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Letter: Mario's practicality helped LI

Mario Cuomo on May 13, 2009: The three-term

Mario Cuomo on May 13, 2009: The three-term governor died on Jan. 1, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

Newsday's editorial "The poet and pragmatist" [Jan. 2] beautifully captured Mario Cuomo's seemingly paradoxical mix.

As the first president of the Long Island Housing Partnership, I witnessed Cuomo's pragmatic idealism. Long Island's business community created the partnership as an economic development initiative: Its mission was to stem the tide of the Island's young workers leaving in search of homes they could afford.

In April 1988, Cuomo provided instant credibility when he spoke at the 4-month-old organization's first annual meeting. He did not talk, however, about middle-income home ownership. Instead, he spoke eloquently of the needs of the homeless and what a safe, secure rental means to poor families.

Cuomo accepted the speaking engagement because of the practical benefits of an alliance with Bob McMillan, the partnership's founding chairman and an influential Long Island Republican. However, it was a policy position of Cuomo's that enabled the partnership to actually begin its work.

He championed a state program of home-ownership grants to middle-income, first-time buyers despite the fact that the program was an initiative of the GOP-controlled State Senate. The Democratic Assembly was insisting on a program to create rentals for low-income and homeless New Yorkers. Cuomo forged a deal that got both programs approved. In doing so, he enabled the creation of thousands of homes -- rental and owned -- for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

Jim Morgo, Bayport