Our Mothers Ourselves

Geraldine Ferraro, Part Two -- Trailblazer. A Conversation with Donna Zaccaro

September 06, 2020 Donna Zaccaro Season 2 Episode 4
Our Mothers Ourselves
Geraldine Ferraro, Part Two -- Trailblazer. A Conversation with Donna Zaccaro
Chapters
00:01:46
My Mother Didn't Break Faith With Me
00:03:39
Getting the call
00:05:25
What was the Convention Like?
00:08:19
The debate with George Bush
00:10:49
Voting for Hillary Clinton
00:13:14
The impact of the vice presidential candidate
00:15:24
High Expectations
00:19:42
What would her advice to Kamala Harris be?
00:20:14
Your mom's legacy
Our Mothers Ourselves
Geraldine Ferraro, Part Two -- Trailblazer. A Conversation with Donna Zaccaro
Sep 06, 2020 Season 2 Episode 4
Donna Zaccaro


Our series commemorating the 19th Amendment ends with the second segment on the first female Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Anne "Gerry" Ferraro (August 26, 1935 – March 26, 2011).

In this conversation with Ferraro's daughter, documentary filmmaker Donna Zaccaro, Katie takes a closer look at Ferraro The Candidate.

When Walter Mondale  chose Ferraro as his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Mondale's campaign got an immediate boost. The mood inside the convention hall was electric. And Ferraro's acceptance speech was dazzling. But she faced a level of scrutiny that her male counterparts simply did not.  Nevertheless, she handled some of those patronizing men -- like then Vice President George Bush during their debate  -- with just the right mix of respect and humility.

In the documentary, Paving the Way, produced and directed by Zaccaro, we learn more about Ferraro's feelings about her place in history and her hopes for the generations of women who have followed her.

 Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers


Our series commemorating the 19th Amendment ends with the second segment on the first female Vice Presidential candidate, Geraldine Anne "Gerry" Ferraro (August 26, 1935 – March 26, 2011).

In this conversation with Ferraro's daughter, documentary filmmaker Donna Zaccaro, Katie takes a closer look at Ferraro The Candidate.

When Walter Mondale  chose Ferraro as his running mate on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Mondale's campaign got an immediate boost. The mood inside the convention hall was electric. And Ferraro's acceptance speech was dazzling. But she faced a level of scrutiny that her male counterparts simply did not.  Nevertheless, she handled some of those patronizing men -- like then Vice President George Bush during their debate  -- with just the right mix of respect and humility.

In the documentary, Paving the Way, produced and directed by Zaccaro, we learn more about Ferraro's feelings about her place in history and her hopes for the generations of women who have followed her.

 Don't forget to visit us at ourmothersourselves.com. And while you're there, please contribute your word to the mother word cloud.

Music composed and performed by
Andrea Perry.
Artwork by Paula Mangin. (@PaulaBallah)
Producer: Alice Hudson
Intern: Rosie Manock (@RosieManock)

Geraldine Ferraro :

My fellow citizens, I proudly accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States.

Donna Zaccaro :

All of a sudden, we were thrust into the national spotlight. So it was actually sort of terrifying. But, but again, thrilling. And it never occurred to me that she couldn't do the job.

Katie Hafner :

Hello, and welcome to Our Mothers Ourselves. This week is part two of my interview with Donna Zaccaro. She's a filmmaker, and her documentary paving the way is about her mother Geraldine Ferraro, who ran for vice president in 1984. On the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale, which feels like forever ago, Mondale lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. But as firsts go, Well, let me put it this way. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president, women had had the right to vote for only about sixty years in this country. So as you listen to this one, keep that in mind. So the convention speech, there's one part in it where it gets sort of intensely familial, and I want to play that for you and then I'm going to talk about it. I just because I keep thinking, Okay, I know what that means. You kind of think, okay, is that a platitude maybe I don't really know what that means. So here it is. I hope you can hear this:

Geraldine Ferraro :

Tonight, my husband John, and our three children are in this hall with me. To my daughters, Donna and Laura, and my son, John Jr. I say, My mother did not break faith with me. And I will not break faith with you.

Katie Hafner :

So the reason I played that is that it really goes to the core of what this podcast is all about.

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, it also actually was the most emotional part of the speech, I found. And I remember thinking, that was the, that was the point at which I had the hardest time maintaining my composure.

Katie Hafner :

Oh.

Donna Zaccaro :

Because that was a direct promise to us. But it was also, it was very even though obviously, it was very public, it was very personal. She was saying, I, I will stand by my, my ideals by who I am. I will remain loyal to you. And I've done that to my mother, and and really she's also saying I expect you to do that for me. And that's how she lived her life.

