Mondale on Ferraro: 'I think she changed America'

Walter Mondale, Geraldine Ferraro
Walter Mondale smiles as Rep. Geraldine Ferraro spoke to the press after their meeting on Thursday, July 12, 1984 in North Oaks, Minn. to discuss a place for her on the ticket.
AP Photo/Larry Salzman

Geraldine Ferraro died Saturday at the age of 75. Ferraro made history 27 years ago when she joined Walter Mondale's presidential campaign, accepting the vice presidential spot on the ticket.

Listen to MPR's coverage of Mondale announcing his choice of Ferraro as his running mate in 1984.

Mondale made that historic announcement in front of a crowd gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol in St Paul. No one knew who was going to be Mondale's vice presidential candidate until the official announcement on July 12, 1984.

The event took place on the State Capitol floor. MPR carried the announcement live.

"An announcement about to be made here to the group and it is Geraldine Ferraro — because there is Walter Mondale and just a step or two behind him is New York congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro," the MPR reporter said.

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"I looked for the best vice president and I found her in Geri Ferraro," Mondale said at the time.

Ferraro had put herself through law school at night by working as a teacher during the day. She was a 48-year-old mother and Democratic congresswoman from Queens when she stepped up to the podium, put on her reading glasses, and looked out over the crowd at the Capitol.

"Vice president — it has such a nice ring to it," Ferraro told the crowd.

Mondale Ferraro
Vice Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, left, and Rep. Geraldine Ferraro wave after Mondale announced Ferraro as his running mate in the chamber of the Minneapolis House of Representatives, St. Paul, Minn., July 12, 1984. Ferraro was the first female vice presidential candidate of a major party in the history of the United States.
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid

Ferraro talked about her Italian immigrant father, her strong family values and her faith. She talked about concerns that still plague us now: the future of social security and medicare, dwindling student loans and high unemployment.

But as a good running mate, she kept the focus on Mondale.

"When Fritz Mondale asked me to be his running mate he sent a powerful signal about the direction he wants to lead our country," she said. "American history is about doors being opened. Doors of opportunity for everyone, no matter who you are, as long as you're willing to earn it."

Former state representative and Democratic House Majority Leader Ann Wynia was there that day and remembers being sure Ferraro would be vice president. Wynia said Ferraro just projected that kind of confidence.

"You know you could just kind of feel the barriers shattering as she spoke," Wynia said. "It was just one of the most empowering moments I could ever feel as a woman in politics."

Mondale and Ferraro in Elmore, Minn.
Local residents from around Elmore, Minn., greet Walter Mondale, center, at the backyard door of his boyhood home on Mondale Street, July 13, 1984, Elmore, Minn. In front of Mondale is Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, his newly named running mate from Queens, New York. Behind him is his wife Joan Mondale. They were visiting his old home town before leaving for the west coast and the Democratic convention.
AP Photo/Scott Stewart

The campaign against Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush was brutal, with allegations slung on both sides. That was one of the things Mondale regretted when he learned of Ferraro's death Saturday.

"She was really a great candidate and wonderful proponent of social justice," Mondale told MPR News. "But we had a very tough year running against Reagan so some of that got lost."

Mondale said Ferraro showed a new generation of women that they should seek out elective office.

"I think she changed America. I think many more women hold offices, run for offices, are in high positions across the board in American life, and I think her example had a lot to do with it. She had a great family that she loved," Mondale said. "Joan and I deeply regret her passing."

Minnesota's former Democratic Secretary of State Joan Growe campaigned with Ferraro and said among friends, Ferraro used humor to deal with the hard knocks she took from the media and opposition.

"I remember Geri as being an incredibly brave woman," Growe said. "She got that scrutiny nationwide, all these different states, all these different cultures, she was criticized for not being home, she was criticized for not being strong enough. It's a tough position to have and she did it with such grace and dignity."

Growe said Ferraro knew she was blazing a path that would ease the way for women who came after her. She said the experience didn't jade Ferraro.

"I remember running into her at an event at the White House years after the campaign and she wanted to show me a picture of a grandchild," Growe said. "So she's a very warm, very human, human being if you will. So she was real person aside from what you saw on the podium or the pictures you saw on the television."

Last year, Ferraro told MPR News that people still approached her on the street to thank her for taking on the role of first woman on a presidential ticket.

"If you take a look at how women have progressed in the political sphere, I think it's unbelievable. So I think you have since 1984, the recognition that women can be part of the legislative process, and not only can be, but should be," she said.

Ferraro's husband and three children were by her side when she died in Boston hospital on Saturday.