She was the first and will not be forgotten. I was all of 19 years old when I interned for political consultant Frank Greer, an advisor to Walter Mondale, back in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro made history. It was a summer of awakenings in many ways, as I observed how the big boys and girls played politics, and I became on observer of the behind-the-scenes workings of the game.
One of the most exciting memories of that experience is when I learned 48 hours before the rest of the world that Geraldine would be Mondale’s running mate as Vice President, the first women in history to be on a Presidential election ticket. I also learned how news was leaked.
It was around noon, and Frank had invited Washington Post reporter Marty Schram to our office before they went out to lunch. Frank came into the design studio in the front of the office where our graphic artists, Jeffie and Saul, were laying out campaign signs for the Democratic National Convention. “Let’s see them,” he said to the artists.
They spread out the renderings on the drafting tables. I caught my breath. “MONDALE/FERRARO” was laid out in boldly in red, white and blue. There had been rumors that she was a top contender. Now I knew it was reality. I wanted to scream I was so happy. I actually felt my heart race. A woman! Thank God! It was time, and Mondale had been the one courageous enough to finally do it.
Everyone in the office was giddy. Frank, a likeable and smart but scatter-brained political genius, was walking around the office in sock feet has he often did, running his hands through his hair to organize all the thoughts in his head. “They look fantastic. Good work,” he said rubbing the artists on the back.
The posters were in eyeshot of anyone coming into the office. Frank knew that. Jeffie and Saul knew it. I knew it.
Marty came in looking hurried and harried, wrinkled London Fog trench coat and wavy hair in need of a trim. He was the quintessential gumshoe reporter. “Have you met Jeffie and Saul?” Frank said, ushering Marty into the studio. Marty’s eyes grew wide.
“Oh my, put those away. I didn’t realize those were laying out,” Frank said. Jeffie and Saul made a show of covering up the signs.
“Let’s get going.” Frank bustled Marty out of the room.
The next day the lead story on the front page of the Washington Post by Martin Schram was that “a political insider” in Mondale’s camp had indicated that Mondale was going to announce Geraldine Ferraro as the Vice Presidential nominee.
The next day it was official. I was ecstatic. The polls showed Mondale ahead, 57 percent. I had high hopes. I thought the whole world must feel like I felt, so hopeful and positive about our future in a country where a woman could be Vice President. I thought it was a move that would push Mondale ahead to victory by all the populace eager to see what a woman could do in this position of power.
Soon my hopes were dashed. The polls showed Mondale and Ferraro slipping down. Unfounded accusations about Ferraro as an Italian-American surfaced, attempting to link her and her husband John Zacarro to the mafia. Even Barabara Bush was insulting her, saying she couldn’t call Ferraro the name she was thinking, but it rhymed with “rich.”
I remember back at college later that fall going to teach an aerobics class on campus. I had a round Mondale/Ferraro button pinned to my leotard, and a group of guys walked by and one of them called out, “Mondale/Ferraro are losers.” I was disheartened.
Election night they lost by a landslide. It was crushing, but I found encouragement in Ferraro’s concession speech.
“For two centuries, candidates have run for president. Not one from a major party ever asked a woman to be his running mate – until Walter Mondale,” she said. “Campaigns, even if you lose them, do serve a purpose. My candidacy has said the days of discrimination are numbered.”
Her short reign as VP nominee did serve a purpose. It made me feel that anything was possible, if not in the immediate future, then in the near future. I read her book, “My Story,” which only inspired me even more to go for my dreams.
Ferraro’s campaign had such an impact on me that one of my sorority sisters lampooned me in a senior send-off skit in which she portrayed me, as I would be 10 years later, decked out in leg warmers doing my daily dozen as I multi-tasked on the phone, advising Geraldine about her upcoming Presidential race. It was a hilarious fantasy that I relished.
Though Geraldine never became President, she opened doors for all of us. She died too young at 75, though her’s was a life that will live long in our memories and in our nation’s herstory.