

I do it as a person who struggles to keep a belief in God that he inherited; a Catholic raised in a religion closer to the peasant roots of the simple Sunday mass practitioners than to the high intellectual traditions of the Talmudic scholars, elegant Episcopalian homilists, or abstruse Jesuit teachers.

The simple folk of South Jamaica, Queens, who came from the tenements and attached houses on Liverpool Street, perceived the world then as a sort of cosmic basic training course, filled by God with obstacles and traps to weed out the recruits unfit for eventual service in the heavenly host.

The obstacles were everywhere.  The prevailing moral standard was almost impossibly high:  if you liked it, it was probably a sin, if you liked it a lot it was probably a mortal sin.

Their fate on earth was to be “the poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears,” until by some combination of grace and good works—and luck—they escaped final damnation.

For many, if not most of them, their sense of who or what God is was reflected in the collective experience of people who through most of their history had little capacity to learn from the exquisite musings of philosophers and theologians, and little chance to concern themselves with helping the poor or healing the world’s wounds.

They were the poor, the wounded.

It was a cold voice these people heard from God on Beaver Road, next to a cemetery across the street from St. Monica’s Catholic Church, where a famous ex-jockey, one of the homeless winos, froze to death sleeping in a large wooden crate. 

No doubt there were others in America – millions indeed – who felt content with the world as they found it.

But for most of the people in my old neighborhood, it was hard to see God’s goodness in the pathetic faces of the customers in our small grocery store who pleaded with my father for bread, and maybe some cold cuts—till the next relief check came in.

It got harder still, during and after the Second World War, when the best we could say about victory was that the new terror was put down… for a while.

And a gold star in a window announced that someone’s son had been killed, his mother’s prayers at St. Monica’s never answered.

It was hard for them to believe God spoke at Hiroshima either.

Who could blame these people for feeling that if God was not dead, he must surely be looking in another direction?

Others reveled in what they believed was the cultural liberation and enlightenment of the sixties, but for most of the people of Saint Monica’s the sixties were remembered for Vietnam and the sadness memorialized by Simon and Garfunkel: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio—our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?  Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”

No more John F. Kennedy, no more Martin Luther King.  No more Bobby Kennedy.  Nothing to believe in.  Nothing to grab hold of.  Nothing to uplift us.

# # #

People weren’t asking “Who is God?”  They were asking… “Is there a God?”

The same question many were asking after 9/11 and after a preemptive war in Iraq in the name of liberation, that killed more than 40,000 human beings, most of them innocent civilians; and after Rwanda and the grotesquely lethal tsunami.

The same question many ask today when a child dies in a crib—inexplicably.

Many of us find a way to go forward resigned to a world that has no answers to the biggest questions.

# # #

For some of us however the burden becomes intolerable; the absurdity of a world without explanation is almost too much to live with.

Our intellects push to find a rationale, an excuse… anything to take the place of despair… some fundamental belief or belief system, some dominant purpose in life—an absorbing activity, a benign crusade, a consuming passion for romantic sex, or music or art, something larger than ourselves to believe in.

If the answer cannot be compelled by our intellect, we plead for an answer that, at least we could choose to believe without contradicting that intellect.

We yearn for more than just a God of prohibition.  More than just a God of guilt and punishment.

More than John Calvin’s chilling conclusion that God loves Jacob but hates Esau. 

For us, it must be a God like the one that was promised in the New Testament: a God of mercy, a God of peace, a God of hope.

In the end, to make any sense, it must be a God of love!

# # #

Mostly, we want a God because we sense that the accumulating of material goods and the constant seeking to satisfy our petty appetites – for a flash of ecstasy or popularity or even temporary fame – is nothing more than a desperate, frantic attempt just to fill the shrinking interval between birth and eternity with something!

# # #

In my old neighborhood, despite the doubts, the simple and sincere preachments of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, and the prodding of uneducated parents whose moral pleadings and punishments were as blunt and tough as the calluses on their hands, were still given a degree of apparent respect.  Probably this was only because there seemed to be nothing more intellectually satisfying to put in their place.

# # #

In the fifties, some of us were suddenly gifted:  we were presented with the enlightened vision and profound wisdom of an extraordinary man.

A scientist, a paleontologist.  A person who understood evolution.  A soldier who knew the inexplicable evil of the battlefield.  A scholar who studied the ages.  A philosopher, a theologian, a believer.  And a great priest.

Teilhard de Chardin heard our lament, and he answered us.  He reoriented our theology and rewrote its language and linked it, inseparably with science.  His wonderful book “The Divine Milieu,” dedicated to “those who love the world,” made negativism a sin.

Teilhard glorified the world and everything in it.  He taught us to love and respect ourselves as the pinnacle of God’s creation to this point in evolution.  He taught us how the whole universe – even the pain and imperfection we see – is sacred.  He taught us in powerful, cogent and persuasive prose, and in soaring poetry.

He integrated his profound understanding of evolution with his religious understanding of the “Divine Milieu.”  He envisioned a viable and vibrant human future:  “We are all foot soldiers in the struggle to unify the human spirit despite all the disruptions of conflict, war and natural calamities.”

“Faith,” he said, “is not a call to escape the world, but to embrace it.”  Creation is not an elaborate testing ground with nothing but moral obstacles to surmount, but an invitation to join in the work of restoration; a voice urging us to be involved in actively working to improve the world we were born to—by our individual and collective efforts making it kinder, safer and more loving.  Repairing the wounded world, helping it move further and further upward to the “Pleroma,” St. Paul’s word for the consummation of human life.  The Omega point, when the level of consciousness and civility would eventually converge, having infiltrated the whole universe, elevated to the highest level of morality.  A new universe a peerless one; one we could help create by our own civilizing behavior.

