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Geraldine Ferraro dies of cancer at 75

Geraldine A. Ferraro was a relatively obscure congresswoman from the New York City borough of Queens in 1984 when she was tapped by Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale to join his ticket.

Her vice presidential bid, the first for a woman on a major party ticket, emboldened women across the country to seek public office and helped lay the groundwork for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential candidacy in 2008 and John McCain's choice of his running mate, Sarah Palin, that year.

Ferraro, 75, died Saturday in Boston, where she was being treated for complications of blood cancer.

Mondale's campaign had struggled to gain traction and his selection of Ferraro, at least momentarily, revived his momentum and energized millions of women who were thrilled to see one of their own on a national ticket.

The blunt, feisty Ferraro charmed audiences initially, and for a time polls showed the Democratic ticket gaining ground on President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. But her candidacy ultimately proved rocky as she fought ethics charges and traded barbs with Bush over accusations of sexism and class warfare.

Ferraro later told an interviewer, "I don't think I'd run again for vice president," then added "Next time I'd run for president."

Reagan won 49 of 50 states in 1984, the largest landslide since Franklin D. Roosevelt's first re-election over Alf Landon in 1936. But Ferraro had forever sealed her place as trailblazer for women in politics.

Palin, who was Alaska's governor when she ran for vice president, often spoke of Ferraro on the campaign trail.

"She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more," Palin wrote on her Facebook page Saturday. "May her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women."

For his part, Mondale remembered his former running mate as "a remarkable woman and a dear human being."

Delegates erupted in cheers at the first line of her speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.

"My name is Geraldine Ferraro," she declared. "I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us."

Ferraro, a mother of three, sometimes overshadowed Mondale on the campaign trail, often drawing larger crowds and more media attention than the presidential candidate.

But controversy accompanied her acclaim.

A Catholic, she encountered frequent, vociferous protests of her favorable view of abortion rights.

She famously tangled with Bush, her vice presidential rival who struggled at times over how aggressively to attack Ferraro.

In their only nationally televised debate, in October 1984, Bush raised eyebrows when he said, "Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon." Ferraro shot back, saying she resented Bush's "patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

Ferraro would later suggest on the campaign trail that Bush and his family were wealthy and therefore didn't understand the problems faced by ordinary voters. That comment irked Bush's wife, Barbara, who said Ferraro had more money than the Bush family. "I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich," Barbara Bush famously told reporters when asked to describe Ferraro. She later apologized.

In a statement, Bush said that after the 1984 race, "Gerry and I became friends in time -- a friendship marked by respect and affection."

Ferraro's run also was beset by ethical questions, first about her campaign finances and tax returns, then about the business dealings of her husband, real estate developer John Zaccaro. Ferraro attributed much of the controversy to bias against Italian Americans.

Ferraro's son, John Zaccaro Jr., was convicted in 1988 of selling cocaine to an undercover Vermont state trooper and served three months under house arrest.

In a statement, President Obama praised Ferraro as a trailblazer who had made the world better for his daughters.

"Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live," Obama said.

Ferraro received a law degree from Fordham University in 1960, the same year she married and became a full-time homemaker and mother. She said she kept her maiden name to honor her mother, a widow who had worked long hours as a seamstress.

After years in a private law practice, she took a job as an assistant Queens district attorney in 1974. In 1978, she won the first of three terms in Congress representing a blue-collar district of Queens.

After losing in 1984, she became a fellow of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

She co-hosted CNN's "Crossfire," in 1996 and 1997 but left to take on Charles E. Schumer, then a little-known Brooklyn congressman, in the 1998 Democratic Senate primary. She placed a distant second.

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