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Long Island politicians from both sides of aisle mourn death of 'a giant'

Former President George H.W. Bush at the 2008

Former President George H.W. Bush at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Credit: Bloomberg/Joshua Roberts

New York lawmakers on Saturday remembered former President George H.W. Bush for his civility and dedication to public service as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered flags on state buildings be flown at half-staff next week.

Republicans and Democrats hailed his steering of the country during a changing time, as the Cold War ended and a new world order began. And they praised his decency while in the highest offices of government.

"President George H.W. Bush was a statesman and patriot who dedicated his life to serving his country," said Cuomo in a statement. "His greatest legacy may be the successful end of the Cold War, which occurred on his watch."

Cuomo, whose father served as New York governor during Bush's presidency, added, "He was also a great unifier of Americans at home, always willing to put country before party. President Bush showed the compassion, decency and good humor that is often lacking in our politics today."

Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), who supported both Bush and his son former President George W. Bush, called Bush a "giant" who "left an indelible mark on American history" as he recalled the first time he met Bush at a Nassau County campaign rally.

"I remember being struck by both his graciousness and commanding presence. He definitely stood out," King said in a statement. 

In 1993, when King began his first term, he met with Bush at the White House two weeks before the end of Bush's term. "But there was no melancholy in the air. The president was cordial, friendly and upbeat — not a hint of anger or begrudgery," King said.

"The last time I would see him was years later when he and George W. Bush were speaking on Long Island in 2010," King said, referring to a Long Island Association event in Woodbury. "He was still the same. Though leaning on a cane, he was smiling, positive and as sharp and alert as ever."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was a congressman from Brooklyn during Bush's years as vice president and president, said in a statement, "President George HW Bush will be greatly missed in many ways. He was a fine man and even when he opposed your views, you knew he was doing what he thought was best for America."

He added, "His yearning for a kinder and gentler nation seems more needed now than when he first called for it."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, "President George H.W. Bush’s life will forever be defined by his deep commitment to public service and to the values of our nation. His legacy will never be forgotten."

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) also praised Bush, citing his "service and dedication."

"Today, America mourns a giant — a man who led our nation out from under the shrouds of the Cold War, a patriot who fought for the freedoms and liberties that make this country the greatest in the world, and a patriarch who led his family to serve our great democracy for generations," Zeldin said in his statement.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), in a statement said, "President George H.W. Bush was a true public servant and a war hero who dedicated his entire life to serving our country — and he did it in nearly every way imaginable. His passing is a heavy loss for our nation. May he rest In peace."

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said, "He was a great public servant, who devoted his life to his family, certainly, and to our country. He was a role model for public service."

Noting that Bush had a privileged life and could have done anything he wanted to do, Suozzi added, "I always respected his public service and the way he conducted himself. He was a real gentleman."

New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox, whose father-in-law, President Richard Nixon, tapped to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and Republican National Committee chairman, said Bush "served his country humbly and well."

Cox added, "He transcended politics as a role model for future generations, including with his beloved Barbara, raising two sons who also had careers of accomplishment in public life . . . His self deprecating wit, compassion and devotion to service will cement him in history as one of our country’s exemplary leaders."

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone ordered their counties' flags to be lowered to half-mast.

“Biographer Jon Meacham said it best: President George H.W. Bush was ‘a gentleman’, and never hesitated to put country over party," Bellone said in a statement.

Curran said in her statement: "He served his country, earning the Medal of Freedom, and was instrumental in ending the Cold War. A true leader, he made the difficult decision to send U.S. troops into war in the Persian Gulf. We are grateful for his bravery,  and for his dignified leadership."

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