Wednesday, July 13, 2011

J-Speaks: An Icon and Trailblazer in Politics Passes

It does not take a lot of time to make change. Sometimes it takes someone opening their mouth and making a statement. Other times it takes doing something that no one would ever do. On the night July 19, 1984 in San Francisco when a former Senator (D-MN) and former Vice President and a little known congresswoman from New York took the stage and accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for the highest office in the land. This election broke many barriers and showed the nation that the female gender can stand on the high platform of politics and do it with grace, courage and confidence. Back in March we said goodbye to the lady that broke that political glass ceiling.

On Saturday Mar. 26 our nation said goodbye to former congresswoman of New York’s 9th District in Queens Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY), who passed away at Massachusetts General Hospital from multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer that she was diagnosed with in 1998. She was 75 years old. When she was diagnosed at the time, she was told by doctors that she would only live for three more years, five years at the most. She fought the cancer for twelve years before it took her life.

A private funeral service was held for Ferraro at the Church of St. Vincent Ferraro on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Earlier in the week back in March, a public wake was held for Ferraro at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home also located on the Upper East Side.  

She is survived by her husband of 50 years real estate developer and owner P. Zaccaro and Company John Zaccaro, their three children Donna, John Jr. and Laura and eight grandchildren.

“Her courage and generosity of spirit throughout her life, waging battles big and small, public and personal will never be forgotten and will be sorely missed,” the family said in a statement back in March.

Ferraro was born in Newburgh, NY on Aug. 26, 1935. She was the daughter of Antonetta L. a first generation Italian American seamstress and Dominick Ferraro also an Italian immigrant and owner of two restaurants.

Ferraro moved to the South Bronx when her father passed away from a heart attack in May 1944 and the family lost the businesses he owned.

After graduating from Marymount Academy in Tarrytown, NY in 1952, Ferraro moved on to Marymount Manhattan College on scholarship and worked two to three jobs to pay for her education. Four years later Bachelor’s of Arts in English. She also passed the city examination to receive her license to be a school teacher.

She would teach 2nd grade at P.S. 85, The Judge Charles J. Vallone School in Astoria, Queens.

Despite all of what she accomplished, she was not satisfied so she decided to attend Fordham University Law School at night and earned her Juris Doctor degree with honors in 1960. When she graduated, she was only one of two women in her class out of 179 people.

After a period of time working part-time as a civil lawyer for her husband’s real estate firm for 13 years and doing  some pro bono work for women in family court, Ferraro’s big political break came in January of 1974 when she was appointed Assistant District Attorney for Queens by her cousin, District Attorney Nicholas Zaccaro. This happened at a time when women prosecutors were uncommon.

Ferraro continued her rise when she was assigned to the first Special Victims Bureau the following year where she supervised cases dealing with sex crimes, domestic violence, child and senior abuse.

In her time with the D.A., Ferraro gained a reputation as a no nonsense prosecutor who was fair when it came to plea bargains. She even conducted some of the trials the Special Victims Unit took  herself and convinced the juries she argued in front of to rule in her favor.   

Ferraro grew very frustrated by the fact that she was being paid less than her male counterparts and found the nature of her cases she dealt with deliberating and thought about running for legislative office.

She ran for election to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York’s 9th Congressional District in Queens in 1978. The main issues she ran on were law and order, support for the elderly, and neighborhood preservation.

Ferraro treaded very carefully in this campaign because she was running for election in an area of New York that was known for their conservative views.

She put an emphasis in her campaign that she was not a liberal and that enabled her to win the primary by 53 percent of the three-way vote over City Councilman Thomas J. Manton and then beat Alfred A. DelliBovi in the general election by 10 percent point margin.

She would represent New York’s 9th District for three terms, but Ferraro’s biggest moment in politics was about to come.

On July 12, 1984, former Vice President and former Senator (D-MN) Walter Mondale tapped Ferraro to be his Vice Presidential candidate.

Ferraro not only became the first woman and first Italian American to run on a major political party’s national ticket in the United States.

