Pen and Ink drawing of Geraldine Ferraro in her campaign headquarters in Queens, NY, 1977 Election Night.
Geraldine Ferraro’s passing brings up a lot of personal memories. I was her first press secretary in 1977, on her first run for Congress in Archie Bunker’s district in Queens, NY. It was an intense, winning campaign. Tireless Ferraro drove the staff with energetic determination. She may have been a novice in national politics but was a pro in accomplishing the impossible. She had a schedule that would’ve killed Godzilla, nobody slept for 4 months.
Gerry maintained a cool distance except to family or trusted friends. She preferred dealing with men and treated women dismissively, which made her growing authority as a feminist leader amusing to the women who worked for her. It wasn’t atypical of women politicians. She was continually challenged by female notables of the day, told to get out of the way of the more qualified. Geraldine was pretty and photogenic. Brand new for a city that had been used to seeing Abzug and Steinem in the forefront. Every woman wanted a Gerry haircut. Rocco Galioto took the first famous photographs that began to appear on buses and trains that helped her win. She had a great smile.
I lasted a year and a half, the first year in DC, then left to join the circus. I’d had enough of politics. Ferraro was transforming dramatically. To not be swept up in the seduction of DC takes a great deal of level-headed purpose, strong character and courage and it seemed to me it hadn’t been there or was dissipating. I think Gerry lost her way. When I saw her being remade by the Democrat National Committee for the VP run I was stunned. Some big time handlers had this Bloomingdale/Bonwit shopper in gingham frocks. Maybe it was the only way to get the first woman in. There isn’t any mention of the slip she made at the nomination acceptance speech in San Francisco. To Mondale’s shock she thanked the Dems for her Presidential nomination before correcting herself. The ego was intact.
I don’t know if Gerry Ferraro realized the extent to which she was being used, or accepted it and worked around it to her own benefit. We weren’t in touch. But I view it this way: the Democrat Party wanted to go with the times, answer the outraged fury of feminist protest demanding women in the forefront. Helen Reddy was singing I Am Woman Hear Me Roar and women were demanding and end to men-only anything. They’d throw Gerry out there to still the noise. It wasn’t going to cost and the gains would be enormous. The rush of enthusiasm for her surprised. What to do now? Stick her with Mondale, neither one stood a chance and the PR would be great, sit this one out.
It encouraged a kind of hard edge to Ferraro. I don’t know what made Gerry tick, but becoming famous and powerful turned into goals in themselves. Genuine accomplishment or startling truth re-surfaced in her in just these last few years, and that’s worth remembering her for. She entered a formidable, dangerous, & scary world on a national scale. If her Catholicism or the death sentence of cancer started to open her up, it’s to her credit that she finally decided to go against the tide instead of swimming happily in it for so damn long. She started sounding like the woman I went to work for thirty years ago, remembering her own purpose and voice. Essentially, it doesn’t matter when enlightenment hits, because it’s personal. She was in a position to really effect the world with policy and got the guts to do it too late for the rest of us, but I believe she got it. Way to go, Geraldine. Rest in peace.