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Geraldine Ferraro
(1935 - 2011)

Politician, lawyer, author. Born on August 26, 1935, in Newburgh, New York. Geraldine Ferraro broke new ground for women in 1984 as the first female vice presidential running mate for a major political party. Recently, however, she has been making waves with her comments about Senator Barack Obama during the battle to become the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate. From a working-class Italian-American background, she lost her father was she was only eight years old. Her mother moved with Ferraro and her brother to the South Bronx where she worked as seamstress.

After attending the Marymount School, Ferraro went to Marymount Manhattan College at the age of 16 on a scholarship. She graduated in 1956 and soon after became a teacher in the New York City public school system. Interested in a legal career, Ferraro took night classes at Fordham University where she earned her law degree in 1960.

That same year, Ferraro married realtor John Zaccaro. The couple had three children, Donna, John Jr., and Laura. While her children were young, she worked in private practice. In 1974, Ferraro began her career in public service, becoming an assistant district attorney in Queens County. One of her most notable contributions to district attorney’s office was creating the special victims bureau, which prosecuted a variety of cases involving crimes against children and the elderly as well as sexual offenses and domestic abuse.

A Democrat, Ferraro made her first bid for office in 1978, seeking election to the House of Representatives for the New York City’s ninth district. In her home turf of Queens, she positioned herself as a politician tough on crime and as a person who understood the struggles of the working class. Ferraro won the election and proved to be a Democrat on the rise.

During her three terms in office, Ferraro fought for women’s rights, urging the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She also became a fierce opponent of President Ronald Reagan and his economic policies, objecting to possible cuts to social security and Medicare programs. Ferraro served on several committees, including the Public Works Committee and the Budget Committee. As one of the few women in Congress at the time, she became a powerful symbol to the feminist movement.

Within the Democratic Party, Ferraro evolved in one of the party’s elite members. In her second term, she was chosen to be the secretary of the Democratic Caucus, which meant that she had a role in the planning the party’s future direction and policies. In January 1984, Ferraro became the chair of the Democratic Party Platform Committee for its national convention.


Later that year, Ferraro was mentioned as a possible running mate for Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential candidate. Mondale had served as vice president under President Jimmy Carter and was very cautious in making his selection. He eventually decided to pick Ferraro who became the first woman to receive the vice presidential nomination from either of the country’s two major parties. Mondale and Ferraro made an interesting pair—he was a Midwesterner and she was a Roman Catholic New Yorker.

On the campaign trail, Ferraro was a skilled public speaker, and she was usually met by sizable crowds wherever she went. But both she and Mondale were in for a tough fight against the popular incumbents, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush. Their cause was not helped when allegations of financial misconduct by Ferraro arose. There were questions about how her first congressional campaign was funded and then more stories cropped up about her husband when he initially refused to disclose his tax returns. While all related documents were eventually released, the speculation about Ferraro and her husband somewhat tarnished her reputation.

As many had predicted, the Reagan-Bush ticket easily won re-election. Ferraro finished out the remainder of her term as a representative, leaving office in 1985. She wrote a campaign memoir soon after entitled Ferraro, My Story (1985). Working in the private sector, Ferraro was a partner in the CEO Perspective Group and later chair of the Global Consulting Group’s public affairs practice. She is currently a principal with Blank Rome Government Relations LLC.

Over the years, Ferraro has remained active in politics. She served as an alternate delegate to the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 and was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Ferraro also co-hosted CNN’s political talk show Crossfire from 1996 to 1998.

In 2008, Ferraro found herself in the middle of a media frenzy. Working as a fundraiser for Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, Ferraro gave an interview to the Torrance, California newspaper, the Daily Breeze, in which she indicated that the frontrunner status of Clinton’s opponent, Senator Barack Obama, could be attributed to his race. She told the reporter that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." 

Ferraro later defended her comments on Good Morning America. Talking with journalist Diane Sawyer, she said that her comments had taken out of context and that she was “absolutely hurt by how they have taken this thing and spun it to imply that in any way, any way I am racist.”