Mario Cuomo – One of the Greatest Orators in American History

“Words That Shook The World”: The Mario Cuomo Chapter

In 2001, I had the privilege of spending an hour with Governor Mario Cuomo in his office in New York to speak with him about his amazing July 16, 1984 Keynote Address to the Democratic National Convention.

I had chosen this speech as one of the 20 most inspirational speeches of the 20th century for my book Words That Shook The World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events because I thought then, and still do today, that it was one of the best political speeches ever.

In honor of this superbly smart, thoughtful, wise man and gifted speaker I provide here, the full Mario Cuomo chapter of that book, with background information and a line-by-line analysis of his Tale of Two Cities Keynote Address.

I left Governor Cuomo’s office that day thinking what I had always thought about him — that he would have been a great president. I felt so strongly about this that, at the end of the interview, I mustered the courage to ask him, as many did, why he chose not to run. I left shaking my head because, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t make sense out of the answer.

But, for whatever reason, we are now left with his years as a leader of New York, an inspiration to many and this amazing speech.

And this last part of that speech, to me, sums up the special human quality of Mario Cuomo’s speaking, and of his leadership.

That struggle to live with dignity is the real story of the shining city, and it’s a story, ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t read in a book or learn in a classroom. I saw it and lived it, like many of you.

I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example. I learned about our obligation to each other from him and from my mother. And they asked to be protected in those moments when they would not be able to protect themselves. This nation and its government did that for them. And that they were able to build a family and live in dignity and see one of their children go from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica, on the other side of the tracks where he was born, to occupy the highest seat in the greatest state in the greatest nation, in the only world we know, is an ineffably beautiful tribute to the democratic process.


Thank you, Mario Cuomo, for the dignity you brought to politics and to the art of speechmaking.