It's the same old show biz pace -- from Barbara Walters to Phil Donahue to "Good Morning America" -- but, unlike last fall, Geraldine Ferraro is now hustling book sales, not votes. Today the first woman nominated for vice president is flanked by press agents, not Secret Service. That tumultuous moment when thousands of women cheered and cried in San Francisco over her historic acceptance speech is a faded remembrance as she deals with the tarnished times that came later.
She is busy giving it all the Ferraro explanation -- from the Pepsi commercial to her husband's guilty plea on a misdemeanor charge of scheming to defraud in a real estate transaction.
In her book "Ferraro: My Story" and interviews, Ferraro's consistent theme is that she was singled out unfairly for tougher treatment, by everyone from the antiabortionist brigades to reporters.
"I didn't expect the archbishop of New York to single me out on the abortion issue more than male candidates who held the same prochoice view," she said. "I didn't expect so many in the Italian American community to retreat in the face of all the ethnic slurs. I didn't expect the Democrats, especially in New York, to fail to come forward and help me fight the Republican propaganda. And I certainly did not expect the open warfare against my family."
To the suggestion that her account might be construed as whining, Ferraro says, "Who said that? People who don't agree with me . . ."
Right now Ferraro is vacillating about whether to take on incumbent New York Republican Alfonse D'Amato in next year's Senate race -- a fight that would hardly promise lofty statesmanship. D'Amato has already complained in a fund-raising letter that "one of the Democratic Party's most loyal extremist liberals, is seeking to take away" his seat. "I'll bet you thought we'd seen the last of Geraldine Ferraro last November. Well, we didn't -- she's back to haunt us again."
Sitting offstage following a "Good Morning America" appearance, Ferraro shot a look at herself in a mirror, said, "Good God, I'm getting gray," then got on with the business of D'Amato. "It would be terrible. I would hate to see that kind of campaign. That's why I'm sitting here saying 'Should I or should I not?' "
With the prospect of rebattling her husband's real estate interests on one hand and allegations of D'Amato receiving kickbacks on the other, it is a potential race that has reporters drooling. Ferraro says a poll she commissioned would show it a tough uphill battle, but she remains "tempted" and will decide in a few weeks.
Ferraro has a well-honed answer to the constant questions about that $500,000 Pepsi commercial and whether she feels that it muddied her image.
"We found out during the campaign that women at home felt somehow my candidacy was challenging them and what they were doing, and that somehow we were minimizing them. They hated the idea that a woman was attempting to do a man's job. It was so disturbing.
"The Pepsi commercial was an extension of my campaign. Reaching out to housewives and saying being a mother is a fine choice."
But, didn't the commercial come after the campaign? Ferraro nods a vigorous agreement. So doesn't calling it an extension of her campaign sound disingenuous?
"People who know me know I'm being honest about it," she says. "People who don't may say, 'Ah, she was in it for the bucks.' But there is nothing I can do about that."
With her book, for which she received a million dollars, Ferraro is following a trail blazed by ex-presidents, from Nixon to Carter.
"Look," says Ferraro, "nobody works for nothing. You don't know the emotions of going through this kind of book. I said I don't want to talk about this stuff ever again. I don't want to feel the pain, I don't want to remember what it was like calling up from California to New York to find out what was in the papers that morning. It was awful. So do you put yourself through it and work the hours I worked and not get paid for it? I mean, crazy! Now, did I do it for the money alone?" She shakes her head, then adds, "but I have to tell you, I have a staff of five. I don't have any business. What am I? I'm a cottage industry on my own. I get paid for lectures and people say 'You should speak for nothing.' Well I do, helping in Democratic races. My staff sends out autographs and people ask for auction items. I don't know where people think I get the funds to do this. I'm not complaining, but who does it?
"I said when the books come in for autographs we should ask that they send a stamped envelope for returns. It's two or three dollars per person. It's not that I'm being cheap, but it can add up to tens of thousands of dollars, which it has. I have never complained about that. I have said I will take that as being part of what I owe on this campaign. But I am a human being. I have bills. We've had an extraordinary experience with extraordinary expenses and quite frankly, like every other parent, we've got three kids in school."
Ferraro raises her hands into the air. "I can't become something that people can put in a bubble and float up above the atmosphere and just say 'she's part of history.' I have to go on. And I know that's hard for some people to understand. People expected me to be more than perfect. They wanted me to be Saint Geraldine. And I fell short. I'm not perfect."
The book, in part, settles old scores -- with Mondale male staffers who shunted her aside at the beginning, with the press who Ferraro felt either never asked her about issues or subjected her to tougher grilling than male candidates, with Republicans like George Bush and his wife.
In person, Ferraro seems not as bitter, but when it comes to her husband, John Zaccaro, she goes to great lengths to try to explain away his legal entanglements. For a while, gossip grist about her life sounded like something from a soap opera; famous politician must unload husband to continue a public career. Ferraro was astounded at the divorce rumors and, after the campaign, the couple renewed their wedding vows.
Ferraro says her husband's troubles all stem from his trust of a business associate who turned out to be a disbarred lawyer.
Ferraro says the lawyer, Harold Farrell, told her husband to inflate his net worth from $4 million to $21.6 million. Ferraro says when Zaccaro found out Farrell had been disbarred he withdrew the contract.
"Since it was over in December of 1983 and since John was the victim -- he lost $80,000 -- it was finished by the time Mondale's people were asking me in July if we had anything to mention." During the campaign, headlines blazed across the country that Zaccaro had borrowed from the estate of an elderly Queens woman that he was overseeing as a court-appointed guardian. Zaccaro repaid the loss and was removed as conservator of the estate. Ferraro says Farrell told her husband "as long as you're paying more interest than the bank it's perfectly legitimate to borrow from the estate. John was the victim."
Justice Department officials are still looking at whether Ferraro intended to conceal financial dealings omitted from her public disclosure reports. The probe, which Ferraro says is "baseless," stems from complaints by far-right groups such as the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit public interest law firm. Asked when the investigation would be finished, Ferraro laughed. "Somebody suggested they won't complete it until after I announce I'm not going to run for the Senate."
Even if Ferraro decides not to run she will actively campaign for other Democrats and is more optimistic about the Democrats than many pundits.
"People forget we maintained a majority of the Senate," she says. "By 1988, unless Jack Kemp exercises a little leadership in his party on deficit reductions, I think he's going to be talking about raising the revenues. It will be interesting to watch the tiger change stripes."
As for a Republican claim that they will field women, but conservative ones?
"Good!" she says, dashing off to another publicity round.
"If it was not for me they wouldn't even be thinking of it."