# # #

Teilhard’s vision challenges the imagination but it has achieved sufficient scientific plausibility to be given cautious but respectful attention by celebrated intellectuals like Robert Wright a scientist and a declared agnostic.  (See his book “Nonzero:  The Logic of Human Destiny.”)

# # #

Actually, I would have been less influenced by Teilhard’s exquisite and moving enlightenment if I thought it was reserved for people like Robert Wright who are equipped to understand the scientific complexities and nuances that he weaves through his theology.

In fact, if one looks closely, some of the most fundamental of Teilhard’s principles are equally available to me and to all rational human beings whatever their level of formal education.

They are instructions of what has come to be called “natural theology” or the “natural law,” which is to say they can be ascertained by using evidence that is there for all of us to see and feel with nothing more than the gift of consciousness and exposure to the world around us. 

Without books or history, without saints or sermons, without instruction or revelation, three things about our place in the world should occur to us as human beings.

The first is that the greatest gift we have been given is our existence, our life and the power to help procreate.

The second is because as humans with the gift of consciousness we are unique parts of creation – sharing the same principal needs, desires and threats against us – our intelligence inclines us to treat one another with respect and dignity.

The third is the inclination to work together to protect and enhance the life we share. 

The Hebrews, who gave us probably the first of our monotheistic religions, made these ideas the foundation of their beliefs.  Tzedakah is the principal that we should treat one another as brother and sister, children of the same great source of life.  And Tikkun Olam is the principal that instructs us to join together in repairing the world.

Rabbi Hillel pointed out that these two radiantly logical principals together make up the whole law.  “All the rest,” he said, “is commentary.”

Jesus confirmed it was also the whole law for Christians.  “The whole law is that you should love one another as you love yourself for the love of truth and the truth is God made the world but did not complete it; you are to be collaborators in creation.”

I know of no religion recognized in this country—God-oriented or not—that rejects these ideas.

# # #

If then, as seems to be the case, politicians today are looking for guidance from religions in learning how to create a sustainable future or looking for the best wisdom to govern by, day-to-day, the answer is apparent:  To deal effectively with our problems and to make the most of all our opportunities, we must understand, accept, and apply one fundamental, indispensable proposition.  It is the ancient truth that drove primitive people together to ward off their enemies and wild beasts, to find food and shelter, to raise their children in safety, and eventually to raise up a civilization.

Now, in this ever more complex world, we need to accept and apply the reality that we’re all in this together, like a family, interconnected and interdependent, and that we cannot afford to revert to a world of us against them.

It is the one great idea that is indispensable to realizing our full potential as a people.

This is true whether we are considering the sharing of the wealth in the economy of the richest nation on earth; deciding what we must do to relieve the economic and political oppression of people all over the world, or deliberating over how to join in protecting millions of Africans against the ravages of AIDS or the barbarism of war lords.

# # #

Each of us is presented with a choice to act or not to act in a way that will move the world in a different and better direction.  A brilliant agnostic Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes echoed Teilhard’s call for the vigorous involvement of all of us in the management of the world around us and added a warning.  He said:  “As life is action and passion we are required to share the passion and action of our time at the peril of being judged not to have lived.”

Teilhard would have augmented Holmes’ remarks with his promise of glorious attainment.  “The day will come when after harnessing the wind, the mind, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love and on that day for the second time in the history of man we will have discovered fire.” 

I wish I had a recording right now of a lot of people’s one favorite piece of music.

Reflecting on Teilhard’s vision and importunings, it’s easy to hear in the background Beethoven’s wonderful message to humanity which was his 9th Symphony.

With it’s unforgettable ending….

The single moral principle he wanted to share was the need to see the world as a family.  Listen to it again.  It begins dark and threatening; disaster and confusion loom because of clashes of will, misunderstanding and alienation.  It moves into the frenetic hunt for resolution seeking an answer that will comfort and reassure humanity.

Then in the final movement it swiftly presents again the initial picture of disunity and discord, only to dissolve into the Ode to Joy, using the words of Friedrich Von Schiller’s poem, ending in ecstatic jubilation – the chorus rejoicing at the convergence of the world’s people through maturity, brotherhood … and love!

Simple, and simply wonderful!


So, “Who or What is God?”

I have grown old enough to understand the vanity of trying to define fully the infinite and eternal.

But I also understand that I’m not required to eliminate any possibilities just because my intellect is not acute enough to make them irresistible.

In the end, I can choose to believe – and call it “faith” if I must – if that promises me meaningfulness.

So, it may not be easy to understand Teilhard or believe that God commits us to the endless task of seeking improvement of the world around us, knowing that fulfillment is an eternity away.

But it’s better than the anguish of fearing futility.

Better than the emptiness of despair.

And capable of bringing meaning to our most modest and clumsy efforts.

That’s a useful consolation for any of us still struggling to believe.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo — The National Press Club

Governor Mario M. Cuomo

The National Press Club

Washington, D.C.

January 7, 2003

For the last two years our politics have been dominated by the traumatizing effects of 9/11 and the confrontation with Iraq which the President dramatically linked to the war on terrorism.

Last year the tension increased when the President declared that Iraq, North Korea and Iran were the world’s “Axis of Evil” then warned that the United States might make a preemptive attack against anyone we regarded as dangerous . . . but only in the name of peace.

Now we are on the brink of a war with Iraq and both North Korea and Iran have reacted by re-invigorating their own nuclear capacities, also in the  name of peace.

Meanwhile, terrorism is escalating world-wide as anti-American sentiment reaches dangerous levels of hostility in the Arab lands  and beyond.

