Cuomo’s Lost Judicial Career

I wasn’t blogging the day news of Mario Cuomo’s death dominated political talk, and didn’t have that much to add. Yeah, once when it looked like he’d finally run for president one of his staff asked for advice on how he could approach the South, and I offered the tired line that he could tell audiences his first name was Italian for “Bubba.” But like most other Democrats, I thrilled at his rhetoric and marveled at the byzantine paths of New York politics he had to navigate, and was perhaps glad he didn’t undertake a presidential run that might have diminished him. I also share the sentiments of many Mario Cuomo fans in giving his son a very wide berth, having brushed up against his ego on one occasion years ago.

But while I don’t have much distinctive to say about Mario Cuomo, the Washington Monthly does. In a web exclusive at Ten Miles Square today, Jim Sleeper, who observed and wrote about Cuomo’s rise to the governorship in New York for the Village Voice and other news outlets, offers some important and poignant reminiscences. Here’s a key excerpt:

[I]n 1993, Cuomo famously declined President Clinton’s offer of nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, leaving me to wonder angrily in a Daily News column why this St. Johns University-trained legal mind would pass up a lifetime opportunity to out-argue his rival high-Catholic intellectual Antonin Scalia to stay in Albany sparring with Alan Chartock, president of the local NPR station, on his weekly “Me and Mario” show. A Justice Cuomo might have fended off, or at least discredited, in forceful, eloquent dissents, the Court’s handing of the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush and its disastrous 2009 Citizens United ruling.

Cuomo, of course, went on to lose the governorship in 1994 to the Republican mediocrity George Pataki, and slowly disappeared from the public eye. Sleeper has an idea why Cuomo didn’t take the obvious path to the bench. It’s worth reading in full.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.