THE BLOG
01/05/2015 05:49 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

Mario Cuomo -- Charmer and Nudge

Besides the remarkable intellectual strength, and the spectacular clarity of how the intersection of faith and reason should drive public life, Mario Cuomo was both a charmer and a nudge.

My best memories were of he and Giuliani campaigning against Pataki in 1994, where Mario knew Rudy was doing it more to punish Al D'Amato than any belief in Cuomo. I covered their first joint appearance on Long Island where a heckler called Giuliani a prostitute and Cuomo retorted that the heckler looked like he knew something about prostitutes.

But most of all there were the late night calls about something you had written in the paper, or something you were working on, when he would keep you on the phone for far longer than was necessary to convince you of the rightness of his view. I mean, he was the governor. You couldn't very well hang up on him. He cared inordinately about what you wrote about him and the issues he cared about.

And he was a charmer. My ardently feminist and tough-minded wife could not believe how seductive he could be, when I first introduced them at an LCA show in Albany -- a rare appearance for the governor at the show. He pushed me aside and took her hand and looked in her eye and charmed the hell out of her. Every time I tried to enter the conversation, he told me to shut up and continued with her. That was, of course, good politics all around.

At the risk of spouting the ill-informed pop psychology I should disdain, I often thought that Mario Cuomo was haunted by the fear that he had risen too high for an immigrant's kid, that some unseen force was about to yank him back down to reality.

I always believed that is why he left that plane sitting on the tarmac in Albany in 1992, never to take him to New Hampshire to register for the Democratic primary. Ken Auletta was on the button today when he spoke about Mario Cuomo having an inner life, something too few politicians today are willing to admit to, or certainly unwilling to put on display.

That is why the Notre Dame speech - more so even than the "Tale of Two Cities" speech to the 1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco - should be the defining public expression of his public life. He went to the intellectual center of Catholic life in this country to make the essential American argument that you can - you must -- separate the requirements of your faith from your obligations in the public square because if you can impose your faith on someone else, then they can do the same to you when they have the power.

That inner life not only defined him and drove him, but it also held him back. But to bemoan his unwillingness to run for president is to suggest somehow his life was incomplete, and that would be unfair. It was a life well-lived.

Mario Cuomo's mind and his spirit made him soar. His warts made him human. He was the whole package.