ALMOST A BRIDESMAID
AS THE FIRST WOMAN EVER NOMINATED FOR viCE PRESIDENT ON A MAJOR PARTY TICKET, Geraldine Ferraro knew she would be in the media spotlight. She figured she could handle the media attention in the 1984 presidential race because she had weathered a nasty congressional race six years earlier. But she didn't know how bad it would get. She was scrutinized as a woman and as an ItalianAmerican, and news stories linked her and her family with organized crime. "I hadn't been worried. We had nothing to hide," she says. "Never did I anticipate the fury of the storm we ... found ourselves in."
Journalistic investigations into her personal life were the start of the media preoccupation with the so-called "character issue," she says, in which candidates' motives and personal life are examined as a way of seeing whether they can withstand the stresses of public life. "They say it started with Gary Hart," says Ferraro, "but it didn't. It started with me." She observes that Dan Quayle appeared to have an awfully short memory when he said no vice presidential candidate had ever been attacked as viciously as he had. And Ferraro's former administrative assistant, Eleanor Lewis, says in hindsight that the media attacks on Ferraro were just the tip of the iceberg of media hostility toward political candidates that emerged fully during the 1992 presidential election.
Ferraro was a three-term congresswoman from Queens when a group of five politically active women decided she would make a good vice presidential candidate and began laying the groundwork in 1983 for public acceptance of a female contender. They knew the media would be instrumental in creating a political climate favorable to a woman's nomination. The women, calling themselves "Team A," developed a two-part strategy designed to get the Democratic Party to put a woman on the ticket in 1984. But first they had to persuade Ferraro to take the idea seriously. Ironically, Ferraro was initially skeptical that a woman would be acceptable on the ticket. She wasn't alone. Former representative Barbara Jordan, in a National Public Radio interview with Su