Some of my readers might want to know if you miss Baltimore," I said to Rep. Nancy Pelosi Wednesday night. "And if you say you do, the rest might want to know why."
Pelosi laughed at my little joke. (I was joking. A little.) Then she answered.
"I love Baltimore," she said. "It's a great city. I'm going to be there this Sunday."
Pelosi's recollection of her native town came as she discussed her role as U.S. House of Representatives minority leader at a dinner meeting with seven journalists from the Trotter Group, an organization of black newspaper columnists. Her topics included President Bush's veto of the stem cell research bill, the war in Iraq, the core values of the Democrats and her chances of being the first female speaker of the House if the Democrats regain control of that body in November.
But it took only a little prodding to get her to talk at length about growing up in Baltimore. Pelosi was born Nancy D'Alesandro, daughter of Annunciata and Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., better known to Baltimoreans as "Old Tommy." She's the sister of Franklin, Nicholas, Hector, Joseph and Thomas III. (Hector and Joseph are deceased.)
D'Alesandro Jr. was mayor of Baltimore from 1947 to 1959, the man who brought major league baseball and National Football League franchises to Baltimore. Thomas D'Alesandro III - yes, he would be "Young Tommy" - was mayor of Baltimore from 1967 to 1971.
"When I was a little girl I went everywhere with my parents," Pelosi told the columnists. Some of those places were social and civic events in the city's black community. Pelosi said that the names of some of those blacks - the Mitchell family and NAACP leader Enolia McMillan - "were revered in our home."
Pelosi still has that reverence for black civil rights leaders. Outside her office in the Capitol sits a bust of W.E.B. DuBois - a leader of the Niagara Movement that led to the founding of the NAACP - and renowned educator Mary McLeod Bethune. The bust was given to Pelosi in 2002, courtesy of the Bethune-DuBois Institute.
"But some people think DuBois is Lenin," Pelosi said. (The mistake may seem ludicrous, but with both men sporting goatees and bald heads, it could be argued that - skin color aside - DuBois and Lenin did have a separated-at-birth thing going on.)
"What I learned in Baltimore was to respect [ethnic and racial diversity]," Pelosi continued. "What I remember is the respect the black community had for itself."
Not everything Pelosi remembers about Baltimore is positive. She recalled how "Young Tommy," when he was mayor, was booed at, of all places, Baltimore's annual I Am An American Day Parade. Pelosi suspects that her brother was booed because white ethnics who attended the parade didn't care for her brother's pro-civil rights, pro-integration stand.
But, Pelosi said, getting booed at the I Am An American Day Parade wasn't what unnerved "Young Tommy." It was when he and Cardinal Lawrence Sheehan - also an advocate of civil rights and integration - got booed together at another forum. Hey, Baltimoreans have never claimed that this town, before oh, say, at least the 1990s, was a paradise of racial harmony and tolerance.
I found myself totally enthralled as Pelosi reminisced about Baltimore. A lot more enthralled than I was with her politics. She is, after all, a Democrat. And she's now a California Democrat at that. So I wasn't surprised when she accused Republicans of winning votes by frightening folks.
"Fear is the currency of the realm for them," Pelosi said of Republicans. "We're the party of hope. They're the party of fear."
Well, that might be partly true. Republicans genuinely fear some of the things Democrats are hoping for. Pelosi alluded to some of them in another line about Republicans.
"The way they've come after us in the past is gays, guns and God," said Pelosi, adding that some of those issues included gay marriage and abortion.
Last I checked Sen. John Kerry - he would be the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 - didn't endorse gay marriage either. It's not gay marriage Republicans "fear." (And some Republicans support gay marriage.) It's what will those sneaky Democrats do after gay marriage is legalized. These are the same folks who said the 1964 civil rights bill wouldn't lead to quotas and then tried to ram racial quotas down our throats.
And if Republicans "fear" abortion advocates who believe in abortion on demand at any stage in the pregnancy and that even underage girls have a "right" to an abortion and not to inform their parents, then the "fear" is justified.
But since we're talking fear: Don't Democrats engage in the politics of fear when they imply that most gun crimes are committed with assault weapons?
It remains to be seen if voters in November reject the "fear" of Republicans for the Democrats' proposals as set forth by Pelosi: fighting child poverty, supporting a higher minimum wage, making America safer by implementing the recommendations from the 9/11 commission and gaining energy independence. If that happens, Pelosi will indeed become the first female speaker of the House.
I'll be happy for my fellow native Baltimorean, no matter what her politics.