Friday, April 22, 2011
a trailblazer worth remembering.
july 19, 1984. my 17th birthday.
& the day the first woman nominated
for national office by a major political party
accepted the bid for
vice president of the united states.
when geraldine ferraro began her acceptance speech
at the democratic national convention being held in san francisco,
it launched eight minutes of cheers and tears.
but it was still 1984.
& nbc’s tom brokaw, during convention coverage, described her as
“the first woman to be nominated for vice president …
sadly, brokaw served as microcosmic insight
into america's perspective at the time:
not ready for leadership sans y chromosome.
come november, the democratic partnership of mondale-ferraro was buried by the republican reelection of reagan-bush.
later, geralidine ferraro wrote of the defeat,
throwing ronald reagan out of office [at that point] . . .
would have required god on the ticket,
& she was not available.
geraldine ann ferraro was born on august 26, 1935, in newburgh, new york,
the fourth child & only daughter of
a first-generation italian-american mother & an italian immigrant father
who owned a restaurant & a five-&-dime store.
by the time geraldine came along, her parents
had already suffered the death of one son in infancy,
& another in a car accident when he was three.
geraldine was born two years later & was named for him [gerard].
when she was eight, geraldine's father died of a heart attack.
[over forty years later, during her vp run,
geraldine would learn from a newspaper article
her father had been arrested for running a numbers racket,
& had died the morning of his court appearance.]
so geraldine & her remaining brother were raised by their single mother,
who worked as a seamstress to send her children to private schools.
at her catholic boarding school, geraldine was voted most likely to succeed &
earned a scholarship to a private college.
she was an athlete, worked as editor of the school newspaper,
& became the first woman in her family to earn a college degree.
“delights in the unexpected” said her college yearbook entry.
geraldine became a public-school teachers in queens,
& applied to fordham law school,
where the admissions officer warned her
she had better be serious about her studies,
as she was taking a man’s place.
she taught by day, attended law school at night,
& in 1960, was one of two women graduating with law degrees
in a class of almost 180.
geraldine married businessman & realtor john zaccaro,
but kept her maiden name to honor her mother.
she spent the next 13 years
having & raising three children,
doing legal work for her husband’s business,
working pro bono for women in family court,
& dabbling in local politics.
in 1974, geraldine accepted the position of
assistant district attorney for a special victims bureau,
investigating sex crimes, crimes against the elderly, & domestic abuse.
the job led her to develop an ulcer, become a social liberal, &
befriend then-new york secretary of state mario cuomo.
in 1978, at cuomo's urging, geraldine ran for congress & won.
she served ny’s blue-collar ninth congressional district
in queens for three terms,
gaining the friendship of another political powerhouse,
then-united states house speaker tip o'neill.
characterized as everything from "spirited" to "strident,"
congresswoman ferraro was a self-proclaimed "tough democrat"
who called it like she saw it &
wasn’t intimidated by money or men.
she doggedly fought on the hill for
equity for women in wages, retirement plans, & pensions,
the equal rights amendment, abortion rights, & a nuclear freeze.
but she wasn't a straight-party follower, & tended toward fiscal conservatism.
yet her personal experience with the special victims unit
kept her perspective progressive.
"no matter how concerned i am about spending," she said,
"i’ve seen firsthand what poverty can do to people’s lives,
& i just can’t in good conscience not do something about it.”
then came 1984.
having worked her way up through the congressional ranks &
with vehement support for a female running mate from women’s groups,
geraldine was tapped by mondale for the vp candidacy.
the gesture was profound. the campaign was painful.
her qualifications were questioned.
her husband’s finances were scoured.
she faced down hecklers almost daily.
barbara bush implied she was disingenuous, calling representative ferraro
"a four-million-dollar – I can’t say it, but it rhymes with ‘rich’."
within five years following her vp run,
ferraro's campaign finances were investigated &
found faulty & slightly shady,
her husband pled guilty to trying to defraud a mortgage broker &
their son was convicted for dealing cocaine at college.
ferraro ran for one of new york's u.s. senate seats in '92 & '98,
but didn't even get the democratic nomination.
still, she insisted,
"anytime a woman runs, women win."
she returned to law, advocating for women
raped during ethnic conflict in the former yugoslavia.
she was inducted into the national women’s hall of fame in 1994.
she wrote three books.
she was named as an ambassador to the united nations
human rights commission during the clinton administration.
she co-hosted cnn’s crossfire for three years.
she ultimately joined a public-relations firm
offering guidance to clients concerning women’s issues.
meanwhile, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma,
a blood cancer she continued to battle for a dozen years,
becoming a typically outspoken speaker on her disease &
supporter of the multiple myeloma research foundation.
she died of complications due to the disease march 26th.
she left behind her husband, her three children & her eight grandchildren.
& a glass-ceiling-shattering legacy to women leaders,
from her friend hillary clinton
to her fellow female vp candidate sarah palin.
&, as president obama noted, well beyond:
"geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer
who broke down barriers for women, &
americans of all backgrounds & walks of life. ...
[my daughters] sasha & malia will grow up
in a more equal america because of
the life geraldine ferraro chose to live."
give 'em hell, gerry.
image source: ny daily news.