Gerry Meandering

Many handshakes and few ideas on the Ferraro campaign trail

While Ferraro shook hands along the Long Beach boardwalk on a recent muggy Sunday, her husband stayed in the car, hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses. He remained by the wheel again a day later, while his wife courted several thousand reggae fans at a late-night concert in Bedford-Stuyvesant. But when the campaign trail led to a Greenwich Village street festival on a recent Saturday, Zaccaro walked the streets with his wife.

Once again, fans scramble to be close to Ferraro. One of the first is Richard Cogliandro, a 47-year-old schoolteacher. Concerned about organized-crime connections, Cogliandro asks: "Do you have anything to hide?"

Ferraro's grin tightens slightly. "I have nothing to hide and I never had," she says.

Cogliandro tells a reporter later that he found Ferraro's reply convincing. And the candidate is spared any queries about other ethical issues that have popped up during this campaign, including charges that sweatshops operate in a building she partially owns. "Her husband was the pain in the ass; she's a doll," cassette vendor John Rivera explains to his customers as Ferraro and Zaccaro walk by. "He's the one who got her in trouble last time."

When Michael Diehl meets Ferraro, he grills her about the Defense of Marriage Act. This legislation, which opposes same-sex marriage, passed Congress last year. Schumer voted for it.

"Would you vote for DOMA? That's what a Mark Green supporter told me," Diehl asks.

"Well, as long as you didn't say that," says Diehl, a 27-year-old attorney.

Ferraro pauses for a moment to digest Diehl's question. Then she changes her answer. "I would've voted for the Senate bill... Mark Green's guy is right."

Diehl is not pleased. "That's bad," he tells Ferraro. As she saunters away, Diehl turns to several friends, announcing that he's going to vote for Green instead of Ferraro because, he says, "She's pandering to her Catholic base."

Ferraro has turned down invitations to debate her opponents, and her performance at a recent candidate forum in Brooklyn Heights may explain why. First up is Mark Green, and then Ferraro. Standing behind the podium in the auditorium of St. Francis College, Ferraro rattles off the reasons voters should pick her. Near the top of the list is her own life story.

"My grandmother had to sign her signature with an X because she didn't know how to write," she tells the 200-person crowd. "When my father died when I was eight... my mother said, 'The one thing I want my children to have is an education.' That would be my priority in the Senate: making sure every child has an education."

Ferraro's personal history may be inspiring, but it doesn't always persuade her listeners. Nor do her frequent references to her legacy as a feminist pioneer. In July, Ferraro gave a speech emphasizing the importance of electing women because "we bring another dimension to the political process." But playing the gender card may not be enough, especially when there are now 62 women in the House and Senate and female politicians are no longer a novelty.

At the candidate forum, Green boasts of his longtime career as a consumer advocate and promises to keep fighting for reforms of campaign finance and HMOs. Then he dazzles the audience with detailed answers to their questions about everything from the Gowanus Expressway to the Brooklyn waterfront.

Asked what she would do about congestion on the Gowanus, Ferraro says, "I would work with the Gowanus Expressway Coalition... I would look at alternatives to what the city is proposing... We've got to do something about it... We've got to look at what we can do."

Afterward, two friends linger on the college steps to have a smoke and swap opinions. As Democrats who are closely following this race, these women are exactly the sort of people who actually go to the polls on primary day--the type of voters who could decide Ferraro's fate. "I thought her presentation was flat and vague," says 45-year-old Erica Zurer. "On local issues, either she had no knowledge, didn't do her research, or didn't care. That was very disturbing."

Her friend agrees. "I'm offended by the fact that she appears to think she's entitled to the nomination," says Susan Breslin, who trekked from Manhattan to hear the candidates. "She has to prove she's better than the others. She has to fight for it."

The two women do not hold their tongues as Ferraro herself exits the building. But Ferraro ignores them. Even as she clicks down the stairs in her black pumps, a man is moving into the sixth-floor window of the building across the street. "Hey, Gerry! Gerry! Up here!" he shouts. Ferraro grins and waves. Then she climbs into her Lincoln Continental and her husband drives off.

Research assistance: Jennifer Del Medico

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