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Mario Cuomo: An Appreciation

Those of you not in the United States may be blissfully unaware that Mario Cuomo, a former three term Governor of New York and briefly a feature on the national political scene because of a famous speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention, has died. Mario Cuomo was also the father of the current Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

There have been many hagiographies in the press in recent days, for example: Mario Cuomo, Ex-New York Governor and Liberal Beacon, Dies at 82, but I think that a personal appreciation is in order when so lauded an example of the good politician has passed into the Great Statehouse in the Sky.

He will always be associated in my mind with several great achievements while Governor of New York, the office in which he is most remembered.

First, a couple of decades ago, he drove my health insurance premiums from about $50 a month to a bit short of $300 a month in a single year. This was done by the expedient of declaring it was unfair that people might have to pay a fortune to get insurance when they were already ill and passing a law requiring insurers to offer health insurance at the same price to all comers regardless of age or pre-existing condition. Whether you were 22 and healthy or 59 and suffering from liver cancer, you could walk up and buy a brand new policy at the same price.

This remarkable idealism has kept New York State at the forefront, the very cutting edge, of insurance premiums. The cost of insurance in New York has never gone down since Cuomo’s sagacious reforms, and indeed usually has lead the U.S. in price. To be fair, part of the cost rise for me was because I could no longer get an indemnity plan with a very large deductible because no insurer wanted to offer one ever again given the change in regulations, but that was only part of it. Now, of course, $280 (or whatever the price was, I confess I would have to check) would be a great bargain — the price has gone up greatly since then.

Affordability has of course been a concern for many politicians since those heady days — there are still some of considerable means who can afford health insurance after all. I’m sure President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, with many similarly brilliant ideas, will eventually fix this — premiums rose another 20% in the last year nationwide — and I look forward to its continued implementation.

Mario Cuomo’s second great achievement was the state takeover of the Long Island Lighting Company, aka LILCO. LILCO was in financial straights because Mario Cuomo himself blocked the opening of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant after it had been fully constructed to the tune of $6 Billion in 1980s dollars. Because LILCO had spent billions on a generating facility it was not allowed to turn on, it was in bad shape and charging high rates to its customers to remain solvent. Mario Cuomo declared the real issue was LILCO mismanagement and that the state could do a far better job running a power company than the private sector (which is, after all, driven only by mindless greed for profits) and so New York State forcibly took over LILCO and turned it into the Long Island Power Authority, AKA LIPA.

LIPA proceeded to spend very little money on maintenance over the next decades, until Hurricane Sandy hit and took out a large fraction of their lines because not even basic tree branch trimming over residential power cabling had been done in decades. Andrew Cuomo, Mario’s son and by now the Governor himself, got on TV after Sandy to angrily and vociferously condemn the horrible mismanagement by LIPA, an agency he personally controlled, but which he somehow failed to mention that he was in fact in complete control of as he told the viewers that he would absolutely hold the parties responsible to account. His father’s role was never mentioned by anyone in the news media, and his own was barely recalled either — somehow they, too, conveniently forgot that he was condemning mismanagement by himself. (I am unfair in saying this — a story buried far into the front section of the New York Times did mention it in connection with a corruption investigation. It seems that a report was prepared by a state commission condemning Andrew Cuomo’s administration for its role in screwing up LIPA, but Andrew Cuomo used his power as Governor to make sure it was never released.)

Mario Cuomo’s third great achievement was to raise taxes repeatedly, making New York State the most heavily taxed in the U.S., and New York City by far the most heavily taxed jurisdiction in the U.S. by virtue of having high city income taxes on top of the state ones. New York State has mysteriously been falling behind other states in population rank — it fell from #2 to #3 and now recently was passed by Florida and is #4 — and industry has been leaving the state for some decades now. (A succeeding Governor, George Pataki, lowered rates a bit, and California raised them further, so New York is no longer #1 in taxation, but Mario Cuomo’s son still has time to uphold family tradition and restore the state to its previous glory.)