After 9/11 the nation rallied around the President in a powerful show of support that expressed our anxiety and our eagerness to strengthen the President’s hand in the war against terrorism.

At home however, the preoccupation with terrorism and Iraq allowed our domestic condition to wither.

Today the economy is weak, not because we lack investment capital but because businesses are simply not doing enough business. 

More than 70% of our economy depends upon our many millions of consumers but their resources continue to be depleted by unemployment and overloaded credit cards.

In two years the Federal government has gone from the largest budget surpluses in our history to hundreds of billions of dollars of annual deficit.       

At the same time states, cities and counties are anticipating their worst financial crises since the Great Depression, with as much as $100 billion dollars of their own deficits next year.  That will mean local tax increases; another solid punch to the already heavily pounded stomach of our sagging economy.

The increase in oil prices and the uncertainty created by imminent war also chill economic activity.

Our government has virtually ignored a number of other serious weaknesses that are further stifling our nation’s productive capacity, and dangerously fragmenting our population.

  • More than eight million Americans have lost their jobs: three-quarters of a million don’t have unemployment benefits.
  • Only one-in-five of our two hundred million workers are high-skilled. The other approximately 160 million workers hobbled by inadequate education, earn only modest wages. 

Their living conditions are worsening because the costs of everything they need most ― housing, healthcare, education ― are growing much faster than their wages.  

  • This has widened what is already the widest wealth gap in the industrial world. The thin band of super rich Americans grows richer, the large middle-class slips and struggles not to slide backward, and beneath them thirty-three million other Americans languish in poverty, although many of them are working full time.
  • More than eleven million of the poor are children-at-risk of inadequate education, joblessness, homelessness and abuse of all kinds. Some of these children grow up familiar with the sound of gunfire before they’ve ever heard an orchestra play.
  • More than forty-one million Americans – 6 million more than a decade ago – are not poor enough for Medicaid, old enough for Medicare or fortunate enough to have a health insurance plan, with health care costs soaring further out of reach. This means that workers suffering serious illness — like women struck by breast cancer, or men with prostate cancer ― will receive treatment but will probably be bankrupted, impairing further their productivity ― and the rest of their life.
  • We have also failed to deal in any meaningful way with the need to protect our Social Security and Medicare funds.
  • Our absurd dependence on foreign oil — condemned by Presidents from Jimmy Carter on — continues without so much as a decent attempt at conservation. And the environment around us deteriorates as the Bush administration denies the threats of global warming, contaminated waters and vanishing wildernesses. 


With all these problems why didn’t the Democrats do better last November?

Probably because we virtually ceded to the Republicans the issues of terrorism and Iraq, and did not make a vigorous enough case on the domestic issues, especially the economy and the President’s tax cut plan.

We Democrats will have to do better on both counts to restore ourselves to power in 2004.

And I think we can, if we communicate more clearly the concerns and needs of most Americans.

I believe if a solid majority of the American people were as informed about all that is going on in Washington as the people in this room today, and had a chance to speak directly to our leaders, they would say something like this:

“Let’s not waste time on the simplistic arguments about ‘Big Government’ or ‘Little Government’: we agree with Abraham Lincoln, ‘We should have only the government we need but all the government we need.’” 

“And let’s not rely on shorthand labels like “right wing conservative,” and “left wing liberal,” which distort complex positions on complicated subjects.  Instead, let’s be more specific about the issues in question and clearer about your particular positions.  And let’s start by discussing Saddam Hussein, terrorism, war, the economy, tax cuts, healthcare and the other things we talk about at home.”

“The country is with you, Mr. President in your commitment to de-fang Saddam Hussein and to defeat Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and all terrorist groups. 

“But war in Iraq would kill a lot of people, many of them American.  It could destroy much of Iraq’s infrastructure,  make the task of democratizing the country more difficult and further destabilize the region. 

It would surely provoke more anti-American terrorism as the radical Islamists note the difference between the way we deal with Muslim Iraq and non-Muslim North Korea, notwithstanding North Korea poses a much greater potential nuclear threat.”

It wouldn’t be a war that ends violence: it would be a war that invites violence, especially against our country.

“The best victory, Mr. President… for you and our nation… would not be in winning a destructive war over a weaker opponent, but in getting rid of Saddam Hussein without a war – through intelligence, wisdom and political adroitness. 

We know you’re aware of this, Mr. President:  Secretary Rumsfeld has suggested a number of times the possibility of a regime change by working out some kind of exile situation with the cooperation of some of our Arab friends.

However you do it, if you could get rid of Saddam and the threat he poses without all the death, destruction and new hostility a war would create – it would be a real triumph of powerful and enlightened leadership.  It would instantly relieve the anti-American tension and hostility around the world… and even provide a quick leap forward in the stock market.

It would give you a glorious legacy and make you one of the most popular Presidents in our modern history. 

One other thing Mr. President, we know that the war against terrorism will never end in a pact or parade: it will be more like the war against crime . . . fought every day.”   

“Saddam and the other terrorists are malignant, lethal tumors that must be removed.  But even if war is necessary to remove them, we must also try to root out the cancer that produced them because if we don’t, that cancer will produce more-and-more of them.  That’s what’s happening now in Israel and elsewhere.

What do we do about that, Mr. President?”

The President knows this question requires an answer but he has so far not given a strong one.  He has conceded that ignorance, oppression, poverty and lack of opportunity are causes that breed alienation and hostility, whether it’s a ghetto in the United States, or an Arab village in the Middle-East where these conditions can make people susceptible to terrorist networks. 

And he has noted that much of the Muslim hostility is fueled by radical Islamists who distort the Q’uran into an instruction that Western infidels must be destroyed and that suicidal terrorism is glorious. 

But so far the President has not done anything meaningful to correct the situation. 

