Calif.'s Pelosi chosen as House Democratic whip

She defeats Hoyer, will be highest-ranking woman ever in Congress

October 11, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco congresswoman with deep Baltimore roots, was chosen yesterday for the post of Democratic whip, which will make her the highest-ranking woman ever in Congress.

Pelosi, whose father and brother were Baltimore mayors, easily defeated Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland in the secret-ballot vote.

The current whip, Rep. David E. Bonior, plans to leave the job in January and run for governor of Michigan.

Vote was 118-95

Fellow Democrats, meeting behind closed doors, resolved the three-year Pelosi-Hoyer rivalry in favor of the Californian by a vote of 118 to 95.

Pelosi supporters and aides sporting "Nancy" buttons broke into a jubilant cheer when the results were announced.

"Team Pelosi worked very hard on this wonderful victory," the 61-year-old congresswoman said. "In the vote taken today, the Democratic caucus not only made history; I believe we have made progress."

She is the first woman selected for the leadership job, which has often been a steppingstone to the posts of majority leader and House speaker.

Pelosi, who has been a member of Congress since 1987, is the daughter of Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., who was Baltimore's mayor for 12 years in the 1940s and 1950s, and the sister of Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, who held the job from 1967 to 1971.

Pelosi, who describes herself as a progressive, said she wants to focus on helping to revive the economy in a way that will benefit working men and women, protect the environment, advance human rights and be sensitive to the concerns of children.

Hoyer, 62, who lost a bid for the same job to Bonior 10 years ago, was considered the underdog through much of the lengthy campaign, during which both representatives doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in efforts to win support from their Democratic colleagues.

"She has been my friend for almost 40 years, and I am confident that she will do an outstanding job as our Whip," Hoyer said in a statement.

The St. Mary's County congressman said in an interview that he was unable to overcome Pelosi's appeal to two major Democratic groups in the House, the 44 women and 32 Californians.

`Gender and geography'

"If she hadn't been a woman or from California, I think we would have been OK," Hoyer said. "Gender and geography in this case were overwhelming. C'est la guerre."

Pelosi dismissed Hoyer's assessment, implying that it was a slap at her.

"I didn't think they conducted the campaign that way," she said. "They never said that to me. I thought it was [conducted] with great dignity."

Both candidates were eager to put behind them a contest that amounted almost to a family feud, heavily laced with behind-the-scenes intrigue.

Technically, the whip's job is to round up votes for party-backed legislation. But in recent years, whips in both parties have taken on much broader roles in shaping the party message and other duties.

The stakes were particularly high in this contest because the winner could be propelled into the highest rank of national party leadership.

Democrats have nine fewer seats in the House than the Republicans do. If they were to take control in next year's elections, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri probably would become House speaker and Pelosi would be the favorite to succeed him as majority leader.

Pelosi frequently said that her being a woman was not the basis of her candidacy. But for fellow Democrats, eager to present theirs as the party of diversity, the attraction of putting a woman in a highly visible post was a powerful incentive.

"For the party that depends on women for most of our votes, I think putting a woman in one of the top two leadership jobs - or the failure to - sends a message," Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat and Pelosi supporter, said over the summer as the whip campaign moved into its final stages.

Apart from gender and geography, the two candidates were evenly matched in terms of experience and ability.

Hoyer, a former Maryland Senate president, has a slightly more moderate voting record than Pelosi does. He had offered himself as the candidate best able to reach across party lines to forge compromises with Republicans.

But Hoyer was also perceived as the candidate of the party's old guard, while Pelosi was seen as a fresh face, his allies said.

Not incidental in Pelosi's success was her substantial success at raising money for Democratic candidates.

Big contributor

During 1999 and last year, Pelosi was the third-biggest congressional contributor to parties and candidates. She raised more than $1.1 million, which she then gave to Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Only Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and Republican Whip Tom DeLay ranked higher, donating about $1.3 million each. Hoyer ranked fifth, contributing about $927,000 to the party and its candidates.

Hoyer has joked that his constituents in Southern Maryland couldn't keep pace with Pelosi's well-heeled donors in San Francisco. But the vast majority of the money he raised was contributed from outside his district, by Washington lobbyists, business executives and political action committees for labor unions, trade associations and corporations around the country.

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