Nodding to Mario

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Unlike his predecessor, Governor Cuomo never had state police escort me off the Executive Mansion grounds, and for that I respected and liked him. WhyI was escorted off the premises is perfectly explainable but better suited for another time.

Mr. Cuomo was New York’s Governor from 1983-1994. During those years I worked for the Assembly’s Way and Means Committee as the Assistant Director for Local Government Fiscal Affairs.  On several occasions during those years we were often in the same room together having meetings on either legislation or fiscal issues. We never had a one-on-one conversation but he knew my face well enough to sometimes nod an acknowledgement. Good enough for my ego. When I heard the news that the Governor had died, I immediately remembered two anecdotal stories involving the Governor to share:

Book Wars

It was either 1984 or 85 at the annual Assembly Way and Means Committee Christmas Party in the capitol building (for those who might remember, it was not the year the Senate staffer fell down two flights of stairs, or the year Governor Hugh Carey showed up and drank the last of the white wine…and wanting more, invited everyone back to the Governor’s Mansion). It was the year of the book bidding war for charity. As fate would have it, local writer William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” was on the best selling list, as was New York City’s Mayor Ed Koch’s “Mayor”. The Governor also produced “Diaries of Mario M Cuomo”, which I was told was a very popular read among his staff, state workers, family and friends.

It was my idea to get autographed copies of each book and during the Christmas party, auction them off to the highest bidders and donate the proceeds to local charities. First up was calling Mr. Kennedy’s house with the proposal; not only did he he readily accept, he invited staff to come to his house to receive a copy first-hand.  Our Committee clerk Phyllis and I drove to to his modest, lovely home where the Kennedy’s were having breakfast. We were invited in and asked to join them at their breakfast table and had some juice, fresh fruit and interesting conversation for twenty minutes or so. We took the signed book and drove away very happy that this now famous author was so kind and poitive towards our effort. Next up was calling Mayor Koch’s office, explaining the situation and hoping we would get lucky twice. Within a few days we were told we would be receiving a book and that the winner could come to Gracie Mansion in NYC to meet the mayor who would sign it personally to the winner. Wow. Mayor Koch certainly showed a common-man touch about him. Seemed like this idea was taking off and we would be having an exciting auction. Lastly we called the Governor’s office and explained the situation and were told someone would get back to us. Eventually we got the call and were told that yes, we could get a signed copy but we would have to pay for the book! Really? I explained again that this was for charity but my case failed to persuade. The jacket-covered list price of $19.95 was delivered in an envelope to the Executive Chamber the following day after I borrowed twenty dollars from my pal Phyllis. Had I been able to see the Governor personally, I think we could have nodded back and forth until reaching a compromise, but alas there were no meetings scheduled prior to the party. The great news was the auction was a huge success and hundreds of dollars were distributed to local charities. Now as we all begin 2015, my new year’s resolution is to f-i-n-a-l-l-y read the Governor’s book I won that auction night so many years ago.

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Special Olympic Gold

Sometime in 1991/92, my best friends’ special-needs child  Katie won a Special Olympics gold medal in swimming, and one day her team visited the state capitol building and she had an individual picture taken with Governor Cuomo in his office. When I eventually saw it, I asked Katie’s parents if she would like to have the picture autographed. They both nodded indicating agreement , so I took the picture and made an appointment to see the Governor’s Budget Director, Pat Bulgaro and asked him if the Governor wouldn’t mind signing the picture for both the girl and for the guy he often nods at in various meetings. Within a few days I received a call from the Director telling me the picture was ready to be picked-up. Approximately twenty-two years later, the picture still hangs proudly in Katie’s room and I have always appreciated the graciousness and support of both the Governor and Mr. Bulgaro.

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Looking back it was an honor to be able to participate in the governmental process for nearly twenty-five years with Mario Cuomo and other progressive Governors and Assembly Speakers. Over those years, the state Senate was mostly under Republican control, as it is today, but unlike the gridlock so often found today, it was a time where people with different philosophies could come together in compromise to address the importent and complicated issues of the time and produce laws whose intent was to mostly improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers. That’s what Mario wanted…that’s what we all wanted.

So farewell  “Hamlet on the Hudson” and a nod to rest in peace.

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About Alan G Billingsley

My career has been varied, including time as a newspaper deliverer, lifeguard, bubble gum maker, door-to-door detergent promoter, telephone book proofreader, short order cook, private employment agency counselor and owner, office and credit manger, infantryman, pots and pans salesman, Chinese restaurant cook, Chinese restaurant owner, public employment counselor, budget analyst, tax analyst, grant administrator, radio announcer, radio and television show host, disk jockey, automobile valet, child advocate, and now retiree. I've seldom been bored.
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One Response to Nodding to Mario

  1. Bud Weygant says:

    Great governor and interesting story. I was a fan of the governor and, you may recall, he opened the governors mansion on his inauguration and invited the citizens of New York. The previous governor, Nelson Rockefeller, had abandoned the process of “greeting the voters” at the mansion. My son, Jeff, wife and I went. I shook his hand, got some cookies from Matilda and asked if I could take a picture of him with my son. He obliged and some time later, perhaps 6 months or so, I sent the picture to him and asked him to sign it. He did. Unfortunately it didn’t convince my son to be a democrat. Very sad.

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