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Baltimore-bred lawmaker lives, breathes politics

February 04, 1995|By Margaret McManus | Margaret McManus,Special to The Sun

Nancy Pelosi remembers her roots, and she smiles broadly when she talks of her childhood and her political education on Albemarle Street.

The Queen Mother of the family, 85-year-old Nancy D'Alesandro, still lives in Little Italy where some 50 years ago her husband bought two houses and turned them into one. There His Honor established his power base, stayed close to his constituents and raised his family. It was political heaven, a place where important decisions were made and important things happened.

The five D'Alesandro boys all went around the corner to St. Leo's parochial school, but Nancy was a "12-year girl" at the Institute of Notre Dame on Aisquith Street. She was a good student there from the first grade through high school.

Her life's big turn came when she went to Trinity College in Washington and met Paul Pelosi, also from a political family. His brother was a member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, akin to Baltimore's City Council. They were almost immediately compatible.

"He understands politics but he is not particularly political. He's a businessman. He likes sports. He plays golf and tennis. He's normal."

A year after her graduation, in 1963, they were married at a grand wedding in the Cathedral in Baltimore and first moved to New York City, where her husband was with CitiBank. A few years later, they moved to his hometown of San Francisco.

Almost before she unpacked, she formed a Democratic club in her district. "I immediately felt at home and I was happy," she said. "I was surrounded by Democrats. I never even considered running for office when my children were small. I have five children. It would have been impossible, but I was always a hard-working volunteer."

When her youngest daughter, Alexandra, was in high school, Nancy's friend and confidant, Sala Burton, the congresswoman from her district, was dying. She asked Mrs. Pelosi to run to finish her term.

"The governor set an early date for the special election," she recalled. "I only had seven weeks to campaign. We had 100 house parties and we got 4,000 volunteers to go door to door and to man phone banks. I raised a million dollars -- all in seven weeks.

"My father called me every day," she added. "He would ask me over and over, 'Do you have a good organization?' He taught me that organization is the first lesson in the political primer."

Eventually, Mr. D'Alesandro sent his son, Tommy, to California to see "Nancy's situation" firsthand. Young Tommy came back to Baltimore with optimistic news. "Dad, she's got a better organization than we ever had."

"We barely squeaked in," Mrs. Pelosi said. "All my elections since have been easy, but that first one was scary, very close."

Mrs. Pelosi's victory impressed her brother.

"When I ran first for president of the City Council and then for mayor, it was easy for me," he said. "I had the same name. I just walked in my father's footsteps. Nancy went 3,000 miles away, ** where she was a stranger. She made it totally on her own."

Solid future

In addition to being mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, Mrs. Pelosi is considered by some a likely candidate for mayor of San Francisco. She claims she has "no interest," but -- as any shrewd politician would -- adds, "it's not entirely beyond the realm of possibility."

"You want to know the absolute truth?" she says. "I don't really like the job of mayor. You have to try to please too many people and you take the blame for everything. I remember one time when my father was mayor. There was a garbage strike and they threw garbage all over our front steps, old orange peels and rotting vegetables. I thought, 'What a mean thing to do to my mother.'

"I prefer legislation. . . . In the House, we have time to study a bill and to think. There is such satisfaction in getting a bill passed for your people. You know you have done something. You have earned their vote and you have earned your right to be where you are."

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