The 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco made history by nominating Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as Walter Mondale’s running mate. Here are edited excerpts of interviews with convention participants conducted over the past 12 years.
I talked to Ted Kennedy and told him that he should be the keynote speaker and endorse Mondale. Andrew [Cuomo] and I and Timmy [Russert] were in a room, and I called Mondale, and he said, “No.” He said, “If you want to do me a favor, you’ll be the keynote speaker.” I hung up the phone, and Timmy said, “Geez, I wonder why he wants to you to be the keynoter?” I said, “Isn’t it obvious? When was the last time a keynote speaker was a success?” We decided to do it, but not happily.
There were speakers before me; one was Ed Koch, another was Jimmy Carter. They both told me, “The audience—they’re rowdy, not listening. Forget about it; just get through with it.” I thought, here comes the execution. But it was obvious from the beginning of that speech that they were eager to hear what I had to say.
The words were not great. The words I took mostly from my inaugural speech the year before. Sometimes the magic is in the serendipity, the coming together of all the elements in just the right way. Afterwards I said to Andrew, “I’m getting out of here; we’re going home.” We jumped on the red-eye and got back to New York at 6 a.m. in the morning.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson
Unsuccessful presidential candidate
There was so much anxiety about what I might say. They knew I had earned the right to speak and they did not have the right to tell me what to say. So there were unfounded fears, really, about what I might do or say. It was [Mondale campaign manager] Bob Beckel’s job to try to get a reading for Mondale.
He calls me out on the balcony in Tip O’Neill’s suite, and says, “Jesse, I am not trying to find out exactly what you are going to say tomorrow night, but could you give me a hint of the general direction you are going to go? I am not trying to be inappropriate or interfere, but could you tell me a little about the spirit of the thing that you are going to give?”
I wouldn’t give him a reading, in part because it was proprietary, in part because I hadn’t finished it. Beckel was sweating all over. So I finally said, “Well, one thing is true: Tomorrow night, you’ll either be a champ, a chimp, or a chump, but you won’t know which until then.”
Vice presidential nominee
I spoke to my two daughters, Donna and Laura, ahead of time. I said to them, “You know, it can be a very emotional time”—and they had had no exposure to this at all—and I said, “We cannot be looked at as being soft, or different, because I’m a woman.” And I get up, and I give the speech, and at one point I turn around and take a look at my two girls, and they are both in tears. John, my husband—I didn’t realize what an emotional experience it was for him, until, as we were walking, I put my arm on his back. He was all wet. His suit was all wet from perspiration, and that’s not John. So I knew there was great emotion that my family was feeling.
The majority of people on the floor were women, partly because the male delegates in some instances had given their floor passes to the women alternates so that those women could be on the floor with me. There were lots of babies and little children on the floor with their parents. And there were reporters crying. I had never looked out at a crowd like that and seen the raw emotion that was on people’s faces.
I walked out of the hotel, going to one of the meetings at the convention. One old woman was standing there—she must have been well into her 80s, and she was leaning on a walker. She signaled to me to come over to her. So I did. And she said into my ear, “You want to know something? I thought I would never live to see this day.” And you know, as I get older, I can understand just how important that was to her.
Before that convention began, I was coming through California on some campaign swing, and I looked up Jesse Unruh, the leader of the assembly in Sacramento. Unruh had run against [Ronald] Reagan—and got clobbered—and I assumed he’d been thinking on how to run against this guy.
“How do you beat Reagan?” I asked.“I don’t have the slightest idea,” Unruh said.
“No,” he said. “And I doubt you’ll come up with one, either.”
By the time of the convention in San Francisco, I’d put that out of my mind. The thing I remember most positively was the genuine enthusiasm and excitement, particularly over the selection of Gerri Ferraro. There was a feeling that we were doing something new, and we had this idea that we were gaining on Reagan and had a chance to win in November. I think every nominee gets that rush from getting the party all together—when it finally happens.
I’ve been asked many times whether, if I had it to do over again, I’d still say in my acceptance speech that I’d raise taxes. My answer is yes. I think people remember that I was honest with ’em. They know it was necessary to get our financial house in order before we had true prosperity. I was telling the truth to the American people—and I did it before the election.
Unsuccessful presidential candidate
The Friday after the convention—we were losing Secret Service protection that weekend—but that Friday, after Fritz’s nomination, my wife and I were going to lunch across the bay in Sausalito with friends of ours. At about 12 o’clock, the Secret Service knocked on the door, and we got on that side elevator at the St. Francis. We started down and got about three or four floors down when the Secret Service stopped the elevator and we went back up. They hustled us down the hall and put us in the suite and shut the door. I knew something had happened. They never tell you—you just do what you are told. About 15 or 20 minutes transpire; there’s a knock on the door, and Steve Ramsey, the leader of the Secret Service shift, said, “It’s OK; we can go.”
And we started across the bay and we were nearing the bridge and I said, “Steve, what happened?” He smiled and said, “Well, we have some site agents there, guys who don’t have plugs in their ears and are dressed in very casual clothes, work the crowd, and they are particularly looking for somebody who fits the profile of a shooter. There was a youngish guy there with a scraggly beard and a backpack. He kept shifting positions—he kept moving around in the crowd, trying to get a view and trying to get closer. So the agents took a chance and confronted him. They showed him their badges,
and he bolted. They nabbed him and threw him to the ground. When they searched him, they found a loaded .38 in his backpack.”
Ramsey said, “Our guys are there, and they are questioning him.” And I said, “Well, ask him what he intended to do.” And Ramsey whispers in his little microphone and pretty soon they come back to him and say that he was going to shoot Hart. He was there to shoot me. I said to Ramsey, “Ask your guy to ask the cops to ask him if he knew I didn’t get the nomination.” So Ramsey whispers in the microphone. Two or three minutes go by, and Steve starts laughing. He turns around and he says the guy said he didn’t know that I had not won the nomination.
So somebody was going to shoot me even though I hadn’t gotten the nomination! That’s called adding insult to injury.