Ferraro, Geraldine Anne
FERRARO, GERALDINE ANNE
As the first woman candidate for vice president of the United States in a major party, Geraldine Anne Ferraro expanded opportunities for women in national politics. Her place on the Democratic ticket as Walter F. Mondale's running mate in 1984 broke a gender barrier that had lasted for over two hundred years. Although Mondale and Ferraro lost to ronald reagan and george h. w. bush, Ferraro proved herself a capable and dynamic campaigner. Her selection came on the strength of a highly visible three terms in the House of Representatives, from 1978 to 1984, during which she championed liberal positions, wrote legislation aimed at establishing economic equity for women, and oversaw the drafting of the Democratic party's 1984 presidential platform. Charges that she had violated congressional rules on financial disclosure hampered her run for the vice presidency, and controversy over business investments helped sink a Senate campaign in 1992. She later headed the U.S. delegation to the united nations Human Rights Commission.
Ferraro was born August 26, 1935, in Newburgh, New York, the fourth child of a tight-knit family enjoying prosperity. The good life did not last. When she was eight, her father, Dominick Ferraro, an Italian immigrant and successful restaurant and dime-store owner, died of a heart attack. Two of Ferraro's brothers had preceded him in death. Bad investments left her mother, Antonetta L. Corrieri, nearly broke. The three surviving family members—Ferraro, her mother, and a brother—moved into a small apartment in the Bronx. Ferraro's mother supported them by crocheting, and managed to give Ferraro an education at the exclusive Catholic school for girls, Marymount. The bright girl excelled, and a scholarship to Marymount College followed, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1956. For the next four years, she taught in Queens public schools by day and took classes at Fordham University Law School by night.
The next two decades laid the groundwork for Ferraro's political future. She earned her law degree in 1960, married, and set aside her ambitions in order to raise children. Occasionally, she did part-time law work for the very successful real estate business run by her husband, developer John Zaccaro. But her main outlet for professional development was membership in local democratic party clubs. She worked on her cousin Nicholas Ferraro's state senate campaign. When he later became district attorney for Queens County, he made her an assistant district attorney. It was 1974, and Ferraro, at the age of 39, had her first full-time job. Assigned to the Special Victims Bureau, she prosecuted cases of rape, child abuse, and domestic violence so disturbing that she lost sleep at night. Even though she won praise for her fairness and persuasiveness in court, she was frustrated. She earned less than her male colleagues simply because she was a married woman. By 1978, more liberal in outlook than before, politics beckoned to her.
Ferraro ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. The Ninth Congressional District was a conservative, blue-collar section of Queens, and it was hardly surprising that the local Democratic machine did not support this liberal feminist. Her Republican opponent, Alfred A. DelliBovi, a three-term assemblyman, hammered at her political inexperience. But she won anyway, on a platform of law and order, support for labor and senior citizens, and neighborhood preservation, which she summed up in the campaign slogan "Finally … a Tough Democrat." She had help—her cousin's connections, and her husband's wealth, which in time would come back to haunt her. Meanwhile, she set about making good on her promises and opened a plain store-front congressional office.
"Government can be moral— and it must be moral—without adopting a religion. Leaders can be moral— and they should be moral— without imposing their morality on others."
Ferraro quickly scaled Capitol Hill. In just two terms, she transformed herself from a meat-and-potatoes politician into a noticeable congressional leader. The change was accomplished by party loyalty: she voted with the Democratic Party 78 percent of the time in her first term, and even more often in her successive terms. But she did not forget her own philosophy. By 1981, she cosponsored the Economic Equity Act, a bipartisan measure aimed at increasing women's economic rights that has been reintroduced in Congress several times. She took personal leadership of two sections that provided women with greater access to private pension plans and individual retirement accounts. Ferraro's personal style—tough yet compromising—won her a reputation for playing by the rules. In a short time, she came to the attention of the most powerful Democrat in Congress, Speaker of the House thomas p. ("tip") o'neill jr. The Speaker liked her politics and hard work, and her reward was key assignments that traditionally
went to older, more seasoned leaders: an appointment to the Budget Committee in 1983; a position helping to draft rules for the Democratic National Convention; and the biggest prize of all, chair of the 1984 Democratic platform committee, drafting the party's positions in the forthcoming election. An extraordinary career leap, the chair of the platform committee meant real power and extra visibility.
