Mario Cuomo, who served as the governor of New York from 1983 to 1994, died Thursday, Jan. 1 at age 82, leaving behind a storied legacy that includes a rousing speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention.

Mario Cuomo’s Democratic Convention Speech

In 1984, with the Reagan Revolution in full swing, Cuomo was called on to deliver a speech at the Democratic National Convention in an effort to stir up some excitement for Vice President Walter Mondale’s candidacy. Taking to the podium, Cuomo didn’t parse words, effectively leveling Reagan’s idea of America being the “Shining City on the Hill,” replacing it with the comparison to A Tale of Two Cities.

“There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit in your shining city,” charged Cuomo.

Speaking on behalf of the Democratic party, Cuomo added, “We believe in a government strong enough to use the words ‘love’ and ‘compassion’ and smart enough to convert our noblest aspirations into practical realities.”

In the speech, which was largely extemporaneous, Cuomo also provided a moving anecdote about his hard-working father. “I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day,” Cuomo remember. “I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.”

Twenty years later, in 2004, Cuomo reflected upon the speech that propelled him to national recognition as John Kerry sought his advice for his own DNC speech.

“There was nothing brilliant in it, but all of it was real,” he said. “Nothing took them from where they were and brought them to a higher place. What I was saying, they were feeling. There were some things I felt about this country (that challenged how) Mr. Reagan was saying we were all a shining city, and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s right, ‘ and you could see them start nodding.”

Though Cuomo, a firebrand of the Democratic party, was a leading presidential contender in both 1988 and 1992, he never formally entered the race to the White House. His son, Andrew Cuomo, is the current governor of New York.

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