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Gerry from Queens’: Can She Beat ‘Senator Pothole’?

She went from one end of the country to the other, drawing huge crowds who had come out to see her — not necessarily to vote for the Democratic presidential ticket — but to witness a piece of history. And her first words to these crowds were always, "Hi, I’m Gerry from Queens."
The 1984 candidacy of Geraldine Ferraro for vice president of the United States put this borough on the national map. TV crews parked their trucks on the normally quiet Deepdene Street in tranquil Forest Hills Gardens to find out about the person who lived on that block and had just become the first women to be nominated for the second highest job in America.
People in other parts of the country remarked and were amused by what they called "her Queens accent."The Democratic Convention in San Francisco roared at her first appearance before them after her nomination — a moment of enormous significance for women of all political stripes. The white dress she wore at that moment is today on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Immediately after the Convention, the first stop for the Democratic ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro was in Ferraro’s backyard with a huge rally on the steps of Borough Hall on Queens Blvd.
Ferraro held her own in a one-on-one debate with Republican vice president George Bush.There were many tumultuous moments in the campaign but the Mondale campaign went crashing down under the landslide re-election of Ronald Reagan and Bush.
Having given up on her chance to run for re-election to her Queens congressional seat, Ferraro returned to a private life that was punctuated by appearances inPepsi commercials and a shot at Al D’Amato’s U.S. Senate seat. The four candidate Democratic primary in 1992 became mixed in allegations so viscious that Ferraro narrowly lost to Attorney General Robert Abrams who was later easily defeated by D’Amato. Most recently Ferraro took a stint as one of the panelists on CNN’s "Crossfire."
So last Monday there was a feeling that a person who had become basically a piece of the American past has stepped out of the history books to plunge back into the rough and tumble of big time politics, announcing that she would enter the Democratic primary this year with the ultimate aim of taking on the pit bull of American politics — Alfonse D’Amato — one on one.
One thing at her announcement press conference at the Sheraton Hotel this week demonstrated the lasting power of her historic past. There were over 15 news crews from around the country and hordes of reporters — a media turnout that even stunned Ferraro’s own aides.
Pity her two challengers in the upcoming Democratic primary, Congressman Charles Schumer and Public Advocate Mark Green. When they made their announcements of candidacy for the Senate there was barely a ripple through the state’s newsrooms.
"Gerry from Queens"proved on that first day that she has celebrity power going for her. The fact that she will be the only woman in the primary race and the only ItalianCatholic is seen as a big plus. Her views on abortion (she’s pro-choice) and the death penalty (she’s for it)appear to be the kind of positions that will play well upstate as well as downstate.
Also her Queens roots are viewed by many political pundits as a positive. It’s hard to paint her as a typical New York liberal when she comes from a borough that upstaters can relate to. Her middle class roots as a daughter of immigrants, her career as housewife and parent, teacher, prosecutor, Congresswoman and commentator are also positives.
However it looks like the peace out at Forest Hills Gardens is once again going to be disturbed — big time. This campaign is almost certain to be a bumpy ride.
First, there are the many problems. Schumer has $8 million in the bank and he is a vigorous, media-savvy candidate. Mark Green has about a million dollars in his campaign coffers, but he is a proven vote getter in the city — his latest win last November even topped Rudy Giuliani’s margin of victory. Ferraro, at this point, has no funds for her campaign.
Next, the 1992 Senate primary was a bruising event, where allegations about Ferraro’s husband’s business dealings and a drug conviction of her son became so much a part of the campaign that she came in second to Abrams.
But even if all three Democratic candidates can manage the miraculous feat of avoiding personal attacks — as they all have solemnly pledged this week — there is looming in the victor’s future the daunting presence of "Senator Pothole" himself, Al D’Amato.
And if Ferraro had any doubts about the ferocity of "The Fonz"(as D’Amato is somewhat affectionately called)they were dashed this week when in the days after her announcement, television ads were appearing on just about every station attacking her role on "Crossfire" by saying "Ferraro’s on the left side — but D’Amato’s on your side."
Attack ads on Ferraro actually started arriving over a month before she even became a candidate, ridiculing her position on education.On day three of her campaign, members of D’Amato’s team began leaking stories that Ferraro has links to the mob through controversial union leader Arthur Coia, who hosted a lavish birthday party for her at the 1996 convention.
Ferraro shot back that the charges were "appalling." She said,"You’re seeing a knee-jerk reaction immediately from the D’Amato camp. I think they’re worried about the election and it’s an indication that D’Amato is going to run a smear campaign."
In fact Ferraro warned D’Amato, and presumably her Democratic opponents, about making veiled ethnic slurs or unfounded charges of corruption and mob-influence, during her announcement speech on Monday. "My message to D’Amato and to anyone who would engage in the old politics of smear:I’ve been in the crossfire — and the D’Amato tactics could never deter me from running or standing up for the real concerns of New Yorkers,"Ferraro said.
Meanwhile the so-called "housewife from Queens" spent last week conferring with advisors and family in her tudor-style home in Forest Hills before making the plunge back into the political pool. She resigned from her lucrative position on Crossfire and immediately began making the phone calls to raise the money.
"My finger is going to get a lot of exercise in the next few weeks,"Ferraro told The Queens Courier. "It’s a process that I find so distasteful — asking people for money and it really makes me feel strongly about the need for campaign finance reform."Her current status in the polls (she’s 23 points ahead of Green, 46 points ahead of Schumer and leads D’Amato by 52 percent to 38 percent) should help her fledgling fundraising efforts.
Will Ferraro miss the quieter life in Queens now that the campaign is underway. "Yeah, I do love going to the supermarket on Austin St. and generally just chatting with the neighbors Imeet on the street, but I had never really retired,"she said. After her defeat in the ’92 Senate race she took a top job with a major law firm, but quit it when it decided to represent Libya in the Pan Am bombing.
She got appointed byPresident Clinton as a U.N. envoy on human rights and began her work on "Crossfire" in 1996.
While her house and hearth have always been in Queens, her heart has been burning for years to serve in the House — the Senate, specifically, in Washington.
"Gerry comes from Queens, but boy, she can see it all," said Rep. Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut. "Gerry knows she can add to the national scene. When I first met her in 1981, she would talk about running for the Senate,"she added.
While a part of her past may be entombed in the halls of the Smithsonian,Geraldine Ferraro is setting out once again for a rocky ride from Forest Hills to Capitol Hill.

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