Looking back, there have been countless people and events which fueled my interest in politics. Among them are the engrossing train wreck that was the 2008 primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and, perhaps first and foremost, my utter bewilderment over how George W. Bush prevailed on election night in 2004.
Also near the top of this list would be Geraldine Ferraro’s televised address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Ferraro, a New York congresswoman running as vice president to presidential candidate Walter Mondale, was the first woman and the first Italian-American to be selected for a major party’s presidential ticket. To date, she is also the last New Yorker to grace a Democratic presidential ticket.
This speech, which I first saw in a high school class, was among the most exciting and well-delivered addresses I’d ever seen. Ferraro came off as the antithesis of your typical boring, safe politician. She was warm and engaging, yet tough and fiery, and it disappointed me to learn that the Mondale/Ferraro ticket lost 49 of 50 states in that election against the incumbent, Ronald Reagan.
On Saturday, March 26, Ferraro, 75, died after a decade-long battle with multiple myeloma.
Having greatly admired Ferraro and hoped for years that she would stage a political comeback, her passing marked a sad end to my spring break. It was, however, a heartening sight to see the likes of figures across the political spectrum, from Sarah Palin, the second-ever female vice presidential candidate, to Hillary Clinton, gush over Ferraro’s impressive career. Despite her progressive credentials, she was admired by figures of all ideologies and political parties; a rarity in today’s hyper-polarized political environment.
Following Ferraro’s 1984 loss, she took eight years off before attempting a political comeback in her home state. The 1992 New York U.S. Senate race found Ferraro pitted against the daunting likes of then-Attorney General Bob Abrams, former Congresswoman and feminist icon Elizabeth Holtzman and Rev. Al Sharpton. After maintaining a lead throughout most of the race, Ferraro lost ground amid negative attack ads from Abrams and Holtzman. Ferraro went onto lose to Abrams by just one percentage point.
She mounted another comeback attempt in 1998, but lost to then-Congressman Chuck Schumer by a margin of 2 to 1. That loss was viewed as the final stake through the heart of Ferraro’s political career. Commentators suggested that Ferraro didn’t have a fresh message and that she was merely riding name recognition from 1984.
Perhaps she ran poor political campaigns, but I couldn’t help but root for Ferraro when former Gov. David Paterson was mulling over a replacement to Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate seat, after Clinton vacated it to join the Obama administration. Though I’m perfectly fine with Paterson’s eventual selection, Kirsten Gillibrand, I thought it would’ve been poignant to see a trailblazer like Ferraro finally get her due.
I don’t think it’s quite hyperbole to think that America has lost one of its most important modern-day political figures.