Democrats should suggest that he try to enlist those who call themselves our friends in the Arab World — especially the wealthy Saudis — to stop financing madrasahs that teach the distortive and provocative interpretations of Islam which incite violence instead of promoting peace. 

And, as Colin Powell has suggested, the President should ask them to work with the United States and our other allies, supporting generously the economies of currently depressed Arab countries.

Democrats should also point out that the President was wrong last June to effectively withdraw from active participation in the negotiations to end the incessant killing going on in Israel.  We should urge the President to return as soon as possible to an all out effort to help the parties arrive at some kind of temporary cease fire, at least. 

Here too we should urge our Western allies and Arab friends to join in helping to provide the infrastructure and other wherewithal needed to create a successful economy in the new Palestinian state the President has promised.  They should start building the roads, energy and water systems, factories and residences that the Palestinians will need to make the desert bloom the way that Israelis have done.  Give Palestinians a motive to work toward peace: a Palestinian state without a viable economy is certainly no real inducement.

Peace and mutual security are vital to the Middle East, to us and to the rest of the world.  At the very least, tangible progress toward a separate state acceptable to the Palestinians would reduce Muslim hostility and terrorism.

On the domestic side, I think those clear-headed, common sense Americans would say to our political leaders something like the following:       

“At the same time that we are trying to make the world a better place, we cannot let our domestic condition continue to wither”. 

“All you politicians agreed to devote more resources to education.  You promised to ‘leave no child behind’ — then you didn’t leave enough money behind to improve their public schools and to help them get a college education.”

“And you promised to help people who desperately need health insurance and prescription drugs.  But then you said the nation can’t afford it.  Nor — according to you, can we afford to shore up Medicare and Social Security” 

“How do you justify that?”

“Your tax cut plan in 2001 gave up more than one-and-a-quarter trillion dollars of the nation’s capital.  Almost $500 billion of the total tax cut will go out over the next five years to a little more than one percent of all taxpayers — only about 1 million 250 thousand of the richest people in America get nearly $500 billion!”

“The plan was passed at a time when we were enjoying the largest Federal budget surpluses ever produced, left behind by the Clinton/Gore administration.  We were told by you Mr. President:  ‘We just don’t need the money, so let’s give it back.’”

“You were wrong Mr. President!  We need the money desperately.”

“Already this huge surrender of capital has helped devastate the Federal budget, replacing surpluses with deficits…“as far as the eye can see.” 

But you say $200 billion dollars to fight a war in Iraq is no problem.

“And today you’re telling us that you want to give more hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to those Americans who need them least.”

“Mr. President your proposal to remove taxes on dividends is just another way to help the already richest Americans.  It will do nothing to stimulate the economy:  what the economy needs is more people buying goods and services… more consumers.

“So, let’s do what common sense tells us to do.”  Let’s try harder to stimulate business, make our workers more productive, and avoid punishing tax increases all at the same time.”

“Hold off on still more tax cuts.”

“Defer the nearly $500 billion dollars in give-away tax cuts to the richest people in the country for a few years or so.  Tell them you are postponing the remaining portion of your 1.345 trillion dollar mega tax cut until you get the government’s business back to the annual surpluses you counted on when you decided on the cuts in the first place.”

“In the meantime, give different more economically productive tax cuts and help avoid dangerous tax increases at the state and local level.” 

“Remember, it’s not a lack of investors that’s hurting the economy — there’s plenty of investment money around — the problem is businesses’ failure to make profits — we need to get people to buy goods and services.”

“So instead of giving nearly $500 billion to the already richest 1.2 million Americans, give tax cuts to the hard-working millions of workers who are struggling because they can’t afford to buy all they need. 

Millionaires don’t need more spending money:  these workers do, and they will spend it buying goods and services and helping businesses.”

“These cuts would be stimulative to the economy besides being fairer to the Americans who need fairness the most.” 

“Mr. President, you accuse the people who disagree with your tax plan of class warfare.  Respectfully, Mr. President, it is class warfare, but you declared the war!  You created the 2001 plan and this new proposal that would give more than a trillion dollars to the already rich while leaving the vast majority of Americans struggling, without the education, healthcare, retirement benefits and environmental help we all agree they need.  They are just trying to defend themselves!

“Also you should give part of the nearly $500 billion to states and local governments as short-term revenue sharing for use in avoiding hurtful tax increases that would otherwise be imposed upon our economy. 

“And use the rest of the nearly $500 billion to keep your promises to aid education, health care, the environment, social security and Medicare.”

Finally, Democrats should talk to America about the basic principles that often get lost in the blizzard of numbers, shibboleths, arguments and political deceptions.

Democrats should remind America how we made ourselves a great nation.

America was born in outrageous ambition.

The deprived and the oppressed from all over the globe came here with little more than the desire to realize themselves.  In a little over two hundred years they built us into the most powerful nation on earth, a nation that has multiplied success generation-after-generation.

They did it by insisting on a market system and personal responsibility that make up the rock solid foundation on which our society was first built and has flourished.

But they also realized that we could not achieve greatness as a dog-eat-dog society of millions of disassociated individuals.  They recognized the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of us — as a nation and beyond.  So they supplemented the market system by having government contribute to the people’s education, healthcare and retirement security in order to enhance the productivity of American workers.

They made America great by coming together, sharing benefits and burdens, for the good of the whole nation

That’s not some glib slogan invented as the latest political conceit.

It’s history and it’s plain common sense, here and around the world:  as we invest in one another’s ability to be productive we increase the community’s wealth and we reduce its costly disorientations. 

And we also promote peace.

God forbid we should allow history to record that the best thing this generation did as a nation was to destroy enemies and win wars, instead of helping people help themselves earn a good life.

