Saturday, March 26, 2011

Politics: Thanks Geraldine!


Geraldine Ferraro died today.  She was 75.

I shook her hand in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1991 when she appeared at a local bar.  She was campaigning for the New York U.S. Senate seat against the Republican incumbent, Alfonse M. D'Amato.

"Our polls show that we can win against D'Amato," she said.

But her campaign was short-circuited after she lost the Democratic primary to Robert Abrams, who lost the general election.

Kurt and I just happened to be in Seneca Falls at the time, a place I wanted to visit for its historical significance.  I had just completed a 7-week stint at Middlebury College's Spanish immersion program and we decided to take a short vacation out East afterward.  Kurt flew to Burlington, Vermont, where I picked him up and then we toured the state a bit and later visited the Armstrongs who were living in Boston at the time.

Seneca Falls the site where the American women's movement got its start in 1848.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was among local leaders who held the convention on July 19–20.  Participants wrote the Declaration of Sentiments as a foundational document in the American woman's suffrage movement.  It was the first time that women and men gathered together to demand the right for women to vote.

To watch Ferraro in 1984 as the first woman to be nominated for executive office, as a vice presidential candidate, was a thrilling sight even though it was only on television.

"America is a land where dreams can come true for all of us," she said.

But the image that sticks in my mind most was to see a woman delegate all teared-up as Ferraro gave her nomination acceptance speech.  It was a magical moment in our history!

It was particularly magical for me, too, because as a 10-year-old watching the 1960 presidential election of John F. Kennedy, I had aspired to a career in politics.  Then, to see Ferraro, not only a woman, but an Italian woman (like me!), take on the challenge of running for vice president was an amazing realization that anything was possible.  Unfortunately, she and her running mate, Walter Mondale, were crushed by Ronald Reagan who got a second term.

Well, I did enter politics at the local level for three glorious years.  I worked for some campaigns, raised money for the party, became chair of the Kalamazoo County Democrats, and even ran for office as a candidate for county treasurer.  I did pretty well in my run for the treasurer's office by receiving 48 percent of the vote.  Pretty good for a relatively unknown candidate.

Of course, there were numerous women who entered politics since Ferraro at the local, state, and national levels.  The most prominent includes Hilary Clinton who not only became a senator from New York, but a candidate for president. 

Thanks, Geraldine for your leadership and example.  May we get more women like you in government.

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