Mario Cuomo spoke at Tim Russert's memorial service Wednesday afternoon at the Kennedy Center. Watch the speech below (transcript below):
Transcript of Mario Cuomo's Speech:
MARIO CUOMO, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: My name is Mario Cuomo. I'm
here as a kind of change of pace. They said that "there would be a
lot of intelligent humor before you get up and what we expect of you
is your typical somber seriousness." And I'll give you as much of
that as I can.
They also asked me to try to inject into my own comments about
Timothy, something that suggested imperfection. Not accuse him of any
imperfection-that would be too much-but suggested it, hinted at it
because there is this kind of relentless instinct for praise. All of
which that he deserves.
I tried very hard to think of a true imperfection. A lie, perhaps.
What the heck? He was a lawyer. He ought to be able to do that. And
I couldn't quite get there because of his Jesuit background. Because
the Jesuits, as you probably understand-and I'm sure there are many in
the audience-are very good at defense, even better than they are at
condemning people to hell. So the-and he had-he had the Jesuit
education to-to a perfection.
And here's what happened. A true story. I've never told it before.
But I'm too old to run again, and so I can afford to tell it now.
The-the seatbelt law was perhaps the most unpopular thing I did.
It was the first seatbelt law in the United States of America, and it
was followed by everybody except New Hampshire, "Live Free or Die."
They chose to-whatever.
And-and I got it passed, and it was a wonderful thing in 1985.
But the very next day, we were on a mission to Buffalo, which of
course, Tim was delighted by. And we went in a K car, which the state
police were then experimenting with. Small K cars, in a great
caravan, because one thing Buffalo could do is turn out troopers and
police and give you a real parade.
JANSING: We are again experiencing some audio problems as we listen
to the former governor of New York who Tim worked for, for several
years in the mid '80s. Governor Mario Cuomo, of course. Tim cutting
his political teeth, both with Mario Cuomo. Before that, as a very
young Moynihan-Pat-Senator Daniel Moynihan's chief of staff.
Let go back to Governor Cuomo.
CUOMO: Timothy jumps out of the car. The press jumps up out of the
press's car. They've run over. They said to Timothy, "How is the
governor?" And here's what Timothy said. He didn't have practice.
He had instinct. He had that great Jesuit education. He wasn't about
to lie. He said, "Thank God for the seatbelt."
I've known-I've known Tim since he served as a counselor to me in my
first years as governor. He was already a very skilled lawyer and had
been tutored in politics by a legendary master politician and
statesman, Pat Moynihan. There wasn't much I could teach him there.
But he thought that he might enjoy experiencing the more hands-on
political work that comes with the executive responsibilities of the
governor. And he did, in fact, enjoy it, although those first few
years of the governorship were very difficult ones in New York at that
time because of the onset of AIDS, which we had not even heard about
before the election was concluded in '82. And crack. Crack cocaine,
which was also something new.
And homelessness like nothing we had experienced since the Depression.
And a 51-hour hostage negotiation with a homicidal inmate in
Sing-Sing Prison. That happened in the first week of our
And for all those things, Timothy was with me. And then went to the
convention in 1984 when I gave a speech, and then to Notre Dame when I
gave another speech on abortion. All of which were chock full of all
kinds of interesting issues. And he-he enjoyed it. He did enjoy it.
And he told me once that he believed politics could be a noble
profession. Even a saintly one. And he meant it. If you did it
right. He said it can be beautiful. He truly believed that.
But gradually, it became clear to me that he was even more intrigued by the...
JANSING: Tim, of course, who grew up in Buffalo, used to love to talk
about his time both on the staff of Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick
Moynihan. Some of the years that he recalled most fondly.
Let's go back to Governor Cuomo.
CUOMO: The most discerning and respected pursuers of political truth
in the nation's history. You've heard Al, another great journalist,
and Tom Brokaw and so many in recent days talk about his mastery of
the art of journalism.
For most people, that would be more than enough to deliver as a
eulogy. You could stop there and make him a great journalist. And
have said enough-for more people than others.
But that's not enough for Tim Russert. And I've been thinking about
that for days. It's not enough to think of him as a great journalist.
Because how would that explain the tremendous outburst of anguished
sadness, the deep sense of personal loss that we're hearing from all
over America? The tears shed by million of people who knew him or
felt that they knew him.
And over and over, you hear people saying, "All I saw was Tim on
Sunday mornings on television. I never saw him in person, but I felt
that I knew him." How do you explain that? It's not because he was a
great journalist. His success as a journalist was enough to win him
respect, but it was not enough to win him love. And that's what
million of people feel for him. They loved his genuineness, his
When he said he was working to make politics a truly noble profession,
they believed him. They loved his profound devotion to his beautiful,
talented wife, Maureen. To Luke, who already in his early manhood has
begun to reflect his father's wondrous gifts. And his reverential
respect for, and affection for his father, Big Russ.
And they knew that his genuineness did not end there. They knew that
he never forgot where he came from. As a matter of fact, he reminded
us every Sunday morning, and we loved it. We loved to hear the
stories about Big Russ and the Bills and the parades and all the
things that made him what he was and that he loved to the very end.
And he did-but there's one other thing about him, I think, that is the
most important thing of all. He was much more than a great lawyer,
inquisitor, analyst, journalist, or political prognosticator.
All of these characteristics are mentioned over and over. But there
is one dominant reality in his life that charged all that he did. His
work, his role as a son, husband, father, brother, and friend. And he
did it all with a great joie de vivre. We hear that over and over.
And I think that's the key.
He regarded a day spent without real enthusiasm as a sadly lost
opportunity. And enthusiasm-enthusiasm is exactly the right word for
it. The Jesuits, who did such a good job teaching him, probably
taught him that the English word "enthusiasm" is from the ancient
Greek word meaning a divine appreciation of the gift of life. And oh,
how he loved life and how that has helped million and million of
others to love all that he represents.
We have lost the benefit of Tim's political wisdom at a time when we
need it most: a time when we're beset with wars, economic failures and
confoundedly complicated social issues. It will be difficult, if not
impossible to replace that wisdom. But the inspiration he provided,
as an example of the life well led, will be with us all until memory