Published December 23, 2015
Geraldine Ferraro, who became the first woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket in 1984 -- only to lose in a landslide -- died Saturday. She was 75.
Ferraro died at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was being treated for blood cancer, a disease she battled for 12 years, her family said.
Ferraro "was widely known as a leader, a fighter for justice, and a tireless advocate for those without a voice," her family said. "To us, she was a wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, a woman devoted to and deeply loved by her family. Her courage and generosity of spirit throughout her life waging battles big and small, public and personal, will never be forgotten and will be sorely missed."
Ferraro is survived by her husband of 50 years; her three children and their spouses; and her eight grandchildren.
Ferraro was a Fox News contributor and a fixture on the national political stage ever since Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale plucked her from obscurity as a Queens congresswoman to join his ticket in 1984 against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Delegates in San Francisco erupted in cheers at the first line of her speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination.
"My name is Geraldine Ferraro," she declared. "I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us."
Her acceptance speech launched eight minutes of cheers, foot-stamping and tears.
Ferraro sometimes overshadowed Mondale on the campaign trail, often drawing larger crowds and more media attention than the presidential candidate.
But controversy accompanied her acclaim. Frequent, vociferous protests of her favorable view of abortion rights marked the campaign.
Ferraro's run also was beset by ethical questions, first about her campaign finances and tax returns, then about the business dealings of her husband, John Zaccaro. Ferraro attributed much of the controversy to bias against Italian-Americans.
Mondale said he selected Ferraro as a bold stroke to counter his poor showing in polls against Reagan and because he felt America lagged far behind other democracies in elevating women to top leadership roles.
"The time had come to eliminate the barriers to women of America and to reap the benefits of drawing talents from all Americans, including women," Mondale said.
In the end, Reagan won 49 of the 50 states, the largest landslide in nearly half a century.
"Though we were one-time political opponents, I am happy to say Gerry and I became friends in time -- a friendship marked by respect and affection," Bush said in a statement. "I admired Gerry in many ways, not the least of which was the dignified and principled manner she blazed new trails for women in politics."
In the years after the presidential race, Ferraro told interviewers that she would have not have accepted the nomination had she known how it would focus criticism on her family.
"You don't deliberately submit people you love to something like that," she told presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in an interview in Ladies Home Journal. "I don't think I'd run again for vice-president," she said, then paused, laughed and said, "Next time I'd run for president."
Zaccaro pleaded guilty in 1985 to a misdemeanor charge of scheming to defraud in connection with obtaining financing for the purchase of five apartment buildings. Two years later he was acquitted of trying to extort a bribe from a cable television company.
Ferraro's son, John Zaccaro Jr., was convicted in 1988 of selling cocaine to an undercover Vermont state trooper and served three months under house arrest.
Some observers said legal troubles involving her husband and son were a drag on Ferraro's later political ambitions, which included her unsuccessful bids for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in New York in 1992 and 1998.
Sarah Palin, the first woman to run as a Republican vice-presidential nominee, said that when she and Ferraro worked together on election night in November, they discussed their hopes of seeing one day a woman president shatter the final glass ceiling.
"She broke one huge barrier and then went on to break many more," Palin said in a statement. "The world will miss her. May she rest in peace and may her example of hard work and dedication to America continue to inspire all women."
Ferraro, a supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton, was back in the news in March 2008 when she stirred up a controversy by appearing to suggest that Sen. Barack Obama achieved his status in the presidential race only because he's black.
She later stepped down from an honorary post in the Clinton campaign, but insisted she meant no slight against Obama.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., called Ferraro "a path-breaking figure. She made an indelible mark on our nation's history. She was my very dear friend. I will greatly miss her. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family at this wrenching time."
Ferraro received a law degree from Fordham University in 1960, the same year she married Zaccaro and became a full-time homemaker and mother. She said she kept her maiden name to honor her mother, a widow who had worked long hours as a seamstress.
After years in a private law practice, she took a job as an assistant district attorney in the New York City borough of Queens in 1974. She headed the office's special victims' bureau, which prosecuted sex crimes and the abuse of children and the elderly. In 1978, she won the first of three terms in Congress representing a blue-collar district of Queens.
After losing in 1984, she became a fellow of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University until an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate nomination in 1992.
She returned to the law after her 1992 Senate run, acting as an advocate for women raped during ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
Her advocacy work and support of President Bill Clinton won her the position of ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, where she served in 1994 and 1995.
She co-hosted CNN's "Crossfire," in 1996 and 1997 but left to take on Chuck Schumer, then a little-known Brooklyn congressman, in the 1998 Democratic Senate primary in New York. She placed a distant second, declaring her political career finished after she took 26 percent of the vote to Schumer's 51 percent.
In June 1999, she announced that she was joining a Washington, D.C., area public relations firm to head a group advising clients on women's issues.
Ferraro revealed two years later that she had been diagnosed with blood cancer. She discussed blood cancer research before a Senate panel that month and said she hoped to live long enough "to attend the inauguration of the first woman president of the United States."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.