Oh, and one minor achievement comes to mind. (Sadly this last point is purely from my memory, and I can’t find easy documentation of it on line, assistance would be welcomed.) During a major newspaper delivery strike (the delivery truck operators were being paid over $100k a year — this is $100k+ decades ago in non-inflation adjusted dollars you understand — with overtime and the papers didn’t think they could afford that any more for unskilled work), Mario Cuomo more or less blocked all investigation of acts of brutal violence by the union’s thugs. It seemed people were going around beating the operators of newspaper kiosks that none the less carried the newspapers in spite of the strike, and similarly beating people who delivered the papers anyway. At the time, Cuomo seemed to feel, much in the manner that President Obama does now about the malfeasance of the Bush administration, that it was best to look forward and not backwards. This was even the case in spite of the fact that the strike was still underway and “forward” hadn’t happened yet.

I can think of little else notable that Mario Cuomo got done while Governor. In spite of lots of lobbying by reform groups he did not push to fix the vicious sentences the state meted out for minor drug crimes. He did not fix the state’s horrible divorce laws, notably at the time some of the worst in the nation. He did not reform the police, or improve educational outcomes, or even deal with the enormous deferred maintenance problems on state highways and bridges. (He did veto the death penalty a few times, which seems to me to have actually been a good thing, though others may argue otherwise.)

However, Mario Cuomo will always be remembered as the man who once gave a very well written speech at a Democratic National Convention, and who really cares if a politician is a corrupt, economically ignorant mismanager if he can deliver words written by other people with a really solid and practiced public speaking style.

No wonder, then, that he is now described in obituaries as a lion, nay, a giant of politics, in story after story after story.

I encourage all to mourn his loss in whatever manner they feel appropriate.

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39 comments to Mario Cuomo: An Appreciation

  • AndrewZ

    Perhaps the moral of this story is that “giant of politics” is just another name for Leviathan.

  • Regional

    This clown was re-elected twice.

  • Mr Ed

    Iirc, he was quoted as saying that he would not run for the Presidency as ‘America is not yet ready for a President whose name ends in a vowel‘.

    No one told James Munroe.

    Can we leave his legacy as being ‘Dukakis on steroids’, or would that be unfair?

  • CaptDMO

    Ooooo, I think (NY City Mayor) DeBlasio, on steroids, may be more apt.
    A “well connected” politician died.
    So WHO is writing the obit, and history books?

  • Mr Ed

    But when it comes to dynasties, the Kennedys take some beating, Robert F. Jr:

    http://en.mercopress.com/2015/01/03/we-have-so-much-to-learn-from-cuba

  • Laird

    Mario Cuomo was incompetent; his son is incompetent and corrupt. Can’t wait for the next generation.

  • Russtovich

    “…who really cares if a politician is a corrupt, economically ignorant mismanager if he can deliver words written by other people with a really solid and practiced public speaking style.”

    Isn’t this true of someone else whose name ends in a vowel? 🙂

  • On dynasties, if the 2016 presidential election is Bush v Clinton, America will have definitively jumped the shark.

  • David

    Same kind of obituary drivel spouted for another political disaster last year – Gough Whitlam in Australia.
    Why do the left always wax lyrical about such incompetent tossers?

  • rxc

    As an American with a name that ends in a vowel, I second your assessment. And as one of the people involved in the Shoreham event, I thank you for reporting the truth about what happened. You only missed the fact that Cuomo supported the Shoreham opponents because he was in a close race for governor that year, and he needed the votes on Long Island. So, by opposing Shorham he gained votes in a normally Republican county, and won the election. He figured out how to rig the takeover of LILCO by the state so as to reduce the cost to the state, by writing off Shoreham as a tax loss. In effect, the US taxpayers subsidized this decision to abandon a $6.6B investment. The people of Long Island were still saddled with higher electricity rates, so that they would not be frightened by Shoreham, and they got the benefit of incompetent state management as an added bonus.

    Hagiography is the right word to use here.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M. is correct.

    If the left had just said “family man and father” then I would say LEAVE HIM ALONE THE MAN IS DEAD.

    But they have not – the media have been pushing what a great example this man was a Governor and so on – and he was not.

    Mr Cuomo was a dreadful Governor – in taxes, spending, and regulations (as Perry M. has pointed some of Mr Cuomo’s terrible follies).

    Let people be remembered for what they were – not for the myth.

