Every school child in this country learns that George Washington was the first President of the United States. What they don’t learn is that George Washington was actually the ninth man to be called President in the history of this country. Washington was the first under the current U.S. Constitution, but eight other men served as “President” under the Article of Confederation with Marylander, John Hanson being the first elected after the adoption of the Articles in 1781.
Being first assures recognition, but it does not always ensure success. That brings me to the late Geraldine Ferraro, who passed away yesterday. She was a trailblazer on the national stage when she became the first woman nominated by a major national party for the office of Vice-President of the United States. Like Sarah Palin who would be nominated 24 years later for the same office, Ferraro’s campaign rallies often outdrew the man at the top of the ticket. And like Palin, Ferraro’s party lost the election. But that’s where the similarity between Palin and Ferraro ends.
Ferraro was a teacher, a lawyer and a successful Assistant D.A for Queens County, New York. She served three terms in the House of Representatives before getting the Democratic nomination for Vice-President. After her defeat, she remained active in politics, but never held elective office again. Later, she was appointed by President Clinton to be an Ambassador to the United Nation Commission on Human Rights.
During her lifetime, she was plagued by allegations of ethics violations, nepotism and financial improprieties. Nevertheless, hers was a life of service to others. She lamented during the 2008 campaign after Sarah Palin’s nomination that “It’s great to be the first, but I don’t want to be the only.”
Some day a woman, representing a national party, will run for and win the top national office. But she will do so only because of the groundbreaking effort of Geraldine Ferraro. Ferraro was first and she was a public service success.