Her July 19, 1984 nomination acceptance at the Democratic National Convention that night in San Francisco, CA was one of the most emotional moments in our country.

In an acceptance speech that lasted eight minutes, Ferraro gave a speech that brought tears and cheers that changed the landscape of political history in the U.S.

“My name is Geraldine Ferraro. I stand before you to proclaim tonight America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us,” she said that night. “There is no are no doors we cannot unlock.”

One person this moment touched was ABC News contributor Cokie Roberts who was their reporting the event.

“Nobody who was there would forget, particularly any females who were there,” Roberts said.

“There she came out on the state this little figure in white on the podium and the women in the crowd were crying, were screaming, were incredibly excited and there I was as a reporter trying to be very stern and solemn, but I do remember going over to a colleague and squeezing her hands so rapturously because we had to play it straight, but it was a very exciting moment in women’s history.”

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “The drumbeat that Geraldine Ferraro began that day in July will continue for a long time to come.”

What really made this moment special is how Ferraro handled herself throughout the campaign. She stood tall and never back down. She proved in every interview on shows like NBC’s “Meet the Press,” to debates against then candidate George Herbert Walker Bush.

In her debate with Bush when he said to Ferraro, “Let me help you with the difference Miss. Ferraro between Iran and The Embassy and Lebanon.”

Ferraro stated back to Bush, “Let me just say first of all that I almost resent Vice President Bush your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.”

Back on the Oct. 14, 1984 edition of “Meet the Press” Ferraro was asked would she be able to push the nuclear button if necessary.

Her answer, “I can do whatever is necessary in order to protect the security of this country.”

Unfortunately Mondale and Ferraro lost to Ronald Reagan and Bush, who won their re-election bid and they did it in a landslide on Nov. 6, 1984. They won 59 percent of the popular vote and received 55 percent of the women’s vote.

Things did not get better the next year for Ferraro as her husband was convicted of financial fraud, which became an issue during the campaign. He was sent to do 150 hours of community service. 

Politically, Ferraro ran twice for Senate representing New York, but lost and in 1998, she was diagnosed with an incurable form of bone marrow cancer.

While many would have let this kind of news devastate them and kill them in that moment, Ferraro kept pushing forward.

She in the years to come would become a writer, a political commentator and a grandmother.

“I don’t want to have the big C on my face because that’s not me,” Ferraro said.
“I’m still gonna go on and do the things I do.”

What she did more than anything is she showed our nation that women deserve a place in politics and that they can do the job that their male counterparts can even better.

Today there are 17 female Senators and between 40 and 50 in the House of Representatives.

As Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said back in late March, “she broke those barriers and made it all possible.”

“All those successes that she made makes my career possible,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “Makes the career of every young woman who wants to do public service possible.”

President Obama made maybe the boldest statement about what Ferraro’s career means when he said that his daughters “Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live.”

Geraldine Ferraro was more than just a woman who was a politician. She was a trailblazer that showed our nation that a woman can be anything she wants to be when she sets her mind to it. She showed us what it meant to take the challenge and do something many thought she could not do. In her darkest moment is when her sole shined the brightest and uplifted many of us at that time when it was necessary.

When it comes down to it, Geraldine Ferraro displayed the true meaning of it is not the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog.
Information and quotations are courtesy of 3/26/11 6:30 p.m. edition of “ABC World News” with David Muir; 3/26/11 6:30 p.m. edition of “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt, report was from Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’ Donnell; 3/26/11 6 p.m. edition of 4 NY News at 6 with Shiba Russell, report from Chris Glorioso; 3/27/11 8 a.m. edition of “Good Morning America” with Biana Golodryga and Dan Harris, report from Linsey Davis; 3/27/11 9 a.m. edition of Eyewitness News This Morning with Phil Lipof and Michelle Charlesworth, report from Darla Miles and Jaime Roth; 3/28/11 5 p.m. edition of Eyewitness News with Diana Williams and Sade Baderinwa; 3/29/11 & 3/31/11 6 p.m. edition of CBS 2 News at 6 p.m. with Don Dahler and Dana Tyler;

No comments:

Post a Comment