Katie Hafner :

And the fact that she really had to invoke her mother, such a huge part of her life.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

And the gratitude she felt to her mother. She gave her mother her college, when she got her college diploma, she handed it to her mother and said, "This is yours, actually-"

Donna Zaccaro :

"As much as mine." Yes, because her mother always felt badly about the fact that she didn't get the education that she had wanted, or an education. So and, and certainly, she kept her maiden name in honor of her mother. You know, my mother felt that she did everything, really, to some extent for her mother and also for her brother, who she, who had died in an accident and who she replaced.

Katie Hafner :

Mm hmm. Let's talk about the vice presidential nomination. And when your mom was picked, I remember it. I remember that it felt surreal. Because up until that point, presidential politics really was a white men's club.

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, first of all, she never thought that she was going to be asked to be Walter Mondale's running mate. There was plenty of talk about it, and speculation. But most people did not, and we certainly didn't, think that she was going to get the nod. She was very flattered to even, and honored even to be considered. So when she finally got the call, everybody was shocked and thrilled.

Katie Hafner :

And then when the call came, what were the circumstances of that? Do you remember?

Donna Zaccaro :

So she was in San Francisco. And it was right before the convention because there were the platform hearings. They were finalizing the platform. And she got a call that evening from Mr. Mondale asking her to be his running mate. And then she called each of us because none of us were there. My my sister and father immediately we're flying going to fly to Minnesota for the announcement the next morning. And I it didn't even occur to me to ask for the day off. Because I was in such a junior, you know as my first job, it was my first year. And I, I just thought well I'll go to the office, and and then we'll see what happens from there. So my, my boss actually kindly commandeered a television so I could watch the announcement from the office.

Katie Hafner :

Going back to the convention. You know, I keep I've listened to it a few times and, and watched it on YouTube. Can we just talk about the mood living vicariously since this year's conventions....

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, well, the the mood was electric and emotional and just so exciting. And it's, it's really a shame that Kamala couldn't experience that. It was a physic-, there was a physical manifestation. People were crying, I mean, I remember having chills.

Katie Hafner :

Let's see, how old were you at the time?

Donna Zaccaro :

Twenty two.

Katie Hafner :

And did it, did you have a sense of- Was it more of, this is my mother? Was it more, this is historic? Was it-

Donna Zaccaro :

Well it was kind of a combination of it all. I mean, all of a sudden, we were thrust into the national spotlight. So it was actually sort of terrifying. But, but again, thrilling. And it never occurred to me that she couldn't do the job.

Katie Hafner :

It never occurred to you.

Donna Zaccaro :

No, just because I knew that she could do anything that was put in front of her.

Katie Hafner :

As she had demonstrated.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, but also how she always- I don't think that she ever you know, I never asked her that question. But she, I know that she knew that she could be the vice president or the president. She never doubted herself. So I never asked her, "How did you know?" She just knew.

Katie Hafner :

Well, speaking of which, there was so much doubt cast on her. She took the brunt of so much for the women who came after. And she never flagged and there's one amazing scene. She's giving a press conference about your dad's finances. And she's saying to the reporters, "Guys, the President just gave a ten minute briefing on on the state of the world. And I've been here for an hour and a half answering your questions." She looked tired. She looked fed up. She continued to be patient. She continued to answer the questions.

Donna Zaccaro :

Well the point was to stay there as long as they wanted, answer every question until they had no more questions. But meanwhile, you know, here's the irony. These were my father's tax returns. They had kept their tax returns separate. And she was forced, they were forced to release his returns. Meanwhile, our president has never released his returns. And he is the president. The only silver lining in that whole thing was that she showed her grit and just how unflappable she was, and that a woman could be. And she, then during the debate when George H. W. Bush was then vice president, was so patronizing.

George H. W. Bush :

Let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon. Iran, we were held by a foreign government.

Geraldine 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. I've been a member of Congress for six years.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, she called him out. But she did it in a very measured and def- and sort of deferential way, and then she stated credentials. But she also, she was very concerned because, well, the criticisms still haven't changed so much in many ways. You know, so it's still the same criticisms that ,that women face. She didn't want to look shrill. She didn't want to look like a smart aleck, or too, or disrespectful. She wanted to look articulate, smart, knowledgeable, qualified. And she did.

Katie Hafner :

But what a tightrope walk.

Donna Zaccaro :

Mm hmm. Well, it's not so different than today. You know, you saw it certainly in the last presidential campaign. I mean, Hillary Clinton ran circles around Donald Trump. He didn't answer anything. And he had very little knowledge about anything going on in the world. And she would the biggest problem she had was going too deep into any particular issue, or policy. Being too wonky. You know, and then with him lurking behind her, she was torn. Do I turn around and say, "Get the -- away from me?" Or do I ignore it? And she decided to ignore it.