We know we can frighten people with our awesome military might: what we need to be sure of is that they will respect us for our wisdom and fairness as well.

The greatest human temptation is said to be the willingness to settle for too little.  It would be a particularly grievous sin for this great nation to give in to that seduction.  The good fate that endowed us above all nations, charges us with a greater mission.  We are the richest, freest, most technologically proficient and most powerful nation in world history.  There is no reason, other than our own unwillingness, that we cannot also be the best educated, most highly skilled, healthiest, fairest nation in the world ― and the most effective instrument for spreading prosperity and peace to the rest of the planet. 

We can be closer to what we ought to be, if we remember that we are all in this adventure together;  in our great nation and in this world.

I think most Americans would agree.

Thank you.

And Happy New Year!

Jimmy Breslin, The Writer — Remarks of Mario M. Cuomo

December 7, 2009


I’m not eager to go out to events at night.  Like a lot of other people, my day’s work is sufficiently challenging to make me look forward to quiet evenings at home.  It takes a really good reason to get me out, so when Pete Hamill called and told me that on December 7th there would be an event at night to honor Jimmy for his sixty years as a writer, I wanted to be sure it was real.

I asked Pete … “Does Jimmy know?”  And he said, “Yeah, he’s all for it.”

At first it didn’t sound right to me.  Jimmy didn’t even celebrate sixty years of being alive, so why would he be eager to celebrate sixty years as a writer?

Logic gave me a quick answer.  “Just being alive meant a lot less to Jimmy than being alive and writing.

That’s the way it is with truly gifted people like him.  Writers will remind you this evening of his Pulitzer and a wall full of other significant honors over the years acknowledging his unique and vibrant writing skills.  As a reporter he became the uncommon voice of the common man with his uncanny ability to find in newsworthy events, details that made the events more meaningful to the people of New York’s boroughs and millions of other people like them.  Interviewing the gravedigger at John F. Kennedy’s burial is a good example.  The writers will remind you how he could make people smile, or laugh out loud when they bring back some of Jimmy’s inimitable descriptions of hapless ballplayers, second-rate mobsters and third-rate politicians, or reintroduce you to “Fat Thomas” and “Robert J. Allen.”

There may even be a tear-or-two if someone chooses to read from “Short, Sweet Life of Edward Gutierrez,” or parts of “World Without End, Amen.”

But no matter how many bits of Breslin inspiration are shared this evening, they will amount to only light hints of the immense amount of great writing he has done in his uniquely long, productive and heralded career.  Think of it:  he still works every day … writing or thinking about writing and he has done it for sixty years – nearly 22,000 days and nights – except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines.  Then … he wrote a book about it!

That’s a lot of “Jim Breslin Writing” to cover in a single night of celebration.  And the challenge is even greater because, as Pete has pointed out – there are really at “least two Jim Breslins.”  One “Breslin” is the public person, Writer, Raconteur and Celebrity figure.

The other is the private guy from Queens when he’s not on the stage or on the screen but is himself, on the phone or having an otherwise quiet dinner, explaining to you the world and it’s various dysfunctionalties.  And excoriating those who are responsible for the disorder, by creating it or by not doing enough to fix it … that often includes the people he’s talking to at the moment.

That’s when he’s just “Jimmy” and that’s the way I know him best and have for more than forty years.

I met him when I was a youngish lawyer trying to help sixty-nine barely middle-class homeowners in Corona, Queens, save their homes from a Mayor who was about to condemn them to accommodate t he builder of a huge housing complex.

They couldn’t afford a big law firm and I was neither prestigious nor politically influential, so the sixty-nine would probably have lost their homes if Jimmy hadn’t gotten involved.  He came to a meeting of the group, did some research then wrote a long story and some short ones, and talked to some influential people at City Hall.  He convinced them the Mayor was wrong and the sixty-nine stayed in their homes.  That was Jimmy at his best and it led to a friendship that has survived all the years since then.  Good days and hard days.  Days when we enjoyed some lucky breaks and other days when we got hit by tragedies.

And most of the real tragedies were on Jimmy’s side of the relationship.  Heavy, heavy blows that would have left me and most people crippled and helpless.

But not Jimmy.

It had to be hard for him for sure, but Jimmy just kept writing.  He had to!  His world was too big, too complex, too filled with great characters.  There were too many great stories that needed telling and retelling.  And there were too many big problems that needed solving!

There still are!  As there have been for sixty years:  nearly 22,000 nights and days!

# # #


Almost every morning before he goes to his typewriter, he’ll call one of his many friends to describe some of the problems …

As war we should be ending, a healthcare bill we need to pass.  I can hear him now, “Did you see the first page of the Times?  Food stamps are back!  Food stamps … and they say the recession is over!  What are you doing about it?  Write a damn letter!  Call somebody – some big shot.  You must know someone!  Tell them about the abused immigrants and the abusive landlords, the crooked politicians and the bad priests.


# # #


Every morning Jimmy has a bowl of oatmeal:  and his outrage.

And I suspect that’s the way it will always be.  He won’t ever stop thinking about the world he lives in and writing about it.


Because way down deep “Jimmy” is a believer.

He will argue with the priests of his Church, but he knows the God they are supposed to be working for has given him a personal gift.  A gift that is given to only a few.

And he will not offend his God by not using that gift.  And he will use it until there are no more stories to tell nor problems to solve.

Thank you Jimmy.  Keep going!

William O’Shaughnessy
(914) 235-3279

Mario Cuomo

With great sadness …

The Boston Globe once called him “the great philosopher – statesman of the American nation.” And I can’t do better than that.

