Ferraro Was A Trailblazer Who Opened Doors For Women

She was the first woman to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate by a major political party. Geraldine Ferraro died on Saturday at the age of 75. Ferraro began her political career as a prosecutor in New York City before going on to join Walter Mondale's 1984 Democratic presidential ticket. Host Michel Martin looks back on the life of this political trailblazer.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now, we remember an American political trailblazer who died on Saturday: Geraldine Ferraro. She was the first woman to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate by a major political party. She remains the only Italian-American to receive such a nomination.

Ms. GERALDINE FERRARO: I proudly accept your nomination for vice president of the United States.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

MARTIN: Ferraro began her political career as a prosecutor in New York City. She then went on to represent Queens in Congress. Ferraro was a surprise addition to Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential ticket. Democrats hoped to use her style and energy to put a damper on Ronald Reagan's popularity.

Ferraro and then-sitting Vice President George H.W. Bush squared off in the vice presidential debate. In addition to serving as vice president, Mr. Bush had served as ambassador to China and director of the CIA, and he questioned Ferraro's experience.

President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: In Iran, we were held by a foreign government. In Lebanon, you had a wanton, terrorist action where the government opposed it.

Mr. SANDER VANOCUR (Journalist): Congresswoman Ferraro?

Ms. FERRARO: Let me just say, first of all, that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude, that you have to teach me about foreign policy.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Ferraro was popular on the campaign trail, but also faced criticism when her husband refused to make full disclosure about his finances. And she recognized she had to answer questions about her competence and toughness that a man likely would not have to answer. She talked about that in this interview with NPR in 2002.

Ms. FERRARO: In 1984, it was kind of like going through a test. We were in the middle of a Cold War, you know, with: Are you tough enough to stand up to the Russians? You know, that type of thing. Are you tough enough to push the button? I mean, those were all things that were asked of me, because I was female.

MARTIN: Still, Ferraro's addition to the Democratic ticket could not stop the Reagan-Bush juggernaut, which crushed the Democrats in a landslide.

Ferraro has largely been out of public life for the last decade, but she made headlines during the 2008 presidential campaign with controversial remarks about then-candidate Obama's race. Ferraro had backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and told a California newspaper that quote, "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's caught up in the concept."

When a firestorm ensued over the comments, Ferraro refused to back down, telling reporters that every time that campaign is upset about something, they call it racist. I will not be discriminated against because I'm white. If they think they're going to shut up Geraldine Ferraro with that kind of stuff, they don't know me.

Geraldine Ferraro died this past Saturday. She was being treated for cancer. She was 75 years old.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And finally, at TELL ME MORE, we will be celebrating National Poetry Month in April. An occasional series called Muses and Metaphor will combine two passions of this program: social media and poetry. We would like you to go to Twitter and tweet us your original poetry, using fewer than 140 characters, of course. We will choose our favorites, and if your poem is chosen, we will help you record it for us and we will air it. Tweet us using the hashtag TMMPOETRY.

You can learn more at the TELL ME MORE website. Go to npr.org. Click on the Programs tab to find TELL ME MORE. And again, hashtag TMMPOETRY.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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