NEW YORK — For years, Geraldine A. Ferraro was a Democratic politician, eventually becoming the first woman nominated as vice president by either major political party. Then she became a media star--the voice on the left for CNN's contentious "Crossfire" program.
Now, she's back in politics.
At three press conferences around the state Monday, the former congresswoman from Queens announced her plans to challenge Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato--a possible contest between two sharp-tongued politicians that could focus the national debate on such issues as education and health care.
"I believe this high office requires more than being Sen. Pothole," Ferraro said, referring to D'Amato's nickname as an expert in dealing with even the most mundane constituent complaints. "It demands a genuine, continuing commitment to repair the holes in our social fabric and to chart a road into the future that offers all New Yorkers, and all Americans, an opportunity to earn a better life."
Ferraro, who lost a bitter three-way Democratic primary for the same Senate job six years ago, starts this race with polls showing her ahead of all contenders, including D'Amato.
One poll showed Ferraro, 62, with a 14 percentage point lead over the 60-year-old D'Amato. She also is considered the front-runner against the other Democratic contenders: New York City's public advocate Mark Green, once an acolyte of Ralph Nader; and Rep. Charles E. Schumer, a moderate Democrat from Brooklyn.
In the 1992 Democratic primary, as in her run for the vice presidency in 1984, Ferraro's opponents focused their attacks on her husband John A. Zaccaro's business dealings and hinted that he was somehow connected to the Mafia. One candidate in 1992 campaigned against her by waving a Village Voice headline that said: "What You Don't Know About Ferraro and the Mob."
At the time, Ferraro called these charges "garbage" and "ethnic slurs." But this time she seemed unfazed as the questions surfaced from reporters at her opening press conference. Ferraro said that she did not expect these old charges to hold much water, since she had received clearances from the FBI and the State Department for jobs as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and as a board member for a defense intelligence operation.
D'Amato, who will be seeking his fourth-term, is best known around the nation for his tenacious efforts to investigate President Clinton's connection to the Whitewater investment scandal and his efforts to uncover assets of Holocaust victims in Swiss banks.
At this stage, he has $10 million ready for his reelection campaign. Schumer, an expert fund-raiser, has $8 million, his campaign said, and Green's advisors estimate that he has raised $1.4 million. Ferraro, who was not allowed to raise campaign funds while she was working for CNN, quit the network on Sunday. She said she hopes to raise $5.5 million for the primary campaign.
Ferraro told reporters that she was not worried about any barbs from her opponents, even as D'Amato's supporters already were trumpeting their view that Ferraro represents "the loony left wing of the Democratic Party."
For anyone "who would engage in the old politics of smear," she said, her message is: "I've been in the cross-fire, and the D'Amato tactics could never deter me from running or standing up for the real concerns of New Yorkers."