My mind drifts back many years to the day a largely unknown New York secretary of state Mario Cuomo came by WVOX for an interview. I’m afraid I kept him waiting for about 20 minutes (something he always kidded me about and never let me forget.) During that interview he looked across the microphone and, to make a point, said, “Look … even a Republican who doesn’t wear socks should be able to understand this.”

We had many late night and early morning conversations – not always about the great issues of the day – but often about our souls, our sons and our daughters, and life in general. I’m absolutely convinced that hundreds of years from today when the dust of centuries has settled over our cities, people will discover some of his magnificent and soaring speeches and say “There was … someone.”

His favorite word was “sweetness” … as in you can make a community stronger, wiser and – sweeter – than it is.

A well-known writer on religious issues once said, “Everything which proceeds from his bright, fine mind glistens with the sweat of moral conviction.”

He was there for the funerals of my mother, my brother and my stepson. And now I will pray at his.

I loved the man …

Exclusive interview with Governor Mario M. Cuomo re: Andy O’Rourke

William O’Shaughnessy

Exclusive interview with

Governor Mario M. Cuomo


Andy O’Rourke

January 4, 2013

WVOX & WVIP Worldwide


William O’Shaughnessy:

Governor Cuomo … an old opponent of yours has gone to another – and we’re sure … a better world.  Andy O’Rourke ran against you for governor.

Mario Cuomo:

Bill, it’s very difficult to talk about Andy without sounding like you’ve made an effort to cover him as some kind of heroic figure.  I really do think he is – was – and always will be … in my memory – a heroic figure … because he was such a powerful coming together of good things.  His intelligence … his vision … his sense of humor … his sense of fairness … made all the political labels meaningless.  Liberals are supposed to be Democrats and business people are supposed to be Republicans … all of that.

It makes you feel once you meet and see what he is and see his goodness and his charm and see his intelligence … you say who needs categories, political categories?  Just get the best human beings you can to serve you as public servants.  He was a wonderful public servant because he was a wonderful human being.  He’s a great loss to Flora, his wife, and to his children.


Governor Cuomo … do you remember when he was running for governor against you … and he had that cardboard cut-out of Mario Cuomo?


Talk about sense of humor.  Early in the campaign between Andy and me … we had always gotten together. But we had a small “disagreement” for a time which required on my end that I not debate until the very last moment and he – bright man that he was – thought of a way to deal with that.  He had a cardboard cut-out made of me and it was a very good image of me … except it was considerably thinner than I was because it was just cardboard and he debated the cardboard figure. Now … I didn’t know that until – and I happened to be in Westchester on the first day he used it – I didn’t know it until the reporters came to me and said do you know Andy O’Rourke debated a cardboard figure of you … and I said, yes I know.  I told them he’s done it more than once and so far I’m told the cardboard figure won two out of three!


But wasn’t it because you were something like 1000 points ahead and said I don’t have to debate this guy.


No … it wasn’t that at all, O’Shaughnessy.  He said something about Andrew I didn’t like.  And I decided to punish him … but he punished me by debating the cardboard figure.  But then I put the cardboard figure on my side by saying he won two out of three!


Governor Cuomo … Andy O’Rourke was a Republican.  Mario Cuomo – as the world knows – is a Democrat.  How did you two get together. 


Those are not real distinctions, Bill.  And they shouldn’t be.  And I wish sometimes – frankly – I think one of the greatest errors made by our founding fathers was ignoring George Washington when he said two things.  First, that you should never allow a single person to declare war.  And so you should never start a war because the president of the United States asked for it.  That’s a ridiculous thing.  It’s ridiculous because the one person shouldn’t be in a position where a bad judgment could be horrible for us.  And he also said another thing.  He said we should not have political parties.   Why not?  Because as soon as you commit yourself to leftists or rightists … to this kind of person or that kind of person … you choose up sides and you pit them against one another.

He said there should be no parties.  And we didn’t listen to that.  And I think since he said that, we have had something like 176 parties.  And the parties do exactly what he projected they would.  And that is they would take a position which was contrary to the other side … because that’s the way it is served up to us, our politics.  And it’s foolish.  First of all, we don’t stay true to the labels because  there was a lot about Andy O’Rourke that wasn’t classical Republican.  And there was a lot about Mario Cuomo that wasn’t classical Democrat.  And so these silly labels – and they are silly labels.  And who says so?  George Washington.  Too bad we didn’t listen. 


Governor Cuomo … Andy O’Rourke helped your son build housing for the homeless here in Westchester when he was county executive.  Do you remember those days?  They both got ganged up on by the NIMBYs …


Yes … almost every time he did something notable … it was praiseworthy.   What was a Republican in Westchester doing helping Andrew build housing for poor Democrats who were mainly the kind of people who lived in those humble homes he was building? But Andy (O’Rourke) – bright and intelligent person that he was – looked up over the labels constantly.  If something was good he recognized it as good and he found something to do with it for our betterment.  And that’s what he did with Andrew and the housing projects.  It got him no votes.  Got him the irritation of a lot of Republicans in your area.  He would smile at that … make a joke and move on looking for another good thing to do.


Governor … finally … I wonder if there is a lesson.  Barack and Romney … Obama and Romney.  Clearly they hated each other.  O’Rourke and Cuomo ended up as friends.  Any lessons there?  Or has it gotten meaner?  Nastier?


Essentially you have to go back to George Washington again.  Washington made it very clear in simple language.  If you create parties … you are declaring that these two groups are different from one another and they should contend with one another.  And you will not find your best answers by letting them fight with one another … lie about one another.  And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since the people ignored him when they wrote the Constitution. 


Governor Cuomo … I hear it in your voice.  We’ve lost Andy O’Rourke here in Westchester.  Opponent that he may have been … I think you kind of liked the guy.


