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Thousands of mourners attend wake for Gov. Mario Cuomo

Mourners arrive at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral

Mourners arrive at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan for the wake for former Gov. Mario Cuomo on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

Thousands of mourners who waited in a block-long line for as long as two hours paid their respects Monday to former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died Thursday. The wake included political proteges who said they loved him and one-time opponents who said they deeply respected the three-term governor.

Along with Vice President Joe Biden, actor Alan Alda and TV journalist Diane Sawyer, many of the mourners were just New Yorkers who held framed pictures of Cuomo with their younger selves or with their children. They shared fond stories of the 82-year-old's renowned intellect, oratory and biting humor with Cuomo's son, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and Mario Cuomo's wife, Matilda. A private funeral is scheduled Tuesday.

"He really inspired people," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who first worked as an assemblyman with Cuomo in 1975.

"This man started out from the hardscrabble streets of Queens and he goes to the highest pinnacles of our political life and he did it because he believed in New York, he believed in America, and most of all he believed in the power of an individual to accomplish great things. And he did," Schumer said outside the Manhattan funeral home. "He was a giant."

Former political foes said Cuomo, and the way he waged his liberal campaigns, were emblematic of a different and better time in political discourse.

"He had a kind of courage that is missing today in politics," said former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.). "Even though he and I may have differed on certain philosophies, I respected him for standing up for the things he believed in."

"We disagreed on everything," said state Conservative Party chairman Michael Long. "But he served New York well. I enjoyed sparring with him."

Mario Cuomo was New York's 52nd governor and served a rare three terms, from 1983 to 1994. Much of his tenure was dominated by New York's economic problems and political fights reflecting deep divisions between upstate and downstate interests.

While he presided over the largest expansion of prisons in state history, he also was an unwavering protector of abortion rights and vetoed bills that would have revived the death penalty as crime soared along with public support for capital punishment.

"He stood in principle and he lost his election by standing on principle -- opposing the death penalty -- and he has been proven right," said Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) as she stood in line Monday.

Assemb. Keith Wright (D-Manhattan) worked closely with Cuomo early in his career in Albany, where there was some natural tension between the executive and the State Legislature. But the tension was never sharper than in their regular pick-up basketball games on Tuesday nights.

Wright said he saw Cuomo recently as he battled heart problems. He was warned the governor might not recognize him.

"The first thing he did was put two sharp elbows into my ribs," Wright said with a laugh. "I miss him already . . . it was like losing a member of the family."

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) drew a parallel between Mario Cuomo and the current governor. "One thing about Mario Cuomo, just like Andrew Cuomo, you've got to be prepared," Skelos said. "Mario Cuomo did his homework. When you were ready to discuss a bill with him, you had to do your homework."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said the private viewing included displays of family photos and pictures of Mario Cuomo playing basketball. The coffin was closed.

"He was a man of conscience," King said. "He was a man of integrity. He really was different from what we see today."Former Republican Gov. George Pataki, who defeated Cuomo, arrived shortly after 7:30 p.m. and recalled that even after his loss to Pataki during the 1994 race Cuomo would reach out and talk to him about the issues facing New Yorkers.

"He loved public service, he loved this state," Pataki said. "We're diminished by his passing.

"It's a personal loss as well as a great loss for the people of New York."

Former television talk-show host Phil Donahue also was among those in attendance during the evening viewing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived shortly after 7:45 and remained at the wake for about 30 minutes before leaving without speaking to reporters.

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