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January 28, 2023

Sen. Mikulski pays dues to late Ferraro at screening

By ELLIE PENATI | February 20, 2014

Last Wednesday, Hopkins hosted a screening of Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way in Hodson Hall. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Donna Zaccaro, director of the documentary and the daughter of Ferraro, were in attendance and answered questions from the audience after the showing.

The film chronicles the political ascent of Ferraro, who passed away in 2011, from a working-class Bronx student to the first female vice presidential candidate and highlighted the paths she trailblazed for younger women.

Director Zaccaro’s film tells Ferraro’s powerful story through the use of rare archival footage, as well as interviews with notable figures who knew Ferraro personally such as former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others.

Born into a working-class family and eventually moving to the Bronx with her widowed mother, Ferraro learned the importance of education and applying oneself in her youth. The film describes how Ferraro worked her way up from a bright student at Marymount School to an Assistant District Attorney in Queens County. She later became a congresswoman from New York State and was famously picked to be the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984 — the first female major party ticket nominee in U.S. history.

Those interviewed in the film attest to the power and influence Ferraro had on the American public and in the political arena. Many spoke of how Ferraro encouraged women to see themselves differently in every sector of the U.S. workforce and inspired them to run for political office.

Many fellow politicians in the film also spoke to the novel way in which Ferraro approached politics; they say she did not treat issues in strictly a partisan way but rather asked whether she was taking the ‘right’ or the ‘wrong’ position.

Ferraro and her running mate, 1984 Democratic Presidential Nominee Walter Mondale, lost the election to incumbent President Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, many consider her career to have been more than a success given the barriers she broke.

Present for the event, Senator Barbara Mikulski emphasized the incredible career and life story of Ferraro. Mikulski was a long-time friend of Ferraro in and outside of Congress. Mikulski has also been a source of inspiration for women in politics: she was the first woman in the Democratic Party to be elected without her husband having served before her and is the longest serving woman in Congressional history.

Mikulski spoke of how when Ferraro arrived in Washington, it was the prime time for a woman to make her way into politics.

“Up until 1968, most of the women who were elected to the House of Representatives came from typically aristocratic families, and I don’t in any way minimize their accomplishments, but they weren’t scrappy and they didn’t identify themselves as social activists, and they didn’t embrace a role of being women’s rights advocates,” Mikulski said.

Mikulski also made clear that Ferraro’s political ascent was not random.

“Then it came 1984, and it was time for a woman to be on the ticket, and ‘The A-Team’, a group of women inside and outside of the house, was formed and prodded this effort to get Ferraro on the platform committee because we knew once she was there, her career was launched,” Mikulski said.

But, as highlighted in the film, once Ferraro rose swiftly in the ranks, she encountered many obstacles. Reagan’s campaign launched several attacks that personally targeted her background and platform. Questions and whispers about her husband’s personal business and her Italian American background weakened popular support for her.

Mikulski nonetheless emphasized the strength of Ferraro’s resolve.

“What impressed me about [Ferraro] and politics is that she never gave up and never gave in. Geraldine was a fighter. She fought not only to get herself elected, she really learned to help her constituents and make a difference. She really wanted to work on the bread and butter issues that a House of Representatives member does but at the same time she knew that she was a historic figure. She knew that she was making that difference,” Mikulski said.

Zaccaro further testified to the strength of her mother’s character and significance.

“During the attacks in the 1984 campaign, [Ferraro] showed that she could be a leader and my thesis is that how she conducted herself during that campaign had an impact in what people thought was possible for women in that time and changed things even though they lost,” Zaccaro said.

In addition to her persistence, which set Ferraro apart from the rest, she was also well known for the way in which she went beyond partisan borders and dealt with opposition.

“She worked within the existing system and reached across the aisle to get things done. I wanted to put in the bit about her relationship with President Bush because I wanted to show that you can disagree with people and yet still respect them and in some cases even really like them,” Zaccaro said.

By displaying the ways in which Ferraro deftly overcame political adversity, the film ultimately reminded the viewers of her impact upon women, not just in politics but in all fields.

“I don’t know a lot about politics, but I think that something like this is really important, especially for me as someone in the film industry where women face a lot of the same challenges as [they do in] politics and government,” junior Andrea Massaro said.

Sophie Adelman, who is a speechwriter for Mikulski, drew attention to the historical significance of both Ferraro and Mikulski as major drivers for greater female representation in the government.

“In order to appreciate how far we have come as women, its more important now than ever to recognize the achievements of women who have come before us,” Adelman said. “These were women who were the only women at the table at the halls of power and that’s an incredible place to be and its because of them that we can sit at classrooms like this and that we can ask questions and have options and really be whoever we want to be. It’s one of the reasons why I feel so lucky to work for the Senator and one of the reasons why I feel so lucky that Ferraro’s legacy is being perpetuated in this wonderful film.”

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