I liked him a whole lot.  I admired him.  And I should.  Andrew – my Andrew –  I’m sure will have nice things to say about him. Andrew O’Rourke and Andrew Cuomo.  Andrew Cuomo in the last poll got at least as many votes as a Republican as he did as a Democrat.  And it might even be that he got slightly more on the Republican line in the latest poll.  Now why is that?  It’s because Andrew Cuomo has been acting like Andrew O’Rourke at his best.  And I hope he keeps doing that.


Politics is a nasty business that only occasionally gets an Andy O’Rourke … and a Mario Cuomo.


O’Rourke was good, Bill.  O’Rourke was really good.  Mario Cuomo is not bad.  But I tell you … that cardboard cut-out was a winner!


You never forget, Mario.  Thank you, sir.

# # #

William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.

He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Governor Cuomo.



Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media


Interview with Governor Mario M. Cuomo

The Morning After

The 2012 Presidential Election

William O’Shaughnessy

Interview with 

Governor Mario M. Cuomo

November 7, 2012

WVOX & WVIP Worldwide


We’ve broadcast many interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo which have also appeared in my four previous books for Fordham University Press.  On the morning after Barack Obama was elected to a second term (which surprised the hell out of my Republican friends!) we again summoned up Mr. Cuomo’s wisdom.  Now in his 80th year, the Governor retains a keen interest in the great issues of the day.  In this delightful – and insightful – conversation, the man the Boston Globe calls “the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation” has some sage advice for the President as he begins his second term.  And as usual, it’s accompanied as well by Mario Cuomo’s great wit and charm.  Once again I didn’t lay a glove on him and I couldn’t even get him to talk about his son and heir Andrew.  Or did he?


William O’Shaughnessy:

On this The Morning After the national election of 2012 … we repair now to the counsel and wisdom of an individual who almost ran for that job of President of the United States of America:  Governor Mario Matthew Cuomo.  Governor … were you surprised Barack won big?

Mario Cuomo:

Was I surprised?  No.  I expected he would win and I was convinced it would be a relatively close race.  And it was both those things.  He did win. And it was a very close race.  I’m not sure it was his best campaign.  Notwithstanding, a billion dollars were spent.  They didn’t get their money’s worth.  I didn’t think there were enough debates.  The first one was a knock-out in the first round by Romney and then there were a couple of other debates which didn’t do much to enlighten the American audience.  No … I’m not surprised.  I’m pleased at the results and I’m pleased at how the Republicans have responded so far.  Let me not say it that broadly … not the Republicans so much as the Republicans in the House. 

The Republicans in the House have said very clearly to the President that they wish to deal with him in a collaborative exercise that will produce the kind of policies both sides know we need.  It’s a very good start and I hope they keep at it until they get it done.


Governor Cuomo … Mario Cuomo … what about the second term?  Your friend Bill Clinton, he had two terms.


Yes … what I said for months and months is I hope what happens here is what happened in the Clinton years.  Clinton’s first four years were a near tragedy. He made a faint at the question of healthcare and how to get people the healthcare they need at a reasonable cost that won’t bankrupt the country.  He tried and then had to back off after various interested parties attacked the approach he was taking.  And so he got that setback and some other failures which had people saying we made a mistake appointing Bill Clinton.  I did not think so and I was delighted to see I was right in the second half of his eight-year term.  In the second four-year term … I’ll tell you what happened and why it happened.


This is Bill Clinton’s second term?


Yes.  Bill Clinton’s second four years.  And now Obama is going to have his second go at it.  Four more years.  What Clinton wound up getting for the people of the United States of America was 22 million new jobs … an upwardly moving middle class … an upwardly moving upper class.  More people achieved tremendous wealth than ever before in the history of the country.  Balanced budgets.  Sharp decline in the number of poor people.  A strengthening of the middle class.  All of these things in the second term.  And balanced budgets.  And finally … a projected surplus in the end of the eight years of trillions of dollars.  I think that can be done.  He proved it can be done.  The evidence is there for all to see.  It can’t be eradicated from the record.  Can Obama do the same thing?


That’s the big question.  Can he?


One big word is all you need, Bill.  And it’s called “collaboration.”  The difference between the first four years and the second four years is that Clinton did not have a collaborative atmosphere with the Republicans.  In the second four years he did … and he went to all the Republican leaders and he did what he had to do to create sufficient confidence by the Republicans so they can work together.  And when they worked together, that magic word – collaboration – gave us all those successes.  There is no reason to say … well, it can’t happen again.  I think it could happen again. And I think it should happen again.  I think we should all be pushing for it. 


Governor Cuomo, great wordsmith that you are … and orator … and careful linguist … what’s the difference between collaboration and compromise.  Is there a difference? 


Not really … nuances perhaps.  Collaboration and compromise is another way of saying common sense.  My mother and father were not given the gift of an education.  Not even a grammar school education.  But they could make deals.  And they had to make deals every day.  Because they had very scant resources to live on.  They had to be constantly dealing with other people, trading their services for this or that.  They learned how to collaborate.  Well … Clinton learned how to collaborate.  He told us about it again in the speech he gave for Obama which was probably the best speech in the campaign for Obama.  At their convention … Bill Clinton was asked by Obama to explain what he (Obama) was going to do.  He did and the polls went immediately in favor of Obama.  And so … collaboration … cooperation.  Common sense.  What’s good for you and good for me simultaneously happens when you collaborate.  And if you don’t collaborate.  If you don’t like that word …  if you don’t like the idea of collaboration or whatever word you are going to use and do what the Republicans did in the very beginning of Obama’s term when they announced to the world – McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate – announced to the world they were not going to help this president because they wanted to get rid of this president and they would work to get rid of the president.

