Geraldine Ferraro, First Woman VP Candidate, Dies at 75

Geraldine Ferraro blazed a trail for women in politics.

March 26, 2011, 12:43 PM

March 27, 2011— -- Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket, died on Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital, a spokesman for her family said. She was 75.

The cause of death was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had battled for 12 years, according to a statement from her family.

Ferraro, the first woman and the first Italian-American to run on a major party national ticket, was Walter Mondale's vice presidential running mate in 1984 on the Democratic Party ticket.

She earned a reputation for speaking her mind on the issues of the day, sometimes generating controversy for her outspoken opinions.

The 1984 presidential campaign against popular incumbent President Ronald Reagan showed that Ferraro could be comfortable in the men's world of national politics -- at the time there were few women in Congress.

But questions about the financial dealings of Ferraro's husband, real-estate developer John Zaccaro, dogged her throughout the campaign and Mondale was seen by many as uncharismatic.

Reagan-Bush crushed the Mondale-Ferraro ticket in the 1984 election, taking nearly 59 percent of the vote. Only Mondale's home state of Minnesota went to the Democrats that year.

The New York Democrat served three terms in the House of Representatives. In 1998, she ran and lost a bid for the Senate -- her second failed attempt in six years to serve in the Senate. That would be her last campaign.

After making racially charged comments about then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in 2008, Ferraro stepped down as a member of the finance committee for the presidential campaign of then Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Clinton went on to lose the presidential nomination to Obama.

Ferraro had told a California newspaper 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."

But she had written of herself, according to the New York Times, "I am the first to admit that were I not a woman, I would not have been the vice-presidential nominee."

The Times reported in 1984 that Barbara Bush, wife of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, asked her opinion of vice-presidential candidate Ferraro, called her a "four-million-dollar -- I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."

Ferraro's record of public service as a trailblazing woman is perhaps her greatest legacy. Many believe she helped open the door to countless female candidates, though not at the very highest level except for Republican Sarah Palin.

Ferraro told National Public Radio in 2008 that she was glad to see Palin on the GOP ticket with Sen. John McCain.

"For 24 years I've been saying, 'It's great to be the first, but y'know, I don't want to be the only,'" Ferraro said. "And so now it is wonderful to see a woman on a national ticket."

Ferraro said "this election to me is important" because "one way or another we're going to see a historic first."

Ferraro said she spoke to Palin at the urging of McCain.

"She was very, very nice and I do congratulate her," Ferraro said of Palin.

In a statement today, Palin said, "When I had the honor of working alongside Geraldine on election night last year, we both discussed the role of women in politics and our excited expectation that someday that final glass ceiling would be shattered by the election of a woman president. She was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to public service as a teacher, prosecutor, Congresswoman, and Vice Presidential candidate. She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more. The world will miss her. May she rest in peace and may her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women."

President Obama said in a statement that Ferraro "will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life. Whether it was as a public school teacher, assistant district attorney, Member of Congress, or candidate for Vice President, Geraldine fought to uphold America's founding ideals of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. And as our Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, she stood up for those ideals around the world. Sasha and Malia will grow up in a more equal America because of the life Geraldine Ferraro chose to live."

Former President George H.W. Bush said he and the former first lady were deeply saddened to learn of Ferraro's death.

"Though we were one-time political opponents, I am happy to say Gerry and I became friends in time -- a friendship marked by respect and affection," Bush said. "I admired Gerry in many ways, not the least of which was the dignified and principled manner she blazed new trails for women in politics."

Ferraro graduated from Fordham Law School, one of only three women in her class. She said that an admissions officer said to her, "I hope you're serious, Gerry. You're taking a man's place, you know."

She raised her children, passed the bar, served as an assistant district attorney in the Queens County District Attorney's Office, and was first elected to Congress from New York's Ninth Congressional District in Queens in 1978. She served three terms in the House.

From 1996 until 1998, Ferraro was a co-host of "Crossfire," a political interview program, on CNN. She was also a partner in the CEO Perspective Group, a consulting firm that advises top executives.

Ferraro was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 1998. She publicly disclosed the illness in June 2001.