The New Year’s day news cycle was a bit somber yesterday evening with the announcement that former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has passed away from a heart condition at the age of 82. Indeed, it’s a sad week in New York as the state reflects on the three-term governor’s contributions and how he also became a national political icon and liberal powerhouse throughout the ending decades of the 20th century. Adam Nagourney in the NY Times reports:

In an era when liberal thought was increasingly discredited, Mr. Cuomo, a man of large intellect and often unrestrained personality, celebrated it, challenging Ronald Reagan at the height of his presidency with an expansive and affirmative view of government and a message of compassion, tinged by the Roman Catholicism that was central to Mr. Cuomo’s identity.

A man of contradictions who enjoyed Socratic arguments with himself, Mr. Cuomo seemed to disdain politics even as he embraced it. “What an ugly business this is,” he liked to say. Yet he reveled in it, proving himself an uncommonly skilled politician and sometimes a ruthless one.

Cuomo’s death, tragic and somewhat untimely as it is, also carries a bit of heavy symbolism as the Democratic Party struggles to regain its footing in 2015. Devastating 2014 Congressional midterm outcomes for Democrats left the party in a state of enormous disarray, forcing them to soul-search as Republicans solidified gains not only in the House and Senate, but also in governor mansions and state legislatures. Reflection on the life and times of Mario Cuomo will force some very public and emotionally exhausting introspection from Democrats especially as they prepare for the upcoming presidential cycle. Will the party refashion itself based on an uncompromising progressive core or will it take the much more cautious centrist approach? Eulogizing Mario Cuomo might trigger an uncomfortable ideological exercise for Democrats, but it will be needed.

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Charles Ellison is Politics Contributor for and Washington Correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune. He can be reached via Twitter @ellisonreport