Ferraro tries to refocus spotlight on issues, not finances

The question now is: Will the tide turn for Geraldine Ferraro - and thus for the Democratic ticket? After Tuesday's two-hour question-and-answer session with reporters, technicians, and experts, which several news organizations hauled along, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee is working to get back to where she is most comfortable - talking about national issues rather than personal finances.

On Tuesday, Ms. Ferraro said that she regretted that the furor over her financial reports was front-page news for nearly two weeks but that she hoped she would be campaigning full-time on the issues by Labor Day.

John Sasso, Ferraro's campaign manager, agrees the past two weeks have been bad in that they have diverted attention from the real issues of the campaign.

''That's in the past, and as of 9 a.m. (Wednesday) morning, we are moving full-speed ahead,'' Mr. Sasso says. The congresswoman spoke at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers in Washington yesterday. She plans to visit Alabama on Saturday, then return to New York on Sunday for a rally and voter-registration drive on Women's Equality Day. Next Tuesday she begins a three-day campaign swing through the Midwest and New England.

''Now we will get back to the issues which are central to the campaign,'' Sasso says, citing crime and public education. He says public reaction to Ferraro's explanation of her financial affairs has been positive.

Some Democratic leaders say the Mondale-Ferraro campaign is foundering from mismanagement and poor use of resources and is ''drifting without a clear message,'' according to the New York Times. Further fuel was added to this charge when Ferraro's press secretary, Patricia Bario, said she resigned because of a dispute with the campaign manager.

Sasso plays down reports of problems.

''We've got a good staff of seasoned professionals,'' he says, adding that time is short in the campaign, and when things don't work out, ''there must be changes.''

Some political observers say it's too soon to judge how the public will receive the vice-presidential candidate. There are many different strains of attitudes, says one Republican who studies politics. Voters want politicians to be honest and straightforward, and to do their duty as citizens and elected officials. Voters often agree that an elected official is obligated to be different from a private citizen, and to be especially ''clean'' in his or her financial and personal affairs, he says.

The public also sometimes balks when it feels the news media are harassing a candidate, he adds. And many Americans respond positively to a candidate who shows grace under pressure, something that many reporters said Ferraro exhibited on Tuesday.

Regardless of whether the Mondale-Ferraro campaign settles questions about taxes owed and loans made by her husband, John Zaccaro, more questions are sure to arise over the controversial campaign loans in Ferraro's 1978 congressional campaign. The loans were declared illegal by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), and a $750 fine was paid.

John F. Banzhaf III, a professor of law at George Washington University, filed two complaints with the FEC yesterday. One requested the commission to investigate whether Ferraro and her husband had made false claims when they said a former FEC lawyer had advised them that it was legal for Ferraro to accept loans from Mr. Zaccaro and the couple's children for that campaign. The lawyer, David Stein, denies ever giving the couple this advice.

Mr. Banzhaf's other complaint deals with the real estate transaction that enabled Ferraro to pay back the illegal loans. Ferraro had her husband sell her half interest in one piece of Manhattan property and the mortgage on another piece of property. She bought the former in May of 1978 for $25,000, and it was sold that fall for $100,000. Zaccaro eventually bought back what had been his wife's interest in the real estate. Banzhaf wants the FEC to investigate whether the transaction was a ''sham'' - a device to get money for the campaign.

Ferraro said Tuesday that her husband's actions were ''perfectly legal.'' When she learned he bought the property, she said, she told him it didn't ''look too hot.'' She also said she didn't realize when she started her congressional campaign that it would cost so much. Some fund raising also fell through, leaving her to come up with her own funding, she said.

Excerpt from Ferraro's opening statement Aug. 21:

I am comfortable with the amount of information that we have relased. I have served the people of the Ninth Congressional District for the past not quite full six years yet, and I feel very, very strongly about ethics in government.

I also feel that a look at my record of the past five and a half years that I have represented the Ninth Congressional District would indicate that at no time did I violate any trust that was placed in me by my constituents and that I have always acted as a member of Congress in the best of public interest.

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