Katie Hafner :

There's a really poignant scene in the documentary you made about your mom, where she describes finally getting the chance to pull the lever to vote for a woman for president.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes. Um, my mother wasn't a very emotional person. As I said, she was very pragmatic. But one of, one of the things that would actually she would cry about it was her mother. She never got over the loss of her mother. But the other time that she got very emotional was when she had the opportunity to vote for Hillary Clinton. And that was in the primary, 2008. And she really thought she was going win. And she, she just felt the weight of the fact that she was going to be able to vote for a woman for president, and it really hit her.

Geraldine Ferraro :

When I walked into the booth on election day, she was going to do what I couldn't do. And I looked up at her name. And I swear, Susan B. Anthony was sitting beside me. It really- Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I'm sitting there saying to myself- But all of a sudden, all of a sudden I felt- that all of the work- had been done.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes. She, she wasn't emotional when she voted for herself, which was interesting. I think that that was because she didn't actually think she was going to win. So she would have been, she was devastated when Hillary didn't win the primary during that election cycle. And you know, one of the only good things about her not being around in 2016 was that she didn't have to suffer that loss because she would have been devastated.

Katie Hafner :

So when you say that your mom didn't think she'd win, was that all along? Or was it after they really just dragged her through it?

Donna Zaccaro :

Her being dragged through it didn't cause them not to win. She joined the ticket with Mondale, I think sixteen points behind. Sixteen to eighteen points behind. The initial excitement around her candidacy bumped them up. But, you know, it was a time when the economy was doing well. Reagan was really popular. They ran a really good campaign, and there was no reason to replace him. So even though Mondale and she were talking about issues that people should have cared about, you know, they, they just didn't. I mean I'll hunt- in my documentary it says you could have had Jesus Christ on the ticket with Walter Mondale and it still would have lost. So I mean, the attacks were effective in terms of stopping the momentum and, and muting some of the excitement, although she ended up with crowds with tens of thousands of people all the way through the entire campaign. But, as you know, people vote for the top of the ticket. They're not voting for vice president. And actually, the vice president has minimal impact, usually somewhere between two and four points. And a number of the studies that were done subsequent to that race showed that she actually had anywhere between, the highest number was something like five percent. So she did positively impact the ticket. But most importantly, she was very proud of how she conducted herself.

Katie Hafner :

Exactly. And she said that, that if she were had been told what she'd be going through for those six months, she wouldn't have chosen to do anything else.

Donna Zaccaro :

No, because she was always honored to have been given the opportunity to be the first. And to change what people thought was possible for women. You know, which she thought, even though even if they lost. Which, so even though they did lose. How she conducted herself showed that you could, you could have a woman in that position.

Katie Hafner :

Right. And for you, as a young woman to have that model for you. It's like role modeling writ large.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes. I think the emphasis on being able to do whatever you want to do. As long as you work hard, I, you know, I think that's shaped me my whole life. I've never, I've had lots of different careers. I've gone in a bunch of different directions. And I think I felt I have that agency, or I'm able to do that, because I was told I could. My entire life, I was never told I couldn't do something.

Katie Hafner :

That's what she modeled for you about what you could do. What would you say she expected you to do?

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, um, I guess the emphasis on education, you know, has always been there. So her mother told her when she came home with a 98, "That's fine for your temperature. But what happened to the other two points?" And expectations are high. So I think she shaped that. So there's a sense of public service. I'm also chair of the board of an organization called Eleanor's Legacy, which recruits, trains, and supports women running for office in New York State at all the different local levels. My brother is a lawyer and works in real estate with my father. But he's also mayor of the little town that we grew up going to in Fire Island. And that's a volunteer job, and he works incredible amount of time on it. And my sister's a doctor. She's a pediatrician, and she runs her local medical site, but she's also chair of the board of the whole medical group. So we're all trying to affect, you know, make our difference in the world in different ways. And my mother always said that however you do it is, is just fine. But you have to do something.

Katie Hafner :

And she meant it.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, she was also a tough mom. But she also, she didn't put up with a lot. And she was always in a rush. And she, she also felt like she could deal with whatever, so you should be able to deal with whatever. And I'm imagine, you know, my approaching my forty eighth birthday, and she was forty eight when she went ran for vice president. So I mean, you know, that's a lot to deal with.

Katie Hafner :

You know that that's a bit of a thread that has been through this entire 19th Amendment series is Liz Abzug-

Donna Zaccaro :

Mm hmm.

Katie Hafner :

And the Elizabeth Cady Stanton descendants, just the, kind of the expectations you then put on yourself.

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, well, or how do you find worth in yourself or a sense of accomplishment or achievement, when there's absolutely no way that you can, or it's, it would be highly unlikely that you could reach the level of achievement of your parent.

Katie Hafner :

Right, and when do you say to yourself, "you know, what I've done is okay, it's enough?"