    Remembering Mr Cuomo for having good political ideas is absurd – his ideas were awful (about just about everything).

    It is like remembering the man as a Catholic – when he was ardently pro abortion and so on.

    It is fine to hold any opinion – but do not hold a set of opinions and then pretend to be something you are not. If you think that Catholic teachings are lot of B.S. (which Mr Cuomo plainly did) do not got to Church and pretend to be Catholic – in order to get votes (that is called being a hypocrite).

    And there is “the speech” – the speech at the Democrat Convention of 1984.

    Yes I am old enough to remember “the speech” – old enough to remember it was dumb.

    Plain dumb – it even confused Dickens story of two cities with Disraeli’s two nations.

    Mr Cuomo wanted to make a Class War point against President Reagan (not a good thing to do – especially against a man who came from a dirt poor background as Reagan did), but the “two cities” of Dickens are London and Paris not the rich and the poor (that is Disraeli’s two nations).

    The Democrats (with their message of envy and Class War – pushed by Cuomo for Mr Mondale) went down to one of the biggest defeats in American history in 1984.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    David asks: “Why do the left always wax lyrical about such incompetent tossers?”

    I don’t think this syndrome is restricted to the left. In general, the press and politicians form a closed ecosystem in which ritualized praise of the accomplishments of the dead members of their professions is a way to avoid the terrible realization that their lives are largely meaningless. Neither actually do anything of note, but they would greatly love to believe that they are, in fact, the most important people on earth.

  • Paul Marks

    My comment just vanished 0h well – try again.

    The media, produced by the education system, are the enablers.

    They will not challenge a leftist politician. Most New Yorkers probably think that a private company owns and runs power and light on Long Island, and what is needed is more regulations – who is going to tell them otherwise?

    And the education system will teach that men like this were “great” and “helped the little guy”

    If a politician really does cut government spending and reduce regulations (and a few have) – the intellectual establishment (and their hand maidens) will do anything, anything at all, to destroy them.

  • Regional

    David,
    Withdraw your vile slur of incompetent tossers and apologise.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Paul Marks writes: “If a politician really does cut government spending and reduce regulations (and a few have) – the intellectual establishment (and their hand maidens) will do anything, anything at all, to destroy them.”

    Such politicians are exceptionally rare in any case.

    Among Presidents, it has been most of a century since the last one who really did a lot in this regard (Calvin Coolidge, arguably), though Carter did deregulate the oil and gas industries, interstate trucking and the airlines, Reagan did some (but not enough) privatization and some tax cuts, and Clinton did eliminate the lifetime Welfare entitlement. These were all, however, quite minor on the scale of the overall State, which has grown under essentially every President. Some, like Reagan, even admitted that at best they were slowing the rate of increase a bit.

    (Bush II had half-hearted tax cuts but they were all implemented in quarter-assed ways, such as letting people deduct corporate taxes on their dividends from their own taxes instead of eliminating the corporate income tax (an action only an accountant could love), and reducing estate taxes but not permanently (as a moronic accounting dodge for the OMB). Bush II also spent like a drunken sailor, implemented the disastrous Medicare Prescription Drug Reimbursement plan which has added tens of trillions to the unfunded national debt and implemented such genius moves as “stimulus checks”, since his idea of conservatism was Keynesianism, and we haven’t even mentioned his wars.)

    Locally, New York State, George Pataki cut some taxes and did little else of note. Two supposed “Republican” Mayors of New York City in a row, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, did nothing to reduce the size of the city bureaucracy or to lower taxes or eliminate the city license raj or any of the rest of the local stupidity (though there was the “mayoral control” “reform” of the schools, an act which only improves matters if the mayor happens to be someone with reasonable ideas.)

  • Regional

    David,
    In explanation Tossers run three card scams and have to have street smarts, incompetent poseurs would be a more accurate epithet.

  • Libertarian

    Paul said, “The Democrats (with their message of envy and Class War – pushed by Cuomo for Mr Mondale) went down to one of the biggest defeats in American history in 1984.”

    Finally, something said in support of Cuomo!

  • Dom

    Mr. Ed, that “name ending in a vowel” comment came from Ferraro, when her husband’s tax records were questioned.