The moment was ripe for even more success. Many Democrats wanted a woman nominated to the presidential ticket. Some viewed the issue as one of fairness; others thought it would capture women voters. By spring 1984, as Mondale emerged as the clear favorite for the presidential nomination, party leaders began urging him to pick Ferraro. The Woman's National Democratic Club endorsed her. O'Neill followed suit. By June, members of the National Women's Political Caucus argued that an analysis of voting trends showed that a woman on the ticket would be a winner. The cover of Time magazine pictured Ferraro and the other leading contender, San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein, under the heading "And for Vice President … Why Not a Woman?"
In terms of strategic advantage, Ferraro offered more than her gender. She was an Italian American Catholic from the East with working-class roots, an identity that her supporters thought would give the Democratic ticket regional and ethnic balance. But objections came from some party members who viewed her as a pork barrel politician, too brash to be widely popular and, worse, inexperienced.
The Mondale-Ferraro campaign faced a tremendous challenge in offering an alternative to an appealing incumbent. President Reagan enjoyed great popular support, buoyed by love of his personal style and the economic recovery that had begun in 1983. The Democrats stressed negatives: Reagan's economic policies were built on huge federal deficits, they charged, which would force him to cut social security benefits and raise taxes in a second term. Reagan responded that the United States was "standing tall" again in the eyes of the world and warned that Mondale and Ferraro would return the nation to the high inflation and unemployment that had plagued the presidency of jimmy carter.
In speeches, Ferraro gave as good as she got. She blasted Ronald Reagan's penchant for tailoring facts to fit his positions, as constituting
"an anecdotal presidency." Since the Democrats were reaching out for their traditional base of organized labor and the underprivileged, she seized on opportunities to present the Republicans as the party of the rich. One opportunity came after George H. W. Bush made a point about taxes by asking if his audience knew what wins elections; he pulled out his wallet and said the election came down to who puts money into it and who takes money out. Ferraro told a crowd of supporters,
That single gesture of selfishness tells us more about the true character of this Administration than all their apple pie rhetoric. There's nothing in George Bush's wallet that says we should care about the disadvantaged. There's nothing in his wallet that tells us to search for peace. There's nothing in his wallet that says in the name of humanity let's stop the arms race.
But the voters did not respond. Democratic Party polls showed that Ferraro's negative ratings increased as she attacked Reagan. Mondale, hurt by an image of weakness, was doing no better. Reagan won by a landslide, with the greatest electoral vote margin in history, even capturing 55 percent of women voters. Ferraro's candidacy had changed history, but she had some regrets.
Ferraro's chief complaint was the Republicans' charges about her and her husband's finances. As far back as 1979, the federal election commission (FEC) had ruled that she violated the law by borrowing money from her husband for her first congressional race; she repaid it. The issue was revived in the 1984 race, along with new charges that she failed to fully disclose her family finances under the Ethics in Government Act (2 U.S.C.A. § 701). The newest accusations arose when the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative group, filed a complaint against her with the justice department and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. She then admitted owing back taxes amounting to $53,459, blamed them on simple errors, and paid up. Yet not until after the election did the investigations in the Justice Department, Congress, and the FEC come to an end.
Although Ferraro was cleared of any wrongdoing, the inquiries hurt her political career. She later claimed that the Justice Department, under Reagan appointee Attorney General edwin meese iii, bullied her into dropping plans to run for the Senate in 1986. She waited until 1992 to mount a Senate race in New York. Yet the charges of corruption resurfaced just as she was leading a three-way race for the Democratic nomination. Ferraro denied the allegations, calling them anti-Italian slurs. But her opponents exploited the charges and she lost the nomination.
In addition to being the managing partner of a New York law firm, Ferraro occasionally surfaced in national politics in the mid-1990s. She worked as a lobbyist for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, arguing that family therapy should be covered under any national health care system. In 1994, President bill clinton appointed her as ambassador to head the U.S. delegation at the fiftieth annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Among other issues, she raised concerns about the treatment of women in the former Yugoslavia.
