Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate for a major party and former Democratic congresswoman, died Saturday at the age of 75, according to a statement from her family.
Ferraro (pictured at right in 2002) died Saturday morning at Massachusetts General Hospital. The cause of death was complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that she had battled for 12 years. She went public with her diagnosis in 2001.
Her family said, “Geraldine Anne Ferraro Zaccaro was widely known as a leader, a fighter for justice, and a tireless advocate for those without a voice. To us, she was a wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, a woman devoted to and deeply loved by her family. Her courage and generosity of spirit throughout her life waging battles big and small, public and personal, will never be forgotten and will be sorely missed.”
In July 1984, former Vice President Walter Mondale tapped Ferraro to be his running mate securing her place in history as the first woman to run on a major party presidential ticket. She was also the first Italian-American to run for vice president from one of the two major political parties.
In her acceptance speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, Ferraro said, “The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love”:
In 1990, Jim Lehrer sat down with Ferraro to interview her for his series on presidential and vice presidential debates. Ferraro told Lehrer what her goal was heading into her debate with Vice President George H.W. Bush:
JIM LEHRER: When you actually went on the stage in Philadelphia, did you have an objective bottom line of what you wanted to accomplish?
GERALDINE FERRARO: Oh, yeah. And it was, it was not beating George Bush, believe it or not, the bottom line as far as I was concerned was introducing to the public who Gerry Ferraro was. If you recall in the campaign, I was on television virtually every night of the week. But if you watched what I was on doing, it was 15 seconds, 30 seconds — Gerry Ferraro with a zinger that hit either President Reagan or either Vice President Bush. The sad part of it was that the American public was getting the impression that’s all what I was capable of doing. I didn’t look very sensitive and they didn’t know me very well. The polls indicated that I was feisty, that I was tough, that I had a sense of humor, but they weren’t quite sure if they liked me and they didn’t know whether or not that I was sensitive. So my goal going into the debate was to change that image.
Today, Mr. Bush expressed his sympathy:
“Barbara and I were deeply saddened to learn of Gerry’s passing. 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. 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,” he said.
Ferraro last made her presence felt in national politics during the prolonged battle for the Democratic nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In March 2008, she made comments to a California newspaper suggesting then-Senator Obama was receiving preferential treatment because of his race.
“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,” she said.
Soon after the Obama campaign called attention to her racially charged comments, Ferraro stepped down from Hillary Clinton’s finance committee.
President Obama released a statement Saturday afternoon expressing his family’s sympathy:
“Michelle and I were saddened to learn about the passing of Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine 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. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her husband, John Zaccaro, her children and grandchildren, and their entire family.”