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A family farewell for Mario Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo comforts his mother Matilda

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo comforts his mother Matilda following the funeral mass for former Gov. Mario Cuomo at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan on Jan. 6, 2015. Photo Credit: John Roca

Like Moses at the Promised Land, those of us who had stood for hours in the biting cold outside Gov. Mario Cuomo's wake were turned away just when we got to the door. Too late, said the state troopers on guard there.

But no one complained. Hundreds of us showed up Monday and we did what we were there for, to mourn a friend.

This wasn't a celebrity funeral, with spectators snapping pictures of famous arrivals.

It wasn't a political funeral, with orderly crowds filing by.

It was a family funeral. Not all of the hundreds who lined up on Madison Avenue and around the 82d Street corner knew each other. But many knew each other and they all seemed to have known Cuomo.

The line moved so sluggishly, someone explained, because Cuomo's wife, Matilda, wanted to say a separate word to everyone, and their son, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, wanted to talk with each person about the family business -- politics.

Waiting outside the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, there was the campaign worker who showed a snapshot of her with the governor. There was the judge who told how Cuomo said at the jurist's swearing-in how he had taught him in law school. There was the political consultant who displayed on his cellphone the baseball scout's report to major league executive Branch Rickey on the minor league outfielder who would run over you if he had to. There were legislators and politicians, people who are accustomed to be shown to the front of the line, waiting their turn. Sheets of lined paper were passed around so people who didn't get inside could sign their names, confident that someone in the Cuomo family would recognize them.

An editor remembered overhearing one of his reporters say to a telephone caller, "I'm sorry, but I don't know you, Mr. LaDuque." The editor grabbed the telephone. "That's the governor," he said.

The mythical baseball player Glendy LaDuque was the name the governor, who infuriated his staff by making his own calls, would use. There was the equally mythical A.J. Parkinson, living only in the creative minds of Cuomo and his equally playful staffer, Tim Russert. They would quote a Parkinson comment too acerbic to be attributed to the governor and one magazine's fact-checking department spent fruitless hours trying to track down the speaker.

Someone in the sidewalk line recalled a campaign jaunt to the Catskills when Cuomo had told a labor union crowd of a particularly apt quote by Aristotle. Where did Aristotle say that, a reporter wondered afterward. Cuomo smiled. "That wasn't Aristotle," he said. "That was my mother."

Cuomo talked often about his family. Later on, he developed a favorite phrase, "the family of New York." That larger family turned out on the frigid sidewalk to say goodbye to its friend.

It was a family funeral.

Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, is a former Newsday political reporter who covered Gov. Mario Cuomo.

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