Ferraro served on the commission until 1996. After she stepped down, she served as a commentator on CNN's Crossfire, a political debate program. She also served as a partner in the consulting firm CEO Perspective Group, which advises corporate executives. She ran unsuccessfully for the Senate again, in 1998, losing in the New York senatorial primary to Representative Charles Schumer. After the defeat, she announced that her political career was over.
In 2001, Ferraro disclosed to the New York Times that she was battling multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. She was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in 1998, and was one of the first patients to be treated with the controversial drug, thalidomide. With the cancer in remission, Ferraro commented, "This is a race I may not win, but I've lost other races before, so it's not the end of the world." Ferraro testified before Congress about her illness, and continues to speak publicly in a variety of engagements.
Ferraro, Geraldine. 1985. Ferraro: My Life. New York: Bantam Books.
"Geraldine Ferraro Battling Blood Cancer." 2001. Houston Chronicle (June 19). Available online at <www.chron.com> (accessed June 26, 2003).
Goldman, Peter, and Tony Fuller. 1985. The Quest for the Presidency 1984. New York: Bantam Books.
Humbert, Marc. 1998. "Ferraro Loses New York Senate Bid." Washington Post (September 16).
Sixty-four years after American women won the right to vote Geraldine Ferraro (born 1935) became the first woman candidate for the vice presidency of a major political party. She had previously served three consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Geraldine Ferraro was born on August 26, 1935. She was the third child of Dominick and Antonetta Ferraro. The Ferraro's had only one surviving son, Carl, at the time of Geraldine's birth—the other, Gerard, had been killed in a family automobile accident two years earlier. Dominick Ferraro, an Italian immigrant, operated a night club in Newburgh, a small city north of New York City reputed to be wide-open to organized crime.
In 1944, when Ferraro was eight years old, her father was arrested and charged with operating a numbers racket. He died of a heart attack the day he was to appear for trial. The Ferraro family was forced to move, first to the Bronx, and then to a working-class neighborhood in Queens. Here Antonetta Ferraro worked in the garment industry, crocheting beads on wedding dresses and evening gowns in order to support herself and her children.
As a young girl Ferraro attended Marymount School in Tarrytown, New York. She consistently excelled at school, skipping from the sixth to the eighth grade and graduating from high school at 16. She won a full scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College, where she was the editor of the school newspaper. While still at Marymount Ferraro also took education courses at Hunter College. In this way she prepared herself to teach English in the New York City Public School system after she graduated college. While teaching, Ferraro attended Fordham University's evening law classes. She received her law degree in 1960. The week she passed the bar exam she married John Zaccaro, an old sweetheart, but kept her maiden name in honor of her mother.
Attorney and Congresswoman
From 1961 to 1974 Ferraro practiced law, had her three children—Donna, John Jr., and Laura—and worked in her husband's real estate business. In 1974, with her youngest child in the second grade, Ferraro agreed to serve as an assistant district attorney in Queens County. As an assistant DA, she created two special units, the Special Victims Bureau and the Confidential Unit. As chief of these units, Ferraro specialized in trying cases involving sex crimes, crimes against the elderly, family violence, and child abuse. From 1974 to 1978 she also served on the Advisory Council for the Housing Court of the City of New York and as president of the Queens County Women's Bar Association.
In 1978 Ferraro decided to run for Congress. In the primary campaign, in an intensely ethnic area of Queens, she faced Thomas Manton, an Irish city councilman, and Patrick Deignan, an Irish district leader. Outspending both opponents, Geraldine Ferraro won the nomination. Against a conservative Republican in the general election Ferraro chose to wage a campaign stressing law and order. Her slogan, "Finally, a Tough Democrat," appealed to voters, and she was elected with 54 percent of the vote.