  • Dom

    Perry, I think I am as libertarian as you. But I really wonder why you think it is wrong that your insurance premium should have been raised from $50 to $300. Insurance is a socialist concept. Perhaps we should just admit it’s one of the good socialist concepts. You are in fact paying for the man who has cancer. That’s the way it works. If I pay only for my own health needs, then I am not buying insurance.

    Did you buy the $300 policy? If so, why? You are, after all, free to not buy insurance at all, which is, I think, what a good libertarian should do. The moment you buy a policy at any price, your money goes into a pool that other people pull from.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Dom writes: “Insurance is a socialist concept.”

    Amazing that there are so many private companies offering it at a profit then. I guess they’re not really interested in the profit, they just want to redistribute wealth and the profit is an unhappy accident they would prefer to get rid of.

  • Dom

    Does that differ from socialism? The government takes money, keeps some, redistributes the rest. Insurance companies do the same. The difference is that the government taxes by force. That’s a big difference, but for my purposes not very relevant. My point is, a libertarian does not buy cheap insurance, he does not buy insurance at all. If you ended up getting more from your insurance than you paid into it, would you think that was fair?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Dom writes: “Does that differ from socialism? The government takes money, keeps some, redistributes the rest. Insurance companies do the same. The difference is that the government taxes by force. That’s a big difference, but for my purposes not very relevant.”

    Indeed, what possible difference could there be between people volunteering to pool risk because they judge it is in their interest, and people being forced to do so at gunpoint? Obviously none whatsoever. Socialism clearly has nothing to do with state control and is simply a question of whether people work together in groups. Libertarianism has nothing to do with a society in which all may choose what relationships to engage in, it is all about autarky!

    “My point is, a libertarian does not buy cheap insurance, he does not buy insurance at all.” — Indeed, presumably true libertarians do not believe in the division of labor either. I had previously been unaware, but now that I’ve been enlightened, I will henceforth engage in the strictest of self sufficiency, perhaps following the North Korean model of Juche, one of the most libertarian philosophies on the planet!

  • Dom

    Okay, you’re stuck in a sarcasm loop, so maybe someone else can answer. Is Natalie there?

    Something has to be done about the 60 year old guy with cancer. He will not participate in your pool, because your pool will not let him, and I suspect you’ll get kicked out too once you become a 60 year old guy with cancer. He could form his own pool with others like him, but then his premium would be about $100,000 per year, or more. Or the government could form a larger pool in which all the $50 per month people are changed to $300 per month. That seems like a better solution, all told.

    Does that violate libertarian principles? Yes, but even Milton Friedman spent years teaching at a tax supported university, produced a show on tax supported PBS, and arranged his retitrement with Medicare in mind. Hayek did the last, too.

  • Tedd

    Dom:

    John Fante used the “ending in a vowel” phrase in his novel Ask the Dusk, published when Ferraro was only four years old. And I’ll bet he wasn’t the first. If I had to guess I would say the expression arose some time during the surge of Italian immigrants into the U.S. around the beginning of the 20th century. It is a common expression among east coast Italian Americans, which is doubtless how Ferraro picked it up.

  • Captain Obvious

    You’re right Regional, it was an insult to tossers and I withdraw it.
    Also poseur is a perfect word to describe the bag of wind that Whitlam was. I thank you for correcting my error.

  • Mr Ed

    Dom,

    Surely ‘government-mandated insurance’ is a socialist concept, (well, more like fascism for the particular).

    As for the quote, it was how I remembered Cuomo through the prism of the UK media, so perhaps a journalist here heard the quote and it got Cuomo snr. a label in our media, hence I heard it. I thought of it as an excuse for not putting himself up to fight for the Presidency.

  • Paul Marks

    Dom – you have slightly (but dramatically) changed the discussion.

    From “insurance” to “government mandated insurance”.

    I trust you can see the vast difference between the two.

    By the way private insurance companies are CONNED by the government – governments (all over the place).

    It is always the same story……

    “If we make health insurance compulsory you will have compulsory health insurance customers – so should support us”.

    Cool say the insurance company people – we support you.

    Then the rules change…..

    Prices get set by the government and all sorts of rules come in – not just in America, but also in other countries (even Switzerland).

