Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Mario and Bess RIP

Two iconic New Yorkers just died, a man and a woman, both of whom were representatives of their eras and yet, in many ways, were also ahead of their time. 

Mario Cuomo was New York State's governor from 1983-1994 (and father of the current governor). His record was a modest one -- infrastructure, building prisons, making spending deals -- but he is best remembered for his rhetoric and high ideals. Cuomo was governor during much of the Reagan/Bush years and he was an outspoken, unapologetic liberal Democrat during a time of Republican dominance. Whereas Reagan, the "great communicator", was talking about how greed was good and government was bad, Cuomo, another great communicator, was saying just the opposite. He talked about the importance of the social safety net, of extending opportunities to the poor, sick, and marginalized, and of abolishing the death penalty. Cuomo was a bright light at  a very dark time. And he was ahead of his time since, today, policies like universal pre-k and gay rights are no longer left-wing fantasies but mainstream realities. Cuomo was a great man, a great governor, and we were lucky to have him.

Bess Myerson made history in 1945. In the same year that allied forces where conquering fascism in Europe and liberating the death camps that murdered millions of Jews, America showed its greatness by making this Jewish girl from the Bronx the first and -- to this day -- only Miss America. Still, Bess Myerson had to fight against anti-Semitism (many in other parts of the country couldn't stand that a Jew had become Miss America) and she did her fellow Jewish Americans proud. Myerson also had a wild life: she was married twice to the same man, worked a TV hostess and personality, served in the administrations of both John Lindsay and Ed Koch, and was put on trial in 1987 for "conspiracy" to bribe a judge (for which she was ultimately acquitted). Bess Myerson was a real personality, a trailblazer, and an only in New York kind of gal. 

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