On Sunday, October 28, a ceremony in her honor took center stage, as a result of the vision of Forest Hills Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, and in collaboration with other elected officials, community group representatives, and family members and friends of Ferraro.
Koslowitz recognized Ferraro as “a tireless advocate, dedicated public servant, and a pioneer who broke through gender gaps, and energized a generation of women through her historic nomination as Vice President.”
From 1967 to 2002, Ferraro lived with her family at 22 Deepdene Road in Forest Hills Gardens. Just as constituents greeted her on the intersection of Austin Street and Ascan Avenue, now passersby will reminisce and feel empowered by the newly installed “Geraldine Ferraro Way” sign.
A modern piece of history is now accompanied by historic street names. This ceremony and installation is a historic first for a political figure in Forest Hills.
Ferraro fought a brave battle against blood cancer, and the nation mourned her passing on March 26, 2011, at the age of 75. She is fondly recalled by family, friends, constituents, supporters, and elected officials for her political roles as a triple-term Queens Congresswoman for the 9th Congressional District from 1979 through 1985, and for being the first female and vice president candidate for a major party.
In 1984, it was former Vice President Walter Mondale, who chose her as his running mate, but Republican incumbents President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush achieved victory.
Ferraro graduated from Marymount Manhattan College in 1956, and earned her B.A. in English. She was an elementary school teacher in Astoria by day, while attending evening classes at Fordham University, where she earned a law degree in 1960.
That same year, she married John Zaccaro. She chose to stay home to raise their children, while having a pro-bono private law practice. Prior to serving in the House of Representatives in the late 1970s, she began her first full-time political position as an assistant district attorney in Queens County in 1974, where she founded a special victims bureau, and supervised the prosecution of domestic violence, crimes against seniors, child abuse, and sex crimes.
In 1981, Ferraro co-sponsored the Economic Equity Act by advocating for women’s economic rights, calling for equal pay in wages and pensions for men and women. She also advocated for elderly women.
From 1993 through 1996, she served as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which she achieved as a result of her advocacy role for President Bill Clinton. In 1999, Ferraro joined a public relations organization in Washington, D.C., to advise clients on women’s issues.
To commemorate the late Geraldine Ferraro, elected officials and Ferraro’s family delivered speeches in front of nearly 50 onlookers on a closed-off road on the south side of Austin Street and Ascan Avenue near the LIRR.
History-in-the-making was complemented by the historic background of the Kennedy House, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, and Sutton Hall. The harmonious opening consisted of the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner. Some officials who spoke included Council members Karen Koslowitz, Daniel Dromm, and Elizabeth Crowley, Borough President Helen Marshall, State Assembly members Andrew Hevesi, Grace Meng and Michael DenDekker, State Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Jose Peralta, Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
Everyone who attended reflected upon Ferraro’s passion for people and her establishment of some historic firsts for women. Ferraro’s son, John Anthony Zaccaro, Jr. felt honored that his parents were Queens residents for 67 years, and that his mother met six of seven grandchildren.
“Queens was her community, and she instilled in her children to be a part of it,” he said. “Now my whole family is community-serving and active in charity. This is where she taught, and served.” He remembered his mother as “a very loyal, hardworking, passionate, and supportive person with a larger than life personality.”
Ferraro’s widower, John Zaccaro, reinforced his family’s long residency and devotion to Forest Hills, and mentioned he was a student at the nearby Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parochial School. Zaccaro met his future wife when she was 17, and they attended Marymount Manhattan College. He reminisced how Ferraro was “a smart, unique, and good person.”
Ferraro’s dear friend, Dr. Aileen Riotto Sirey, is the chair of the National Organization of Italian American Women. Sirey referenced how Ferraro helped create that 32 year-old organization, and how she has been a memorable inspiration to Italian American women among women at large.
“There weren’t too many women in Congress at a time when she was elected,” Sirey said. “People would stop and talk to her when we shopped, and she was always available. She had a sincere concern for our well-being.”
“Geraldine Ferraro was a trailblazer and an advocate for justice, and a voice for the voiceless,” said Peralta. “She personified Queens’ full potential and what it meant to live up to it. Without a Geraldine Ferraro, there wouldn’t be a Senator Jose Peralta breaking the barriers.”
“I can’t help but remember that day in San Francisco when Gerry was standing in her white coat and speaking,” said Marshall. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in that great convention center. Mondale didn’t go through. If he didn’t go through, she didn’t go through, but she kept on going and served us as a great Congresswoman.”
“I was a delegate that night in San Francisco when Gerry accepted the nomination,” recalled Stavisky. “I felt so proud. I was the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate, and it’s because of people like Geraldine Ferraro. Today we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us. This is a bittersweet moment, but it tells you that people remember and care.”
“This is a perfect place for the street renaming,” said Meng. “People of all levels of stature passed through this corner; people with fancy titles or no titles, and little kids; our future leaders. It’s wonderful to pass through here every day, and remember how we can try to emulate her in our daily lives, personally and professionally.”
On a conclusive note for great personal and professional teachings marking Ferraro’s legacy, new beginnings were witnessed as the crowd gazed up at the lampost for the unveiling of the “Geraldine Ferraro Way” sign. It was followed by a cheer.
This emotionally noble vision and sound will be forever etched in our hearts, and for the future of those who walk in her path locally or nationally.