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Kamala Harris

From left, Geraldine Ferraro, Ivan and Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The road to the election of a woman vice president of the United States is a long one, and with our newspapers, we have traveled it from the first nomination of a woman by a major party to today.

Geraldine Ferraro was the running mate of Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election and was supported after she was nominated by a majority of women, according to a Newsweek poll, 49% to 41%.  Men supported the Reagan-Bush ticket 58% to 36%.

In the end, despite a lively campaign that had Ferraro traveling 55,000 miles around the country and speaking in 85 cities, the Democratic ticket lost in a landslide, carrying only the underdog, Walter Mondale and his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

When I was president of the New York Press Association, it was my responsibility to arrange for the keynote speaker at our 1985, 500-member state convention. I mailed an invitation to Ferraro, and despite collegial assurances that she would not even read the letter herself, much less come, she delighted us by accepting. Indeed, she came to the hotel in Colonie, north of Albany center, for the entire weekend and was most generous with her time, including a productive shopping trip during break to the local mall on Saturday afternoon. She also gave my oldest son a private interview for his college newspaper.

Why did she agree to come? She felt poorly treated by the press throughout her campaign, and I had suggested that she might want to offer her impressions of how badly she was covered to us. Indeed, she did, in direct and no uncertain terms.

Ferraro, as you might guess, was a remarkable woman and politician. She was known for her breezy style and saucy manner, and when she felt patronized by Reagan’s vice presidential candidate, George H. W. Bush during the campaign, she memorably scolded him publicly. She was endearing in many ways. When introduced at public gatherings, if she liked the introduction music, she would break into a little dance behind the speaker’s platform before beginning her talk. She wore silk dresses and pearls but never flowers. When my husband, who was with me at the convention, brought both of us corsages to wear on stage, she declined most apologetically. “I’m not allowed to wear flowers,” she explained to our astonishment. “They are too feminine.”

As The New York Times described in her obituary in 2011, she was ideal for television. Down to earth, streaked blond hair, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich-making mother of three, she was appealing, I guess in the way of Doris Day. She was brought up by a single mother, who over the years, it was told, sewed beads on wedding dresses to pay for her daughter to attend good schools. And while Ferraro graduated from Fordham Law School, it was not until her own children were of school age that she started working in the Queens District Attorney’s office.

From 1979-1985, after serving as a criminal prosecutor, she was elected to the House of Representatives. Less combative than Representative Bella Abzug before her, she proved to be comfortable and well liked “by the boys,” especially House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Jr. And while she was more familiar with urban ward politics than foreign policy, for example, she was a quick study and learned what she needed to know at any given time.

Unfortunately, Ferraro was forced to hold a marathon news conference in the middle of the election, when her husband, John Zaccaro, was accused of financial misdealings, an event that certainly hurt the ticket.

Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1935, Ferraro was, to me, a phenomenon in a crowded room. She would stop and shake hands with every person as she walked along, look each one in the eye and within 30 seconds establish some common connection that brought a smile to each face. She was not only the first woman candidate for vice president of a major party but also the first Italian-American nominee. Kamala Harris stands on Geraldine Ferraro’s shoulders finally with her win.

Photo from Facebook

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

What’s new?” is a question asked regularly in newsrooms all across the country, as editors and reporters plan for the next edition. During the third week in August, the answer typically is, “Not much.” A lull usually sets in as people realize summer is coming to an end and this is a time to get in “last licks” of vacation before the world of serious work and school returns. But not this year. There has been nothing typical about 2020. This year will go down in the history books as unique.

Here are some of the major themes in the news today: the progress of the coronavirus as it rages across the south and west; the ongoing damage to the economy the pandemic has caused; recognition of systemic racism in our nation and the protests that has engendered; attitudes toward the police; the growing crisis in the postal service alarming voters; the announcement of explicit diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) without first a settlement of the Palestinian question; the immigration issue again in focus with the selection of Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice presidential ticket mate; the changing face of America that nomination reflects; the reopening of schools; the reevaluation of a college degree vs. its costs precipitated by the prospect of Zoom classes and of course the Democratic National Convention held primarily via the internet.

Notice I didn’t even list the damage caused by Isaias; the increasingly troubling relationship between the United States and China; the windstorms that wrecked Iowa’s coming harvest; the abdication of Congress in the face of public desperation for fiscal stimuli; the grand centennial celebration of the 19th amendment concerning women’s right to vote; the defiance of the current recession by the stock market; and the rush of New York City residents to buy houses in the suburbs and settle in for the long haul. And that’s just some issues.

Almost all of these themes to some degree directly affect us here on Long Island. The one I would like to expand on, perhaps because it is the least confrontational and we have had enough confrontation for now, is the rapid change in American demographics.

The last big wave of immigrants, who arrived at the turn of the 20th century, was largely from Eastern and Southern Europe. This time, the surge is made up of second generation Americans — the children of immigrants who came from around the world. In California, for example, almost half of the children are from immigrant homes of Asians, Hispanics and those who are biracial. For the first time in our country’s history, whites make up less than half under the age of 16, according to the Brookings Institute. According to The New York Times, more than a quarter of all Americans are immigrants or the American-born children of immigrants, the latter representing “about 10 percent of the adult population.” About 42 million adults, or one in six of the country’s 250 million adults, are foreign-born.

What are the consequences of this shift in population?

This is nothing short of a transformation of this country’s identity “from a mostly white baby-boomer society into a multiethnic and racial patchwork,” according to The Times. “Boomers are 71.6 percent white, Millennials are 55 percent white, and post-Gen Z, those born after 2012 are 49.6 percent white … The parents of these modern children are from the Caribbean, China, Central America and Mexico” as well as India, Korea and more. They often came with higher education, mainly as a result of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, but it’s their children who are moving into public life. They tend to feel “very patriotic about America,” according to Suhas Subramanyam, born of Indian parents who became the first Indian-American to be elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

This mix of immigrants brings cultural richness and energy to our society, not to mention great new foods.