    So companies who thought they would benefit by working with government – get run into the ground.

    And eventually, sooner or later, the government nationalises the “service” – before or after the private companies go bankrupt.

    Whether it is the power and light company of Long Island (whom academics used to teach “controlled” the government as part of “big business” – till the government turned round and ate them) or the health insurance companies who are starting to work out that the long term agenda of Obamacare is to EXTERMINIATE them (just like the old student loan companies).

    Sadly many companies are dominated by short term thinkers – greedy fools who think they can work with government (like the people who keep lending money to Argentina and high interest rates – and then are astonished when Argentina defaults again-and-again).

    Still companies are not part of another universe – they are dominated by the same university fodder as everything else is.

    Corporate managers are taught, at school and university, that “capitalists” are greedy and think only of the short term, and make corrupt deals with government.

    So that is what, SOME, of them try to do – and it does not work out very well.

    As for the shareowners……

    Thanks to tax law and regulations most shares are owned by institutions – such as pension funds.

    So one has hired managers responsible to other hired managers (the “institutional shareholders”).

    When I was born the majority of shares were still owned by individuals in Britain.

    Now less than 20% of shares are owned by individuals (thanks to tax law and regulations) – so it is not really a matter of a “split between ownership and control” (as the person in Kent thinks) there are no real owners at all.

    I doubt it is radically in the United States.

    In the early 1960s in Britain it was still correct to say that “managers are responsible to share holders who own the companies” – but this is not really true in this world of Capital Gains Tax and so on.

    Now hired managers are responsible to other hired managers – all from the universities and all taught that “capitalism” is evil and corrupt, and that there function is to screw as much money for themselves as they can, by making the end of year accounts look good (for example by lending money to Argentina – or making a commercial deal with Barack Obama) and then buggering off before the deal turns sour and the company collapses.

    After all – that is how they have been taught that “capitalists” behave. The idea of building up a great enterprise and handing it down the generations (with your children and children’s children running the business in their turn) is mocked without mercy.

    How old fashioned, how reactionary, say the “Financial Times” and the “Economist” – the job of a manager is to loot as much as he or she can and then run away before everything collapses “after me the deluge” is the motto of “The City” and so on.

    If this is “capitalism” then some other word will have to be thought up for what someone like J. Wedgewood (Wedgewood China) in the 18th century, or Jon Huntsman (Huntsman Chemical) or YES Charles and David Koch today.

    Whatever faults these people had or have, they were interested in building up a great enterprise – one that would last long after they were dead.

    An attitude more alien to that of the “Financial Times” and so on, would be hard to think of.

  • Paul Marks

    Still I have not answered Dom’s question.

    There are several ways to deal with the problem you mention Dom.

    First is LONG TERM contracts.

    “I will sign on with you when I am 20 – but on condition that you can not drop me when I am 60 or 80 or whatever”.

    Of course that depends on long term companies – not ones that are just there to be looted by their managers (who own nothing) who then run away. There is nothing wrong with limited liability (if it is voluntary – and everyone knows what they are choosing to deal with, after all it is ancient idea such things as colleges and churches and other “bodies corporate” are based upon it) AS LONG AS the hired managers are really responsible to people concerned with the long term (generations after they themselves are dead). Not hired managers “responsible” to other hired managers, as is the case now.

    Alternatively there are clubs and associations – called “Friendly Societies” in Britain and “Fraternities” in the United States.

    These mutual aid societies (both religious and secular) were once very important.

    For example 80 (and rising) of British industrial workers were members of such societies in 1911.

    Then the state came and tried to replace Civil Society – both replace religious group (worship of the state would be the new religion – and that was very much the late Governor Cuomo’s true religion) and replace secular societies (commercial and non profit) also.

  • Paul Marks

    As for politicians who actually cut government spending – witness the treatment of the former Premier of Ontario (just over the border from New York).

    Mr Harris, the former Premier of Ontario, saved the place from economic breakdown and chaos.

    Do the schools and universities teach that he was a noble man?

    Of course not – they teach that he was a beast, a monster.

    The media described him as such every day he was in office.

    No sane person would what to be treated like this.

    To be smeared and denounced every day, and to have future generations brought up to spit on your name.

