Obituary: The Story of Mario Cuomo And The Jewish Community

mario cuomo 3In a recent event in Borough Park, reaching out to Jewish voters ahead of his reelection bid, Governor Andrew Cuomo evoked his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, whose “Shabbos goy” spiel of his time growing up in the Bronx delighted Jewish audiences the 1970s. He was quoted as saying, “The Jews need a shabbos goy [Sabbath gentile] because they can’t do everything for themselves,” when he first ran for governor.

Today’s “Shabbos goy,” Cuomo suggested, was that “government has to get involved in helping Jews live their faith.”

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Since I was only born during the Cuomo’s years at helm (not to mention, that I was born in the UK), I briefly browsed the net to read about Mario’s Cuomo relationship with the Jewish community.mario cuomo 1

Mario Cuomo was said to have succeeded in becoming governor in 1982 with the help of Jewish voters. His 12,000 vote advantage over his Jewish Republican opponent Lew Lehrman, was due to a substantial margin of votes in heavily Jewish populated districts of New York City, according to JTA. In Manhattan’s upper West Side where there was at the time a large Jewish population, Cuomo polled over 9,500 votes to about 1,400 for Lehrman. In the heavily Jewish Midwood section of Brooklyn, the vote was about 5,500-2,500 in favor of Cuomo. Similarly, in Manhattan Beach, Cuomo polled over 13,900 votes to about 9,700 for Lehrman. In Forest Hills-Kew Gardens, Queens, he won 14,200 to 9,500. In the Co-Op City, Pelham Bay, Morris Park districts of the Bronx, home of many Jewish retirees, Cuomo topped Lehrman by 21,600 to 11,500.

In his first reelection bid in 1986, Cuomo received 80 percent of the Jewish vote, relatively similar to the 70+ percent his son Andrew Cuomo got in his 2014 reelection campaign.

Satmar Rebbe {KJ) at reelection rally for Mario CUomo
Satmar Rebbe {KJ) at reelection rally for Mario CUomo

And it seemed to have paid off for the Jewish community. In 1994, when Cuomo lost his 4th bid to Republican George Pataki – who was endorsed by Assemblyman Dov Hikind – NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver campaigned with the incumbent governor in the Lower East Side, reaching out to Orthodox Jewish voters and touting Cuomo’s record – signing a number of bills significant to Orthodox Jews, including laws that accommodate religious divorces and that enable families to block autopsies for religious reasons. Silver also recalled that Cuomo had helped protect the school district in Kiryas Joel from a Supreme Court decision that declared the district unconstitutional. “Jewish voters have been serviced by a Governor over 12 years who’s been sensitive to accommodating their religion,” Silver told reporters at the time.

Sholom Eisner, according to the NY Times, stitched a “Gov. Mario ‘Moishe’ Cuomo” sticker onto the elder Cuomo’s chest.

When Suri Feldman, a 14 year-old girl was reported missing in the woods, Governor Cuomo took a personal interest in her rescue, urging the State Police Superintendent to do everything possible to find her, the site Kim Hill noted. During his tenure, he also signed into law the “Hatzolah Bill” allowing Hatzolah, a Jewish-run ambulance company, to continue its important work of providing vital EMS service and expand its service into Nassau and Suffolk.

Mario Cuomo during visit to Kiryas Joel
Mario Cuomo during visit to Kiryas Joel

His pro-Israel record was at the time one of the strongest for any public official in the nation. According to the Jerusalem Post, “There is something unique about New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo’s devotion to the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Cuomo has been a friend in need, often taking lonely and unpopular positions in Israel’s defense.”

During Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s summertime trip to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his remarks during a joint appearance by sending his “warmest regards” to the elder Cuomo, whom he came to know while he was serving as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in the 1980s. “I remember how strongly, firmly and clearly Gov. Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, stood with Israel at the time,” Netanyahu said.

During his 1992 visit to Israel, Mario Cuomo met with Prime Minister Yithak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, promising Israeli leaders that they would see greater involvement by New York state to stem the Arab boycott against Israel. Cuomo said the Arab League boycott “is in fact an economic boycott against New York state, the United States and the nations of the world.”

Earlier in 1990, Cuomo criticized the Bush 41 administration for “sending strong signals indicating a lack of support for the Israeli government.”

“This is not about Likud or Labor or personalities,” he said. “It is about Israel herself. It is about Israel’s survival.”

“Governor Mario Cuomo was a long time friend of the Jewish community as his son Governor Andrew Cuomo noted when he visited Boro Park a few months ago,” Councilman David Greenfield told JP in a conversation Thursday night. “This is a personal loss for the entire Jewish community who mourns with the Cuomo family and all New Yorkers. Mario Cuomo’s leadership and eloquence will be sorely missed.”

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01/01/2015 11:25 PM by Jacob Kornbluh

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