Friday, March 21, 2014

My 1991 Interview with Geraldine Ferraro

Hank Stuever's review in Friday's Washington Post of a new Showtime documentary about 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro reminded me that I once interviewed her.

Rick Sincere interviews Geraldine Ferraro, 1991
The occasion was a Human Rights Campaign Fund (now Human Rights Campaign) fundraising dinner in late 1991. I was a correpondent for Gay Fairfax, a local TV magazine show in Northern Virginia that also appeared on various public-access cable channels around the country. The interview, which was cut away from excerpts of Ferraro's speech that night, was broadcast months later, on February 10, 1992.

At the time, Ferraro was embarking on a campaign to unseat then-Senator Alfonse D'Amato in New York. D'Amato was a Republican who had first been elected in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

As John Peter Olinger later noted about Ferraro's appearance at the HRCF banquet in an undated paper for the Rainbow History Project, "It was striking to watch as the crowd at the Human Rights Campaign dinner in 1992 [sic] cheered wildly as Geraldine Ferraro said she was running against Senator D’Amato and to realize that just six years later that same organization endorsed Senator D’Amato’s re-election."

As it turns out, the former congresswoman did not even win the Democratic primary to face D'Amato in November. She lost that election to New York attorney general Robert Abrams in a crowded field that also included pre-MSNBC Al Sharpton, New York City comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman, and U.S. Representative Robert Mrazek.

My interview was rather short (although, if you watch closely, you can see that some of it must have ended up on the cutting-room floor).  Note the references to Dick Cheney, who was then Secretary of Defense for President George H.W. Bush, and the military gay ban, which a little over two years later would become Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, with repeal two decades in the future.

Ferraro also refers to "the gay rights act," which I interpret to mean ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, another bill that has been in Congress for decades without being passed into law.

The first question I posed mentioned a book Ferraro was working on.  She notes that she had deferred finishing it while running for the Senate, but a search on reveals that no book by Ferraro on that topic -- tensions between the First and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution --  was ever published.

Here is a complete transcript, including introductions by Gay Fairfax anchors Beth Goodman and Dave Hughes.
Beth Goodman: Gay Fairfax correspondent Rick Sincere recently got an exclusive interview from Geraldine Ferraro at the 1991 Human Rights Campaign Fund banquet.

Dave Hughes: Miss Ferraro ran for the United States Senate in New York State. Rick asked her about her views on gay and lesbian issues.

Rick Sincere: Welcome to Gay Fairfax.

Geraldine Ferraro: Thank you.

Sincere: And welcome to the Human Rights Campaign Fund annual dinner.

One of the questions I'd like to ask you is about the book you're working on about the conflict between the First Amendment and privacy rights. Could you comment on how that relates to the question of outing and ...

Ferraro: It doesn't. It doesn't. What it is is it's a book on the tension between the first and sixth amendments. The sixth amendment is the right to a fair trial. I'm a former prosecutor and so out of my experiences over the last number of years, I've sat down and really tried to analyze how much of an impact a good deal of publicity has on a person's right to have a fair trial. But to be very honest, I'm not really writing the book anymore. I've put it aside; I'm now running for the United States Senate. That preoccupies all of my time so the book will be put on the back burner for another day. Perhaps after I'm in the Senate a couple of terms.

Sincere: Right. Give it another twelve years or so, you can get back to it. Tell us about your relationship to the gay and lesbian rights movement. You've been a long term, long-time supporter of gay rights and here you are the Human Rights Campaign Fund dinner. What do you think is top on the agenda for the gay and lesbian community?

Ferraro: Well, I think the issue of funding for AIDS research into to move along i think that's probably most immediate problem, I mean there are obviously others, the immigration laws, the gay rights act which is in the Senate and in the House, I'd like to see that moved.

But again, I think, evidently funding and finding a cure for a disease that is just destroying this nation.

Sincere: What do you think about the problem of the military's discrimination against gay men and lesbians? Do you think there's hope for movement in that direction?

I sure hope so. I think Secretary Cheney has a very good opportunity to make some significant rules on the issue now especially in light of the report that just came out that indicates that gays and lesbians have no impact on security, no problem with security. Take a look at what happened during Desert Storm, the number of people who served and served valiantly who are gays and lesbians.

I know Dick Cheney. He was in my class in the Congress. I think he is an honorable man, and I would hope that he would be also a man of conscience and would take a very close look at what's happening in the military.

We're facing some very, very tough times and we need the talents of all of our people. We shouldn't discriminate because of race or gender or sexual orientation or anything else, or religion. So I look forward to being able to talk a little bit tonight about the issue, and I look forward to being able to come down in the Senate and doing something about it.

You can watch Ferraro's speech, my interview, and a musical performance by an a capella group, The Flirtations, here on Gay Fairfax:

Ferraro passed away in 2011 at the age of 75. The new Showtime movie about her is called Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way. It is directed by her daughter, Donna Zaccaro.

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