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Pelosi, Nancy

Pelosi, Nancy

March 26, 1940 Baltimore, Maryland

Politician

Nancy Pelosi is the first woman in American history to lead a political party in Congress. She has served the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987, when voters in San Francisco chose her to represent them in Washington. In 2002 her fellow Democratic Party lawmakers voted to make her House minority leader. She is the first woman ever to hold such a post. Republicans sometimes call Pelosi a "latte liberal" for her politically progressive views on the environment, women's reproductive rights, labor unions, and other issues. Pelosi has been outspoken in her criticism of President George W. Bush (1946).

The mayor's daughter

Nancy Pelosi began her career in politics at a young age. Her father, Thomas "Tommy" J. D'Alesandro Jr., was a popular local politician from the Little Italy section of Baltimore, Maryland. Just a year before Pelosi was born, her father won election to the same U.S. House of Representatives in which she would serve many years later.

Pelosi was born Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro on March 26, 1940, in Baltimore. She was the last of six children, and the first daughter. The family lived on Albemarle Street in Little Italy. Their neighborhood was a loyal Democratic Party stronghold in Maryland politics. Little Italy was a working class and largely Roman Catholic neighborhood, located near the city's main harbor. The local church, St. Leo's, and the nearby Democratic Party office were the centers of social and economic life for Italian-American families.

Pelosi's father was well-known in Little Italy, and went on to become a Baltimore legend. When she was seven years old, he became the city's first Italian-American mayor. He served three terms, and so Pelosi was known as the mayor's daughter for most of her childhood and teens. She often worked on his campaigns, as did her five brothers. In 1952, when Pelosi was just twelve years old, she was allowed to attend her first Democratic National Convention, where delegates choose their party's presidential candidate.

Pelosi's family were dedicated Democrats, and her parents were strict Roman Catholics as well. For a son or daughter to enter one of the Church's religious orders was considered a great honor for the family. Not surprisingly, her mother hoped that her daughter might do so, but Pelosi was not interested. "I didn't think I wanted to be a nun, but I thought I might want to be a priest because there seemed to be a little more power there," she said years later in an interview with Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter.

"Any one of us who decides to put our young people in harm's way carries a responsibility for the consequences."

Five children in six years

During the 1950s many devout Roman Catholic families placed restrictions on their children, and Pelosi's early family life was no different. She attended the Institute of Notre Dame High School in Baltimore, a school for young women. When it came time to choose a college, her parents permitted her to travel only as far as Washington, D.C., which was less than fifty miles from Baltimore. She entered Trinity College, a Roman Catholic college for women. It was an entirely new world for her. For someone who had grown up in Little Italy, she compared it to "going to Australia with a backpack," as she joked in a People interview with journalist J. D. Heyman.

Pelosi earned her degree from Trinity in 1962, and then served as a congressional intern for a Maryland senator. She thought about law school, but followed the more traditional path for a young woman of her era, that of marriage. Her husband, Paul Pelosi, was a recent Georgetown University graduate and a native of San Francisco. The couple settled in the New York City area, where Pelosi' new husband worked as a banker. She began raising a family, and was the mother of five by 1969, the same year the family moved across the country to San Francisco.

Pelosi was a homemaker for a number of years. Her youngest daughter, Alexandra, told People that she and her siblings were not an easy crew: "We were like the kids from The Simpsonsshe couldn't get anyone to babysit." No matter how busy she was at home, Pelosi always volunteered for the Democratic party during election campaigns. In 1976 she worked for the presidential campaign of California's popular governor, Jerry Brown (1938). Because of her political connections back in Maryland, she was asked to organize a "Brown for President" campaign there. Brown went on to win an unexpected primary victory in Maryland, thanks to Pelosi. Later that year he lost the Democratic Party's presidential nomination to Georgia's governor, Jimmy Carter (1947).

The experience boosted Pelosi's reputation as a behind-the-scenes dynamo. In 1977 she became chair for the northern section of the California Democratic Party, and four years later became the chair for the entire state. She later served in a national party post as the finance chair for the 1986 congressional elections. Known for her top skills in recruiting candidates and getting them elected, Pelosi had never considered running for office herself. That changed when one of her longtime political allies was diagnosed with cancer and suggested that Pelosi run for the seat in the coming special election. It was not a local or state officeit was for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Daughter Films Bush on Campaign Trail

Nancy Pelosi's youngest daughter, Alexandra, is a journalist and filmmaker who brought a camcorder with her when she covered the 2000 presidential election for NBC News. Pelosi wanted to document what the campaign looked like from her seat on the bus that carried the press corps. The result was a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary film, Journeys with George.