In Congress Ferraro balanced the conservative demands of her constituency with her own feminist and liberal politics. She voted, for example, against school busing and supported tax credits for private and parochial school parents. Yet she was also a prime mover in opposing economic discrimination against housewives and working women. Ferraro easily won her re-election in 1980 and 1982 and was elected secretary of the Democratic Caucus in her second term. As secretary, she sat on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In 1982 she received an appointment to the powerful House Budget Committee, which sets national spending priorities. In the House she also served as a member of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Coming from a district with two major airports close by, Ferraro was a strong advocate of air safety and noise control. As a member of the Select Committee on Aging she worked to combat crimes against the elderly and to expand health care and provide senior citizen centers. As a member of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues Ferraro helped lead the successful battle for passage of the Economic Equity Act and the unsuccessful campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment. She was the author of those sections of the Equity Act dealing with private pension reform and expanding retirement savings options for the elderly.
A Leader in the Democratic Party
Ferraro continued her active role within the Democratic Party. She served as a delegate to the Democratic Party's 1982 mid-term convention and was a key member of the Hunt Commission, which developed delegate selection rules for the 1984 convention. Then, in January of 1984, Ferraro was named chair of the Democratic Party Platform Committee for the 1984 national convention.
During the years between the mid-term convention and the national convention Ferraro worked hard to achieve national recognition and to correct any impression that she lacked real foreign policy experience and expertise. In 1983 she travelled to Central America and to the Middle East, and, as nomination time approached, she talked frequently about these trips and about her other international experience, including her membership in congressional groups on United States-Soviet relations.
After a grueling series of interviews—climaxing perhaps the most thorough vice-presidential search in history—Geraldine Ferraro was chosen by Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale as his running-mate. Thus, 64 years to the day that American women won the right to vote, the first woman candidate for the vice presidency was named by a major party.
The 1984 Campaign
Politically, Ferraro was seen to have several assets as a candidate. Democrats hoped that she would help to exploit the gender gap—that is, the clear difference in voting patterns between men and women that seemed to have emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, with women voting in greater numbers than men and voting for Democratic candidates and peace issues more consistently than men. A national poll taken in July of 1984 had reported that men favored Reagan 58 percent to 36 percent, but that women favored Mondale 49 percent to 41 percent. Widespread efforts on the part of organized feminists to register large numbers of new women voters also promised to widen the gender gap and increase the value of a woman candidate. Ferraro was also politically appealing as a candidate from a strong working-class and ethnic background and district. Democratic strategists felt it was essential for Mondale to win among such voters.
President Reagan's popularity with the voters, however, resulted in a solid re-election victory. Reagan-Bush received 59 percent of the popular vote and 525 of the 538 electoral votes; Mondale-Ferraro received only 41 percent of the popular vote and 13 electoral votes (Minnesota and the District of Columbia). Mondale was hurt most by his perceived ties to "special interests," his plan to raise taxes, and his lack of a clearly defined economic program. Ferraro's chief problem as a candidate was the investigation of her husband John Zaccaro's real estate business and tax records, begun during the campaign months.
The gender gap had not made the difference that the Democrats had hoped. Although women voted for the Democratic ticket in slightly larger numbers than men, the difference had fallen to 4.5 percentage points in 1984, from 8.5 percentage points in 1980. Instead, in one of the most polarized elections in the history of the United States, the vote split first along racial lines, with Blacks voting 91 to 9 percent for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket and whites voting 66 to 34 percent for Reagan-Bush, and secondly, along economic lines, with those making under $12,500 voting for Mondale-Ferraro 53 to 46 percent, and those in the over $35,000 range voting for Reagan-Bush 67 to 31.5 percent.
Keeping the Liberal Faith
After Ferraro's term as a congresswoman expired in January of 1985, she wrote a book about the vice-presidential campaign. For a time, she chose to to keep a low political profile. In 1986, she passed up the opportunity to challenge Alphonse D'Amato, the incumbent Republican senator from New York. Still under public scrutiny her husband pleaded guilty to overstating his net worth in getting a loan and was sentenced to community service. Also, police affidavits surfaced detailing a 1985 meeting between Zacarro and Robert DiBernardo, a captain and porno kingpin for mob boss John Gambino. Later, Ferraro's son John, a college student, was arrested for possessing cocaine.
