Mario Cuomo was born in an apartment in Queens, above the grocery store owned by his parents, who had immigrated from Italy. After being educated in the borough's Catholic schools, he played minor league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, but was blinded for a week after being hit in the head by a pitch. He left baseball and returned to New York to attend St. John's University and later its law school. At St. John's, he met Matilda Raffa, whom he would marry. The couple would have five children.
In 1974, Cuomo unsuccessfully ran in the Democrat primary race for lieutenant governor, but was later nominated by Governor Hugh Carey to be Secretary of State. He was one of several Democrats to contend with eventual nominee Ed Koch in 1977 for the party's nomination for New York City mayor. Cuomo ran successfully for lieutenant governor in 1978, as Carey's running mate. Four years later, with Carey stepping aside, Cuomo campaigned for governor, defeating Koch in the primary and then winning the general election. Cuomo became popular with the Democrats nationally and is still remembered for his speech at their 1984 convention, but ended his presidential aspirations when Bill Clinton was nominated in 1992. Running for a fourth term in 1994, Cuomo was defeated by Republican George Pataki, at the time a state senator.