Alexandra Pelosi was born in 1969 and grew up in a family that regularly pitched in to help during Democratic political campaigns. She graduated from Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles in 1991, and went to work for NBC News after attending graduate school at the University of Southern California. She was a producer for Dateline, and then covered Congress for the network. In early 2000 she was named to the campaign press corps team and assigned to the bus that followed Texas Governor George W. Bush around the country in his bid for the Republican nomination.

Pelosi's camcorder captured a side of the candidate that was rarely seen in regular news coverage. He joked with the journalists, though he sometimes criticized their reporting, liked to eat Cheeze Doodles, and played with a Magic 8 Ball. He even asked it to predict the election results, and the answer came back, "Outlook not so good." Bush even suggested the film's title to Pelosi. "My mother used to rip his father's policies on the House floor," Pelosi said in a WWD interview with Rosemary Feitelberg. It gave her and the Texas governor some unusual common ground, she felt. "I covered [Capitol] Hill for six years," she pointed out. "I have an aversion to all that seriousness. I think he does, too. That's the irony."

After the election Pelosi quit her job at NBC and went to work editing the film in her New York City apartment. It aired on the HBO cable network just before her mother was elected House minority leader in the fall of 2002. The White House press office made a few rumbles about it, but quickly backed down from a fight. When Pelosi promoted the film she tried to stay away from talking about her own political views. "I come from a political family," she explained to Feitelberg. "I think you should let people make their own judgements." Other articles noted that she was indeed a liberal-leaning Democrat, much like her mother. But Pelosi insisted that her goal in making the film was to make a kind of home movie. "I do think you shouldn't vote for someone who you wouldn't feel comfortable having in your living room," she said in the WWD interview. "Some people think this humanizes him and makes him look like a fun person to go on a road trip with. Others say it confirms their worst suspicions."

San Francisco's Washington voice

Pelosi won the 1987 special election as well as the next regular election in 1988. San Francisco voters regularly returned her to the seat, often by margins of 80 percent. As a member of Congress representing California's Eighth Congressional District, she served a population known as liberal and progressive, and she spoke for it in Congress. She argued for and won increased government funding for AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which reduces the body's ability to fight off infection) research. The city had a disproportionately large number of residents who were HIV-positive (diagnosed with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the virus that causes AIDS). There was a large Asian immigrant community in the city, and Pelosi made no secret of her distaste for a new American foreign policy that sought to forge new economic ties with China, which had been under authoritarian Communist Party rule for decades and was still accused of drastic violations of its citizens' human rights. In 1991, on a visit to the same Tiananmen Square where the Chinese army had killed protesters two years earlier, Pelosi held up a protest sign.

Pelosi's leadership abilities emerged in the mid-1990s, when Republicans gained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. Many of the new Republican legislators were drastically conservative in their views. For example, some believed that the federal government should promote a healthy economy by reducing the financial penalties that corporations paid for polluting the environment. In response Pelosi began to assume a more public profile in opposing their legislation. In October of 2001 she was elected as minority whip in the House, when a vacancy arose. The whip's job was to make certain that Democrats, who were in the "minority" among the 435 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, would vote with their party on specific pieces of legislation. She also worked to find Republican legislators willing to cross party lines and vote with Democrats on certain issues. Pelosi became the first woman to hold such a post in Congress.

A year later Pelosi won another important first when House minority leader Richard A. Gephardt stepped down from the job. In this job Gephardt had served as the official leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Pelosi ran for the post against fellow law-maker Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, but House Democrats chose Pelosi by a vote of 177 to 29. As House minority leader, Pelosi led the 206 Democrats in opposing various policies of the Republican White House and Congress. She was an outspoken critic of President Bush's economic policies, and also voiced concerns about a planned war in Iraq.

The "latte" liberal

On other matters Pelosi emerged as a progressive voice inside a party that had begun to take a more moderate political tone during the 1990s. She is still critical of China because of its human rights record, and supports women's reproductive rights. Her Republican counterparts often refer to her as a "San Francisco Democrat," which is a code word in conservative politics for someone who is ultra-liberal.