Well, how do you do that?  Make sure he doesn’t do good things.  What good things would they be?  They would be jobs for people.  It would be a healthcare that they can afford that is wonderful in terms of reaching all the people who really need help for themselves.

We’re given now a second chance.  We’re given a chance that started with  our friend Bill Clinton and that ended with Bush.  Then came the eight years of Bush.  And look at the difference between the eight years of Bush and the eight years before that which gave us 22 million new jobs, etc. etc …  Two wars.  Two wars and a recession.  Ok.  But that’s an old story now.  Let’s just forget it.  Let’s just concentrate on this president and this bunch of Republicans who are suggesting to us that they are going to be collaborative.  If the Republicans are collaborative … they will have earned our respect and gratitude … notwithstanding they tried to take the presidency from Obama.


Governor … As you get into Bush, notice I try to change the subject.


Yes … I don’t blame you, O’Shaughnessy.


Governor, you hold up Bill Clinton as an example for Barack.  Do you realize that if you had done a few things differently like order that plane to take off for New Hampshire … do you realize you might have been holding up yourself?


Let me end this with you right now … maybe we can continue it another time.


I have a few more questions …


Well … maybe these two questions I’m going to give you will be enough for you.   Why would somebody who is considering running for president … maybe Hillary Clinton … decide to consider running for president.  This would happen because she’s going to obviously leave as secretary of state … get some rest, well-deserved rest.  She’s done a terrific job.  But let’s assume she and maybe various governors, from various states are going to consider running for president.


Anyone we know?


Two questions, Brother Bill, they have to answer.  Two questions. More for themselves than for the rest of us.  The first question is:  Can I win?  Well … that’s the question almost all candidates for the presidency will ask.  Can I win?  And most of the time they will say yes … because, why not?  They are probably people who have experience, etc., etc.  And yes, they can win.  If Bush, Jr. can win … if Obama can win … they could win. So that one is an easy question. But here’s the tough one.  I think if you want to run for president, you have to be able to look into the mirror, and what you see in the mirror … you have to be able to say that person in the mirror is the best person available to be president of the United States. If you want to be President … to be morally right you should convince yourself there is nobody better than you are to run the United States of America.  Now … I doubt that most candidates ask themselves that question.  Because if most candidates asked themselves that question … they would probably have a very difficult time saying Yes … I’m the very best person who can run this country.  I know I didn’t feel that way. 


But, sir … with all due respect … a hell of a lot of people who know Mario Cuomo and respect you … they felt you are … worthy and eminently capable as you say.


Well, I would have concluded they were wrong.  For my own decision was … it’s hard to believe that.  As a matter of fact, I proved my disbelief that I was the best by supporting John Kerry … not the second Kerry but the first Kerry who was wounded in action and who I gave money to go for the presidency while I was governor. For the presidency.  And when I was asked about it … I said yes.  I think he’s the best person on the scene for his ability to make a good president.


Governor … you mention Hillary Clinton.  Are you saying she should look in the mirror?  Or are you giving her permission to run?


No … I just used her name because everyone is using her name.  I have no idea whether she wants to run … whether she will run or not.  I have a good idea about her abilities.  And I think she’s terrific. And she’s proven it over and over again.  And she made the most convincing case as secretary of state.


Sir, do you have any idea who else might be thinking like this … looking in the mirror?


I have no idea.  How about you?  You’re a smart guy … you’re good-looking.  Do you see yourself as the best person available?


I’m too young for you.  I’m 74.  Governor, you said your parents – Immaculata and Andrea Cuomo – had very few gifts.  They had the gift of Mario Cuomo who has been called the great philosopher-statesman of the American nation.  We’re very grateful to you for sharing this with us on the morning after a presidential election.  Once again you didn’t let me take you where I wanted you to go ….


Well … let me say something about that last comment of yours, Bill.  They – my parents – didn’t think of me as a gift.  And if they did think of me as a gift, why the hell did they keep hitting me on the derriere when I did something wrong?


Weren’t you a perfect youngster? Even when you were clandestinely and stealthily playing baseball on four different teams using four different names when you’re only supposed to be on one at a time … they didn’t catch you.


No … thank goodness they didn’t know a lot about me playing as “Lava Libretti” and the umpire over in the New Jersey sandlot league said to me “Mario … where did you get that name Lava?”  I said Lava … always hot!  I was also known for a time as Oiram Omouc.  Exotic, right?  That’s my name backwards.


And didn’t you use other names?  Connie Cutts?  How about Matt Dente? And don’t forget the immortal Glendy LaDuke, your most famous nom de plume … save A.J. Parkinson. But he didn’t play ball … he merely opined.


Dente … yes indeed.  I used Dente.  That’s also true, O’Shaughnessy.  And who can forget the immortal Glendy LaDuke?


You see I did a little research on your blazing career in the sandlot league in Queens … if not as a candidate for the presidency.


Now you’re really getting dangerous and threatening, Brother Bill.  So I’m really going to hang up!


Thank you, sir.  I still wish you’d have owned up to the damn name:  “Mr. President” …



# # #


William O’Shaughnessy, a former president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, was chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington.  He has been a point man and advocate for the broadcasters of America on First Amendment and Free Speech issues, and is presently chairman of the Guardian Fund of the Broadcasters Foundation of America.  He operates two of the last independent stations in the New York area: WVOX and WVIP.


He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) … “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001) … “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” (2004) … “VOX POPULI: The O’Shaughnessy Files” was released in January, 2011.  He is currently working on his fifth book for Fordham University Press, an anthology which will include this interview with Governor Cuomo.



Cindy Gallagher

Whitney Media