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, I think that's the benefit of age. Honestly. I mean, when I turned fifty, I remember thinking that it was actually quite liberating because I was, I realized that finally at that point, when I was sort of reflecting on it, I felt like, well, what I've accomplished, and I still don't, I still want to do more documentaries. I don't feel like, I don't have enough under my belt. But you know, I'm, I'm okay with where I am. And so, I think there's something liberating, and that's the nice thing about getting older.

Katie Hafner :

So at the end of her life, she, so she lived with multiple myeloma for ten years?

Donna Zaccaro :

Twelve and a half. She was initially given a diagnosis of three to five years, and she lived with it for twelve and a half.

Katie Hafner :

One thing that struck me as just so wonderful in the, in the documentary was, um, you actually have footage of her in the doctor's office. And she was always wearing her pearls and her earrings and-

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes.

Katie Hafner :

Just was always put together.

Donna Zaccaro :

It's funny that you noticed that. No, she always felt that you dress for respect, actually. I think, you know, she, she never, she always she always dressed beautifully and cared about her appearance. You dress for the doctor's office. I mean casually, but nice casually. She always said, you know, you dress for the job you want. Or you always have self-respect and you dress because you respect your position. So, that was something that was always important.

Katie Hafner :

So what do you think her advice to Kamala would be?

Donna Zaccaro :

I think that my mother's advice to Kamala would be to stay true to yourself. Do everything you can do. And, um, not really anything different than what Kamala was already doing, and what she's always done. I mean, Kamala's a really hard worker, and she's a great campaigner. She'll be a great vice president.

Katie Hafner :

My last question is going to be about legacy. And what would you, if you were to point to maybe a less obvious legacy of your mom's what, what would it be?

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, I would hope- You know, one of the one of the lessons that I wanted people to come away with from the documentary was about the emphasis on, or the importance of talking to and working with people who have different points of view than you do. Respecting other points of view. And, and even you know, that was the story with George Bush. You know, even though they disagreed on so many things, on most things, or how to get there, many of their values were the same. And they actually ended up becoming, you know, dear friends. I mean, she would always say, though you disagree with them, you respect them. And you need to hear their other point, the other point of view to understand where they're coming from, in order to be able to find common ground. And that's how she managed to get as much done as she did, but it also gave her great joy.

Katie Hafner :

On that note, first, I'd like to say that I remember clear as day when your mom was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate. I knew it was historic, I got that. But I actually never really felt like I knew her until I saw the documentary, and until I just talked to you just now. So I want to thank you for that.

Donna Zaccaro :

Well, first of all, thank you so much for watching the documentary. And for keeping her legacy alive. You know, the, the reason I made the documentary was to both clarify her legacy and preserve it. And hopefully inspire others, or certainly the next generation, from the stories of her life, the lessons of her life, which I think still have obvious relevance to today.

Katie Hafner :

Which makes me think that people who are younger should definitely watch it because there's a certain age at which people just don't even know who she is, right?

Donna Zaccaro :

Yes, if you were under, if you're under forty four years old, you probably have no idea who she was.

Katie Hafner :

Mhm.

Donna Zaccaro :

But it's also interesting to see, you know, at different points in your life, it remains I think, timeless and relevant.

Katie Hafner :

Well, good luck with everything. And by the way, how's your dad?

Donna Zaccaro :

Thank you for asking. My dad is great. I see him probably once a week, you know, he misses her terribly. It's been nine years, and he goes to the cemetery every week to visit her. But otherwise he's fine. He's eighty seven, and, you know, happy that she's getting the attention she's getting now.

Katie Hafner :

Well, let's hope that pretty soon we see a woman become-

Donna Zaccaro :

Vice president, finally! And maybe even president someday!

Geraldine Ferraro :

I don't know what my greatest accomplishments are. To make it there, and there were little ones. But they were little ones in a whole bunch of different places. So, you know, for the next step for somebody else to pile up on. But I think that I've delivered. I've delivered on my mother's dream, and I've delivered for myself as well. There are things left to do. But it's done, sir, that I have to do them.

Katie Hafner :

And that's it this week for Our Mothers Ourselves. Our theme music is composed and performed by us Andrea Perry. Paula Mangin is our artist in residence. And the show's producer is Alice Hudson. If you'd like to contribute a word to the audio word montage that starts every episode, record the one word that best describes your mother and send it to [email protected] Our Mothers Ourselves is a production of Odradek Studios. I'm Katie Hafner, and I'm your host. Until next week, let's have the best week we can, given what we've got to work with. (This transcript was proofread by Benjy Wachter.)

My Mother Didn't Break Faith With Me
Getting the call
What was the Convention Like?
The debate with George Bush
Voting for Hillary Clinton
The impact of the vice presidential candidate
High Expectations
What would her advice to Kamala Harris be?
Your mom's legacy