In the spring of 2004 the year-old American-led occupation of Iraq had become increasingly deadly on both sides. In May, U.S. military planes attacked a rural gathering that was said to have been a wedding celebration, and forty Iraqi civilians died. In her regular weekly press conference, Pelosi issued harsh words for the president. "Bush is an incompetent leader," the San Francisco Chronicle 's Marc Sandalow quoted her as saying. "In fact, he's not a leader. He's a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon." She asserted that U.S. soldiers were ill-equipped, despite the several billion dollars in funds that Congress had approved. She noted, for example, that parents of soldiers were sending their sons and daughters Kevlar lining, a bullet-resistant material that the Pentagon had not issued to all personnel.

Poised to take another first

Pelosi also predicted that Bush would not win election to a second term in November of 2004 because of the war, which she estimated might end up costing U.S. taxpayers as much as $250 billion. A Democratic victory in November could give Pelosi's party a majority in the House once again. In that case, she might become the new Speaker of the House, or the floor leader of the majority party. The position would make her third in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president. Pelosi's name was also mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Democratic Party candidate John Kerry (1943). Kerry selected North Carolina senator John Edwards (1943) as his running mate in July of 2004.

Known in Washington for her ready smile and stylish suits, the grandmother of five puts in long hours at work. Staffers claim they can hear their boss coming down the hallways by the rapid "click-click" of her heels. "As the first woman to lead a party in Congress, Ms. Pelosi, elegant and energetic, has the kind of star quality that many say makes them again excited to be Democrats," noted New York Times writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Pelosi claims she does take time out to relax, sometimes at a Napa Valley home she shares with her husband. Completing the challenging New York Times crossword puzzle is one of her favorite hobbies.

For More Information

Periodicals

Chaddock, Gail Russell and Mark Sappenfield. "Pelosi Shatters a Marble Ceiling." Christian Science Monitor (November 14, 2002): p. 1.

Clymer, Adam. "A New Vote CounterNancy Patricia Pelosi." New York Times (October 11, 2001): p. A18.

Feitelberg, Rosemary. "Showtime for Pelosi and Curious George." WWD (March 5, 2002): p. 15

Feuerherd, Joe. "Roots in Faith, Family and Party Guide Pelosi's Move to Power." National Catholic Reporter (January 24, 2003): p. 3.

Feuerherd, Joe. "The Gospel in a Catholic's Political Life." National Catholic Reporter (January 24, 2003): p. 4.

Firestone, David. "Getting Closer to the Top, and Smiling All the Way." New York Times (November 10, 2002): p. 30.

Heyman, J. D. "House Proud: Adept at Both Politics and Politesse, Democrat Nancy Pelosi Becomes the Most Powerful Woman in Congress." People (December 2, 2002): p. 217.

Samuel, Terence. "She's Cracking the Whip." U.S. News & World Report (June 17, 2002): p. 18.

Sandalow, Marc. "Nancy Pelosi / Holding Out for Dreams." San Francisco Chronicle (June 9, 1996): p. 3/Z1.

Sandalow, Marc. "U.S. Kills 40 Civilians in Village Attack." San Francisco Chronicle (May 20, 2004): p. A1.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. "With Democrats Divided on War, Pelosi Faces Leadership Test." New York Times (April 1, 2003): p. B13.

"Transcript of Today's Pelosi Press Conference." America's Intelligence Wire (May 20, 2004).

Tresniowski, Alex. "Bush Tracker: George W. Bush Untamed! Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi Captures the Candid Candidate." People (March 25, 2002): p. 89.

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Pelosi, Nancy

Nancy Pelosi

The first woman to serve in a top leadership role in a major U.S. political party, California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (born 1940) became the Democratic Party's minority leader of the House of Representatives. Pelosi, known as an outspoken liberal, became a strong critic of the administration of President George W. Bush, but also strove to reunify dispirited Democrats while Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.

Political Pedigree

Born as Nancy D'Alesandro in Baltimore, Pelosi inherited her family's political tradition. Her father, Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr., was the ward boss for Baltimore's Little Italy ward, then a city councilman and five–term congressman before becoming Baltimore mayor from 1947 through 1959. Later, her brother, Thomas D'Alesandro III, also became Baltimore's mayor, from 1967 to1971.

The young woman met her future husband, Paul Pelosi, who came from San Francisco, California, while both were attending Trinity College in Washington, D.C. After they married, they moved to San Francisco and started a family. Her husband, who made a living as an investor, also had a family with political leanings, his brother winning a seat on the city's board of supervisors. The Pelosis had five children: Nancy Corinne, Christine, Jacqueline, Paul, and Alexandra. Only when the youngest, Alexandra, entered school did their mother become involved in local Democratic Party politics. Alexandra later became a documentary filmmaker who chronicled political campaigns.

