It is a great privilege and honor to practice law with Governor Mario Cuomo at our firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. Governor Cuomo and I have adjacent offices at Willkie, and we started to get to know each other through the exchange of simple pleasantries.
However, over time, our discussions have expanded, ranging from philosophy (including the writings of one of his favorites, Teilhard de Chardin) to baseball, and not surprisingly, the law. Governor Cuomo is always interested in contemporary legal issues and the matters that I or others at Willkie are handling. That intellectual curiosity is one of the traits that famously distinguishes him and which has, I think, strongly contributed to his ongoing success.
Governor Cuomo’s noble public service alone would be a sufficient reason to award him the New York Law Journal Lifetime Achievement Award. Indeed, he has a deep connection to New York. He grew up in Queens and was trained by the Vincentians at St. John’s Prep and St. John’s University. He graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University School of Law in 1953, where he tied for top-of-the-class honors. After graduating from law school, he clerked for the late Judge Adrian P. Burke of the New York Court of Appeals. And, although many people are unaware of it, Governor Cuomo also taught for 13 years as an adjunct professor at St. John’s Law School.
His incredible service has been documented repeatedly, but I would be remiss if I did not mention at least a few of the many highlights here. In 1975, he was appointed as New York’s Secretary of State by Governor Hugh Carey. In 1978, he was elected Lieutenant Governor, a position he held until he won the governorship in 1982. He served three terms as governor and always emphasized the importance of the rule of law and our judicial system. His many appointments as governor demonstrated a commitment to maintaining the excellence of the New York judicial system. One of those appointees was Judith Kaye (another Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) as an associate judge to the Court of Appeals, the first woman to serve on that court in its 150-year history.
Although many people rightly focus on his three terms as governor of New York, I know that Governor Cuomo takes great pride in his work as an attorney over the past 18 years at Willkie. The firm and our clients have benefitted greatly from his intellect, compassion, fairness and decency. During his time at Willkie, he has also used his remarkable ability to bring people together as a mediator in several high profile matters.
Lastly, I would note that, in my opinion, the strongest testament of Governor Cuomo’s character is his devotion to his wife and family. He and Matilda (his wife of 59 years) have five children and 14 grandchildren. He often talks with great joy about his family and their accomplishments, which are numerous and go far beyond the most obvious.
Governor Cuomo’s presence at Willkie provides me with a daily reminder of the spirit of integrity and good will with which we (as attorneys) must serve our clients and communities. He is a most worthy recipient of the New York Law Journal Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong dedication to public service and the law.
Todd G. Cosenza is a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher.