Saturday, March 26, 2011

RIP Geraldine Ferraro

When I was a little kid, I watched a show called “Maude.” Although I was young and didn’t quite pick up on all of the plot lines, I enjoyed the independent spirit of the main character (portrayed by future "Golden Girl" Bea Arthur.) The show' main character, Maude Finley, was a three time widower and a sassy, women's lib icon in a perennial battle with males and their egos.

Former U.S. Representative and Vice Presidential nominee Geraldine A. “Gerry” Ferraro was the very embodiment of the spirit that “Maude” had tried to capture: a strong woman with a can-do attitude battling men and their silliness on a daily basis while being successful in “their” world. Ferraro passed away this morning after a twelve-year battle with cancer, she was 75.

Ferraro was a brassy, sassy woman of the eighties with the typical big liberal heart and audacity to spare. Ferraro was no skirt-wearing princess in the Sarah Palin mold, but a blunt, brilliant, accomplished woman who blazed a trail for which she was never thanked. After raising her family and doing pro bono legal work for women in family court, Ferraro was appointed head of the now famous “Special Victims” unit of the Queens, NY district attorney’s office in an era where female prosecutors were an extreme exception. Once there, she became an advocate for abused children and women and gained notice for her effectiveness and tough fairness in plea bargain negotiations.

Never one to sit still, Ferraro decided to seek a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the somewhat conservative 9th Congressional district in Queens. At the time, the 9th was a conservative blue-collar area made famous as the setting for the television show “All in the Family.” Ms. Ferraro ran on a law and order platform touting her experience as a prosecutor and beat out two better known candidates in the Democratic primary. She billed herself as “conservative with a small ‘c,’” running on the slogan “Finally, a tough Democrat.” She easily won the primary and went on to an Election Day landslide.

Once in the House, Ferraro became a protégé of then Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil and quickly gained notice within the party. She would serve as a deputy chair of the 1980 Carter/Mondale re-election campaign and was elected Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus after just one term – a meteoric rise for a member of the slow-moving House. Her quick rise and reputation as a political moderate gained her the admiration of former Vice President Walter “Fritz” Mondale.

On July 12, 1984, Ferraro would make history when recent vintage Democratic nominee Mondale named her as his running mate. Ferraro was also the first Italian-American to be nominated to a major party’s national ticket; she was just 48 years old. Mondale and Ferraro lost in historic fashion on Election Day, as Ronald Reagan took 49 of the 50 states and even Ferraro’s 9th Congressional district.

Having not stood for re-election to her House seat in 1984 so as to concentrate on her Vice Presidential bid, Ferraro left the House in early 1985 but remained active in party circles. She ultimately decided against challenging then incumbent Republican Sen. Alphonse M. D’Amato, but would change her mind six years later. After a tough, divisive 1992 primary, Ferraro lost to then NY Attorney General Robert Abrams by less than one percentage point.

After the bruising loss to Abrams, Ferraro would join the Clinton Administration the following year as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – a post she held until 1996. In 1998, Ferraro again ran for the Senate, this time losing badly to current NY Sen. Chuck Schumer. The primary was classy and not especially contentious, with Ferraro endorsing Schumer the following day. Schumer, who out-spent Ferraro 5 – 1, would go on to finally unseat the much hated D’Amato that fall.

After her second bid for the Senate failed, Ferraro mostly stayed out of the spotlight. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma shortly after the campaign ended, but didn’t disclose it until 2001. Ferraro would later assist Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful Presidential campaign in 2008 and continued her career as a political commentator, even joining Fox News (yes, really) for a brief time in the late nineties.

Gerry, as she was known, is gone now – and along with her another strong, trailblazing female figure who never “knew her place.” America is better for having known her, something not many people have written in their obituaries. I can still remember being a little boy watching her on television and thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s awesome!” Countless little girls also watched and were inspired. Ferraro was a big part of the reason why this country will eventually have a woman President. She was also proof that America was, and still is, the “Land of Opportunity.”

1 comment:

  1. I was 9 years old in 1984. It is my earliest memory of politics. Geraldine Ferraro was a part of that. Thank God she paved the road for Sarah Palin! :)