You know him as the face of CNN’s morning lineup and Chris Cuomo, co-anchor of “New Day,” credits his fight for a “good argument” from his family.
Cuomo, the son of former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, and the brother of Andrew Cuomo, the current governor, spent much of his childhood moderating “really hot and heavy discussions” at the dinner table.
“It was great training for what I do now,” Cuomo told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast from The University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
In the interview, Cuomo, 47, opened up about his relationship with his father, and how his upbringing in the shadows of politics shaped his career.
“I didn’t know how much of who I am and what matters to me was tied to Pop, how reliant I was on him until he was gone,” Cuomo said.
Here are four things we learned about Mario Cuomo from Chris Cuomo:
1. He embraced an underdog mentality
As the son of Italian immigrants, Mario Cuomo, a first-generation American who grew up in Queens behind his family-run grocery store, was always worried about “not being good enough.”
“He was fired up by that, you know, that was his motivation. He was very much devoted to a feeling of being an underdog and less than, and he had contempt for people who thought he was less than,” Cuomo said.
The elder Cuomo lost his first few runs for public office in the 1970s, including a race for mayor of New York City in 1977.
“He was a fighter. He was an underdog and he believed in attacking the powerful. And that’s really all you needed to know and you just have to understand how dedicated and active an opponent he would be,” Chris Cuomo said.
Mario Cuomo’s big political break came in 1982 when, as New York’s lieutenant governor, he won the Democratic nomination for Governor in an upset over New York Mayor Ed Koch. He went on to beat conservative millionaire Republican Lewis Lehrman.
2. He did not want to be president
Mario Cuomo’s keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention speech brought him to national attention, and he was widely considered a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president in both 1988 and 1992, but he declined to seek the nomination in both instances.
“Pop did not believe he should be President of the United States,” Cuomo said, “He made a very tortured argument about how ‘I’m Governor and I can’t do this job and that job at the same time,’ but there was a facility to that argument that really betrayed the fact that the two things don’t come together.”
Cuomo said “maybe” his father’s immigrant mentality played a role in his decision to say no, but in the end, his father felt he was not a right fit for that level of office.
“It wasn’t because he was Governor, it was because he didn’t think he was good enough,” Cuomo said.
3. He loved the law more than politics
Mario Cuomo was also offered a seat to serve on the Supreme Court twice by President Bill Clinton but turned them both down.
“He loved the law a lot more than politics,” Cuomo told Axelrod, “His argument on that was you’re only one of nine, you don’t really get to lead as much and ‘I could never speak about politics again and the way I want to,’ and that was that.”
Cuomo revealed his father did give some serious thought to wanting to be on the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State.
4. It was hard for him to get over his 1994 loss
Cuomo was defeated for a fourth term as governor by George Pataki in 1994, and subsequently retired from politics following that defeat.
“He lost in a race that he knew he was going to lose, that he knew he shouldn’t have run,” Cuomo told Axelrod.
Cuomo acknowledged it took his father a while to get over the loss.
“It was devastating to him, that kind of rejection, where it mattered to him so much and he felt that that was his value in life,” Cuomo said.
NOTE: Chris Cuomo is set to take over CNN’s 9pmET primetime slot on weeknights in the coming weeks.