In 1990 Ferraro campaigned aggressively on behalf of female Democratic candidates in New York. She launched her own political comeback in 1992, when she entered the New York Democratic primary as a candidate for the Untied States Senate. Competing against three other candidates in the primary, including New York state comptroller and former congressional representative Elizabeth Holtzman, Ferraro faced a tough battle. Typically optimistic to the end, Ferraro finished second, fewer than 10,000 votes behind Holtzman, who ultimately was defeated in the general election.
Undaunted, Ferraro tested support for possible campaigns for mayor of New York City in 1997 or for Senator or governor of New York in 1998. Meanwhile, she remains true to her Liberal faith and continues to speak out for Liberal policies. In 1993, she published a book demanding more power for women. Beginning in 1996, she appeared every other week on "Crossfire," a half-hour political talk show on Cable News Network—the same show that made Pat Buchanan nationally famous. Occupying the liberal chair opposite John Sununu, President Bush's Chief of Staff, Geraldine Ferraro continued to press for increased government spending and more federal programs on behalf of those she considers "underprivileged."
Most of the written work on Ferraro is in the popular press. Articles appeared in US News and World Report on July 16 and 23, 1984; Time on June 4, 1984; MS for July 1984; New York Magazine on July 16, 1984; Working Woman for October 1984; and McCall's for October 1984. In 1985 she wrote, with Linda Bird Francke, Ferraro: My Story (Bantam Books), which was favorably reviewed.
Geraldine, Ferraro Changing History: Women, Power, and Politics (Moyer Bell, 1993). Lee Michael Katz, My name is Geraldine Ferraro: An Unauthorized biography. (New American Library, 1984). Eugene Larson, "Geraldine Ferraro," Great Lives from History, Frank N. Magill ed. Vol. 2. (Salem Press, 1995). Jan Russell, "Geraldine Ferraro" Working Woman, November 1996, pages 28-31. Linda Witt, Karen M. Paget, and Glenna Matthews. Running as a Woman; Gender and Power in American Politics (Free Press, 1993). □
Born: August 26, 1935
Newburgh, New York
American politician and congresswoman
Sixty-four years after American women won the right to vote, Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman candidate for the vice presidency of a major political party. She had previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Early life and education
Geraldine Ferraro was born on August 26, 1935, the third child of Dominick and Antonetta Ferraro. Dominick Ferraro was an Italian immigrant who operated a nightclub in Newburgh, a small city north of New York City known to be wide open to organized crime. When Ferraro was eight years old, her father was arrested and charged with operating an illegal gambling operation. He died of a heart attack the day he was to appear for trial. After her father's death, the Ferraro family moved, first to the Bronx, and then to a working-class neighborhood in Queens. Here, Antonetta Ferraro worked in the garment industry to support herself and her children.
Ferraro was an excellent student, skipping from the sixth to the eighth grade and graduating from high school at age sixteen. She won a full scholarship to Marymount Manhattan College, where she became the editor of the school newspaper. While still attending Marymount, she also took education courses at Hunter College. In this way she prepared herself to teach English in the New York City public school system after she graduated from college. While teaching, Ferraro attended Fordham University's evening law classes. She received her law degree in 1960. The week she passed the bar exam she married John Zaccaro (1935–), but she kept her maiden name in honor of her mother.
Attorney, congresswoman, Democrat
From 1961 to 1974 Ferraro practiced law, had three children, and worked in her husband's real estate business. In 1974, with her youngest child in second grade, she agreed to serve as an assistant district attorney in Queens County. While in this post she created two special units, the Special Victims Bureau and the Confidential Unit. As chief of these units, Ferraro specialized in cases involving sex crimes, crimes against the elderly, family violence, and child abuse. From 1974 to 1978 she also served on the Advisory Council for the Housing Court of New York City and as president of the Queens County Women's Bar Association.
In 1978 Ferraro decided to run for Congress. She spent more money on her campaign than her opponents in the Democratic primary race and won. Ferraro's opponent in the general election was a conservativeRepublican and she chose to wage a campaign stressing law and order. Her slogan, "Finally, a Tough Democrat," appealed to voters, and she won the election. Ferraro easily won reelection in 1980 and 1982. She kept conservatives (in favor of preserving tradition and gradual change) happy by supporting things such as tax breaks for parents of children attending private schools, but for the most part she followed a more liberal course. For example, she spent a great deal of time on issues affecting the rights of women.
