Geraldine Ferraro (Attorney/First Female Vice Presidential Candidate)

geraldine-ferraro.jpgGeraldine Anne Ferraro (born August 26, 1935) is an American attorney, a Democratic Party politician and a former member of the United States House of Representatives. She was the first female Vice Presidential candidate representing a major American political party.

Ferraro grew up in New York and became a teacher and lawyer. She joined the Queens County District Attorney's Office in 1974, where she headed the new Special Victims Bureau that dealt with sex crimes, child abuse, and domestic violence. She was elected to Congress in 1978, where she rose rapidly in the party hierarchy while focusing on legislation to bring equity for women in the areas of wages, pensions, and retirement plans.

In 1984, former Vice President and presidential candidate Walter Mondale selected Ferraro to be his running mate in the upcoming election. In doing so she became the only Italian American to be a major-party national nominee in addition to being the first woman. The positive polling the Mondale-Ferarro ticket received when she joined faded as questions arose of her and her husband's finances. In the general election, Mondale and Ferraro were defeated in a landslide by incumbent President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Ferraro ran campaigns for a seat in the United States Senate from New York in 1992 and 1998, both times emerging as the front-runner for her party's nomination but losing in primary elections both times. She served as a United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1993 until 1996 in the presidential administration of Bill Clinton. She has also continued her career as a journalist, author, and businesswoman, and served in the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ferraro ran for election to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 9th Congressional District in Queens in 1978, after longtime Democratic incumbent James Delaney announced his retirement. The location for the television series All in the Family, the district was known for its ethnic composition and conservative views. In a three-candidate primary race for the Democratic nomination, Ferraro faced two better-known rivals, including the party organization candidate, City Councilman Thomas J. Manton. Her main issues were law and order, support for the elderly, and neighborhood preservation.

She labeled herself a "'small c' conservative" and emphasized that she was not a bleeding-heart liberal; her campaign slogan was "Finally, A Tough Democrat". Her Italian heritage also appealed to ethnic residents in the district. She won the three-way primary with 53 percent of the vote, and then captured the general election as well, defeating Republican Alfred A. DelliBovi  by a 10 percentage point margin in a contest in which dealing with crime was the major issue and personal attacks by DelliBovi were frequent.

She had been aided by some $130,000 in campaign funds from her own family, including $110,000 in loans from Zaccaro. The source and nature of these transactions were declared illegal by the Federal Election Commission shortly before the primary, causing Ferraro to pay back the loans in October 1978 via several real estate transactions. In 1979, the campaign and Zaccaro paid $750 in fines for civil violations of election law.

Despite being a newcomer to the House, Ferraro made a vivid impression upon arrival and quickly found prominence. She became a protégé of House Speaker Tip O'Neil, established a rapport with other House Democratic leaders, and rose rapidly in the party hierarchy. She was elected to be the Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus for 1981–1983 and again for 1983–1985; this entitled her to a seat on the influential Steering and Policy Committee. In 1983, she was named to the powerful House Budget Committee. She also served on the Public Works and Transportation Committee and the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, both of which allowed Ferraro to push through projects to benefit her district. Male colleagues viewed her with respect as someone who was tough and ambitious.

Ferraro was active in Democratic presidential politics as well. She served as one of the deputy chairs for the 1980 Carter-Mondale campaign. Following the election, she served actively on the Hunt Commission that in 1982 rewrote the Democratic delegate selection rules; Ferraro was credited as having been the prime agent behind the creation of superdelegates. By 1983 she was regarded as one of the up-and-coming stars of the party. She was the Chairwoman of the Platform Committee for the 1984 Democratic National Convention, the first woman to hold that position. There she held multiple hearings around the country and further gained in visibility.

While in Congress, Ferraro focussed much of her legislative attention on equity for women in the areas of wages, pensions, and retirement plans. She was a cosponsor of the 1981 Economic Equity Act. On the House Select Committee on Aging, she concentrated on the problems of elderly women. In 1984, she championed a pension equity law revision that would improve the benefits of people who left work for long periods and then returned, a typical case for women with families. The Reagan administration, at first lukewarm to the measure, decided to sign it to gain the benefits of its popular appeal.

Ferraro also worked on some environmental issues. During 1980, she tried to prevent the federal government from gaining the power to override local laws on hazardous materials transportation, an effort she continued in subsequent years. In August 1984, she led passage of a Superfund renewal bill and attacked the Reagan administration's handling of environmental site cleanups.

Ferraro took a congressional trip to Nicaragua at the start of 1984, where she spoke to the Contras. She decided that the Reagan Administration's military interventions there and in El Salvador were counterproductive towards reaching U.S. security goals, and that regional negotiations would be better.

In all, Ferraro served three two-year terms, being re-elected in 1980 and 1982. Her vote shares increased to 58 percent and then 73 percent and much of her funding came from political action committees. While Ferraro's pro-choice views conflicted with those of many of her constituents as well as the Catholic Church to which she belonged, her positions on other social and foreign policy issues were in alignment with the district. She broke with her party in favoring an anti-busing amendment to the Constitution. She supported deployment of the Pershing II missile and the Trident submarine, although she opposed funding for the MX missile, the B-1B bomber, and the Strategic Defense Initiative.

While in the House, Ferraro's political self-description evolved to "moderate". In 1982, she said her experiences as assistant district attorney had changed some of her views: "... because no matter how concerned I am about spending, I have seen first hand what poverty can do to people's lives and I just can't, in good conscience, not do something about it." For her six years in Congress, Ferraro had an average 78 percent "Liberal Quotient" from Americans for Democratic Action and an average 8 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. The AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education gave her an average approval rating of 91 percent.

Related Links:
Geraldine Ferraro on Wkipedia