    This is why being a politician who cuts government spending, rather than increased it, is not a popular thing to be.

    Even if you convince the voters (including some of those who live off the state – remember most people do now) that there must be a reduction in government spending, the children of the voters will be taught (in school and university) to hate your memory, to spit upon your name.

    Whereas the young are taught to honour and love scumbags like the late Governor Cuomo.

  • Paul Marks

    The central mistake of 19th century liberalism was to think that government support for education was essential for liberty.

    The belief is everywhere – even in the declaration of independence of Texas in 1836. France, Germany, Italy, Britain – all the enlightened people insisted that the government must support education, that it was essential for liberty for government to do this.

    And they were not just all wrong – their position was the opposite of the truth. And once the nose of the camel (the state) gets in the tent, the rest of the beast comes in to (support inevitably becomes domination – so much so that even those few schools that do not get the support find themselves dragged along with the dominant statist ideology).

    If the education of the young is too important to be left to Civil Society (to parents, churches, charitable trusts, commercial companies….) then everything will end up “too important” to be left to Civil Society.

    And Civil Society will cease to exist.

  • PeterT

    Insurance is about risk management. Risk is a forward looking concept. You can’t buy insurance for your house burning down if it did so yesterday. Likewise you can’t get insurance for pre-existing medical conditions. You may be able to get “insurance” for pre-existing conditions, but part of your premium is actually just a fee for providing you with the healthcare that you will require with 100% certainty. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the contract is engaged upon voluntarily on voluntary terms.

    As Paul points out you could in principle agree very long term insurance contracts. I don’t know why this doesn’t happen, but I suspect that the level of government interference is so pervasive, pretty much everywhere on the globe where a healthcare system (private or public) exists, that there has been no opportunity for the market to develop a solution. (Even if it did what would you do if your provider went bust halfway through your 50 year contract and you had developed an expensive to treat decease in the meantime?)

  • Zvi A.

    One needs to add to the list of his great accomplishments, that he eliminated the Regents scholarship, an 87 year old program that gave a scholarship to the top 1000 students statewide. What a dreadful program. It clearly discriminated against the dumb and the lazy, and that’s not fair. We should all be against excellence as it may hurt the feelings of all the rest.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT governments cutting spending, there have been at least 7 countries that managed it within the last 3 decades (as a fraction of GDP, and sometime in absolute terms):
    https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/lets-copy-the-baltic-nations-and-really-cut-spending/

    That is without considering all the countries that abandoned communism.

  • Jake Haye

    The government takes money, keeps some, redistributes the rest. Insurance companies do the same. The difference is that the government taxes by force. That’s a big difference, but for my purposes not very relevant.

    Government redistribution doesn’t just mean welfare handouts. The majority is pissed away on government employees and contractors. It is the resulting (mis) allocation of resources (goods, services, raw materials, etc) that is referred to as redistribution in the economic sense.

    And “my premise is wrong, but for my purposes that’s not relevant, therefore I’m right” is not AFAIK a valid form of argument.

    Something has to be done about the 60 year old guy with cancer.

    There’s your socialism.

  • Mr Ed

    Something has to be done about the 60 year old guy with cancer.

    Well you do it then, you’re a decent chap, so are many people like you. They used to provide hospitals and medical care for those who could not afford it, until the NHS came along and nationalised a lot of the hospitals.

    You wouldn’t want him to be put low priority by the NHS would you? That would be a sentence of death by neglect, assuming that the hygiene or dehydration didn’t get him first.

  • Unlike all you boors, I have a high regard for the late Mario Cuomo — so much so that later this year (when it warms up) I will make a pilgrimage to his grave site and pour a bottle of treasured 25 y.o. single malt over his grave.

    After first passing it through my kidneys.

  • My wife had to restrain me from performing a similar act at the Pantheon when I saw the grave of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

  • Mr Ed

    Well they say politics is showbiz for ugly people, he proved that at least, but I suspect that Mario never got over the success of his cousin Perry.

  • Mr Ed

    A (Democrat-appointed) Federal Prosecutor in New York appears to be lifting the carpet on New York State politics. One should presume innocence.

    One wonders how far this Federal Prosecutor can go.