Geraldine Ferraro’s place in American history has been secured for nearly three decades.
And on Sunday, the city renamed a patch of Forest Hills where she walked with her husband, shopped and chatted with her neighbors for 37 years in her honor and loving memory.
Ferraro’s husband, John Zaccaro, her children and grandchildren were present as the intersection of Austin Street and Ascan Avenue was officially renamed Geraldine Ferraro Way.
Ferraro — the former school teacher, Assistant Queens District Attorney and U.S. congresswoman from the 9th District — was the first woman to run for vice president of the United States on a major party ticket, teaming with Democratic nominee and former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984.
Mondale lost in a 49-state shellacking to President Ronald Reagan. But Ferraro endured as a popular and forceful figure in the Democratic party, particularly on issues of women’s rights.
Ferraro died in March, 2011 after a 12-year battle with cancer. She was 75 years old.
City Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) sponsored and pursued the measure, which she said passed unanimously in the council.
“When Karen called me I was so happy,” Zaccaro said in an interview prior to the ceremony. “She would have been thrilled.”
Koslowitz said Mondale was invited but was unable to attend.
Zaccaro said it was doubly special to him as he grew up and lived in Forest Hills and Forest Hills Gardens for 67 years.
“I went to school right here,” he said, indicating Out Lady Queen of Martyrs over his right shoulder. “We wouldn’t have sold our house if she hadn’t gotten sick.”
One of Ferraro’s granddaughters, 16-year-old Natalie Ullman, said it was strange at first to recognize the Geraldine Ferraro the rest of the country knew.
“I knew about Geraldine Ferraro, and what she did, but I always knew her as Gammy,” she said. “Then one day I was in school looking through my history book. I was bored. All of a sudden I opened to her page.”
She said her grandmother was not one for making cookies.
“But she made great pasta,” Natalie said. “And the best fillet of sole ever.”
John Zaccaro Jr. also said he could not have been more proud, and is confident that his own children — ages 13, 11, and 5 — will come to fully appreciate their grandmother’s historic legacy. “After they’re older, and have been out in the world a little,” he said.
Koslowitz, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, former Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Borough President Helen Marshall all fondly remembered Ferraro as a friend, as well as someone who broke down doors for women in the workplace as well as politics.
“Before Gerry, a woman could only be a district leader in Queens,” Marshall said.
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said her son’s old bedroom still has the Mondale-Ferraro bumper sticker he got while working at the San Francisco convention as a teenager in 1984.
“I just wasn’t going to paint over it,” she said.
Other dignitaries who came out only a few hours in advance of Hurricane Sandy included Assemblywoman and Congressional candidate Grace Meng (D-Flushing), city Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, state Assemblyman Michael Den Dekker (D-Jackson Heights), Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said women were not the only people able to walk through the door Ferraro kicked down.
“Without Geraldine Ferraro, there would be no Senator Jose Peralta,” he said.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who is openly gay, said he too is an admirer and beneficiary of the late congresswoman.
“She embraced LGBT rights long before it was popular,” Dromm told the crowd.
Roberta Dunlop came from Warwick in upstate New York to attend. She worked with Ferraro in the Queens DA’s office at a time when it was still largely a boys’ club.
“We were sworn in together as assistant DAs on January 2, 1974,” Dunlop said. “She was a great person ... I found out about the ceremony from a friend. I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”
Addie Guttag, who met Ferraro while working as a fundraiser for the Mondale campaign in 1984, said she continues to be amazed at how Ferraro was still able to maintain her focus in family during a national presidential campaign.
Katz, who is the mother of two young boys with Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa and is seeking to restart her political career with a run for Queens borough president, said mixing a political career with family was the subject of her last conversation with Ferraro.
Katz was pregnant with her first son, Carter, and told Ferraro at the time she was planning to raise the child herself.
Her mentor and friend counseled Katz not to concern herself with public reaction, in the typical Geraldine Ferraro way oh so familiar to everyone present on Sunday.
“She said ‘They’ll just have to deal with it!’”