Last Thursday night I realized the Republicans were nervous for the first time in this election. I saw Pat Buchanan on Nightline sneer that Gerry Ferraro had “no experience” to be vice-president of the United States. Buchanan is the fellow who thought Spiro Agnew was a splendid choice for veep in 1968, when his only experience was in stealing. I also saw Phyllis Schlafly on television Thursday night; she was at the national convention of the Moral Majority, and she was saying that Gerry Ferraro is part of the “radical-feminist wing.”
Caricature is the first refuge of nervous politicians. Gerry Ferraro scares the right wing because she is so mainstream America. She is the mother of three, a former, prosecutor, a regular organization clubhouse Democrat from Archie Bunker’s district in Queens which went for Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Her reelection slogan in 1982 was “One Tough Democrat.” Yes, Gerry Ferraro is for the ERA and against the MX missile, and she has a decent liberal voting record. But she also got where she is because Tip O’Neill, Donald Manes, and a lot of very traditional political animals understand that she is exactly the right woman to be the Jackie Robinson of politics.
Her close friend Jimmy Breslin told me on the day she was picked: “This broad is just eight years out of the kitchen. She’s just starting to grow. She’s gonna be president.”
The first time I heard of Gerry Ferraro was in October 1978. She was running for Congress and Carmine Parisi called me up to ask if the Voice would consider endorsing her. At 2 a.m. that morning Parisi rang my doorbell and delivered a stack of information about his candidate. A few weeks later, the Voice published a brief editorial that said: “Geraldine Ferraro is probably the best this district can possibly elect. She is a reliable vote for pro-labor, pro-consumer legislation. Her opponent, Republican Alfred Delli Bovi, is a little Nixon — ruthless, right-wing, and well-financed.”
As soon as Ferraro arrived in Congress, I began to hear how extraordinary she really was, how her learning curve kept going up, how she was the bridge between feminists and the white male club that rules the House. Last year Barney Frank, Democratic congressman of Massachusetts, told me: “Gerry is the most effective member of the New York delegation.”
Today there is euphoria and electricity. Today there is nervous caricature. Tomorrow the country will see what the voters in her Queens district saw six years ago.
Ferraro will now come under intense scrutiny. So will her husband John, who is in the real-estate business. Already, three reporters from other papers have called me and asked if John Zaccaro is clean. He is.
Gerry Ferraro is a competent, complete person. And she is an instinctive feminist who was one of two women in her law school class.
When she worked as a prosecutor, people claimed she got the job because her cousin, Nick Ferraro, was the Queens D.A. But she did an excellent job, especially prosecuting rape cases. I never heard of an instance where one of her cases was reversed.
Gerry Ferraro can’t elect Mondale. She can only help the ticket. The ticket is clearly in trouble in the South, in the West, with younger yuppie voters, with Jewish voters. But overnight I think Ferraro brought Mondale from 20 points down to eight or 10 points down.
And should the ticket lose, then Al D’ Amato will become the most nervous Republican in the Senate, because his seat is up in 1986, and Gerry Ferraro will come after him next, in her 10th year out of the kitchen, and her learning curve moving off the chart. ■
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 13, 2020