In 1982 Ferraro was appointed to the House Budget Committee, which helps plan national spending. She also served as a member of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation. Coming from a district with two major airports nearby, Ferraro spoke out in favor of improved air safety and noise control. As a member of the Select Committee on Aging she worked to fight crimes against the elderly and to improve health care and create senior citizen centers. As a member of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues (a group of congresspeople concerned with issues involving women), Ferraro helped lead the successful battle for passage of the Economic Equity Act, which ended discrimination (unequal treatment) against women in the awarding of salaries and pensions. She was the author of those sections of the Equity Act dealing with private pension reform and increasing retirement savings options for the elderly.
As Ferraro continued to be active in Democratic Party affairs, she also worked hard to achieve national recognition and to correct any impression that she lacked foreign policy experience and skill. In 1983 she traveled to Central America and to the Middle East. As nomination time approached for the 1984 presidential election, she talked frequently about these trips and about her other international experience. After an exhausting series of interviews, Geraldine Ferraro was chosen by Democratic presidential nominee Walter F. Mondale (1928–) as his running mate.
The 1984 campaign
As a vice presidential candidate, it was thought that Ferraro would greatly benefit Mondale's presidential campaign. Democrats hoped that Ferraro would help take advantage of the gender gap—that is, the clear difference in voting patterns between men and women that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, with women voting in greater numbers than men and voting for Democratic candidates and peace issues more than men. Ferraro was also appealing as a candidate from a strong working-class and ethnic background and district. Democratic Party leaders considered it very important for Mondale to win among such voters.
The popularity of President Ronald Reagan (1911–) with the voters, however, resulted in a solid reelection victory. Mondale and Ferraro received only 41 percent of the popular vote and thirteen electoral votes (from Minnesota and the District of Columbia). Mondale was hurt most by his plan to raise taxes and his unclearly defined economic program. Ferraro's main problem as a candidate was the investigation of her husband John Zaccaro's real estate business and tax records. The gender gap had not made the difference that the Democrats had hoped for.
Keeping the liberal faith
After Ferraro's term as a congresswoman ended in January 1985, she wrote a book about the vice presidential campaign. For some time, she chose to stay out of politics. In 1986, she passed up the opportunity to challenge Alphonse D'Amato (1937–), the Republican senator from New York. In 1990 Ferraro campaigned aggressively on behalf of female Democratic candidates in New York. She launched her own political comeback in 1992, when she entered the New York Democratic primary as a candidate for the United States Senate. Competing against three other candidates in the primary, Ferraro faced a tough battle and wound up finishing second, fewer than ten thousand votes behind Elizabeth Holtzman (1941–), who was defeated in the general election.
Geraldine Ferraro continues to speak out for liberal policies. In 1993 she published a book demanding more power for women. Beginning in 1996 she appeared every other week on "Crossfire," a political talk show on the Cable News Network (CNN). Occupying the chair opposite former chief of staff John Sununu (1939–), she continued to call for increased government spending and more federal programs on behalf of those she considers "underprivileged." Ferraro declared her political career at an end in 1998 when she lost the Democratic Senate primary race in New York.
Ferraro continues to support women's interests and other social issues. She has served as the copresident of G&L Strategies, a company that advises other businesses and organizations about issues involving race and gender. In 2001 Ferraro made an announcement that she had been diagnosed with an often-fatal form of blood cancer in 1998. She then began to use her illness as a way to educate the public about cancer and increase funding for research to fight the disease. According to Ferraro, "I will help raise awareness. I will help raise money. I will nudge people I know who could make a difference as far as research is concerned. I will beg people to go out and get themselves checked."
For More Information
Ferraro, Geraldine. Changing History: Women, Power, and Politics. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1993.
Ferraro, Geraldine, and Linda Bird Francke. Ferraro: My Story. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.
Ferraro, Geraldine, and Catherine Whitney. Framing a Life: A Family Memoir. New York: Scribner, 1998.