Starting at the grass roots with house parties and door–to–door campaigning, Pelosi eventually became Northern California party chairwoman. She became a close ally of a powerful Democratic politician, Congressman Phillip Burton, who represented San Francisco. In 1983, Burton died, and his wife, Sala, won a special election to finish his term in office. But when she was diagnosed with cancer, Sala Burton asked Pelosi to run for her seat. Pelosi won a special election in 1987 and was re–elected every two years after that from California's Eighth District.


Concerns Reflected District

Pelosi represents one of the country's most left–leaning Congressional districts, encompassing most of San Francisco. Reflecting the concerns of her constituency, which strongly favors gay rights, Pelosi sponsored a bill creating a special housing opportunities program for people infected with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. In related work, she championed programs to expand access to Medicaid for people with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, to increase funding for HIV–and AIDS–related healthcare and to spur development of an HIV vaccine.


She also filed bills that helped nonprofit organizations create affordable housing and insured access to healthcare coverage for people with disabilities. She promoted the creation of a national network to track the chronic disease effects of environmental pollutants. Advocating increased investment in health research, she led the fight for double funding for the National Institutes of Health and beat back Republican–led efforts to reduce funding for family planning programs abroad.

An early supporter of the movement for democratic rights in China, Pelosi sponsored the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992. A staunch critic of the human rights record of the People's Republic of China, she chaired the Congressional Working Group on China. Pelosi supported the Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule and led mostly unsuccessful efforts to tie trade privileges to better performance by the Chinese government on human rights.

Pelosi served on the House's powerful Appropriations and Intelligence committees. On the latter, her more than ten years of continuous service was the longest in the committee's history, and for two years she was the ranking Democrat on the panel. Pelosi met with leaders of intelligence services in the United States and in allied countries and advocated stronger efforts to stop nuclear proliferation. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Pelosi wrote a bill creating the independent 9/11 commission, and that panel conducted a thorough, high–profile investigation of the U.S. government's intelligence and response efforts before and after the attacks. Despite her liberal stance on domestic matters, Pelosi supported the U.S. Patriot Act.

Pelosi's name is associated with a crucial amendment to an important world trade bill, the International Development and Finance Act of 1989. The "Pelosi Amendment" requires the World Bank and regional development banks to make public environmental impact assessments for all development projects they fund.


Unified the Party

Pelosi has also served on House ethics and banking committees, and has campaigned and raised funds for other Democratic candidates across the country. In 2001, she was elected House minority whip, the second–highest party post. She was the first woman to achieve that high a position in a major U.S. political party. She later described her presence at a meeting of top congressional leaders with the president at the White House, saying: "For an instant, I felt as though Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton—everyone who'd fought for women's right to vote and for the empowerment of women in politics, in their professions, and in their lives—were there with me in the room. Those women were the ones who had done the heavy lifting, and it was as if they were saying, At last we have a seat at the table."

When Richard Gephardt resigned as the party's minority leader in 2002 to run for president in 2004, Pelosi was selected to replace him. Under Gephardt's leadership, the Democrats had appeared powerless to stop what they saw as the radical conservative agenda of the George W. Bush administration. When Pelosi declared her desire to take over from Gephardt, she said: "We must draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and the extreme policies put forth by the Republicans. We cannot allow Republicans to pretend they share our values and then legislate against those values without consequence."

By early 2004, the Democratic caucus in Congress was energetic. "They are enthused that after years of defections to the Republican position on many key votes, the caucus now displays an almost unprecedented unity in its voting," Harold Meyerson said in The American Prospect. " . . . They approve of their leaders' consistent attacks on the Bush administration . . . They feel that all wings of the caucus are getting not only a fair hearing by party leaders but also real input into party positions. They even believe that their leaders' indefatigable fund raising and candidate recruitment have been going so well that they have a shot at retaking the House. And when asked why they feel this way, all of them come around to the same answer: Nancy Pelosi."

Despite her liberalism, Pelosi appealed to all wings of the party, working closely with moderate party whip Steny Hoyer and filling a new position of assistant to the leader with another centrist, John Spratt. She also routinely helped junior party members gain media exposure and integrate them into the legislative process. She was able to find common ground on just about any issue. "She has a deft touch with the caucus, strategic smarts, an instinct for a winning issue," Meyerson wrote. "She also has a rhetorical clunkiness—heavy on the alliteration—that makes her sound now and then like a compendium of bumper stickers."

Though warm and maternal, Pelosi was also tough, and she led a crackdown on party unity after 16 Democrats defected from the party position in November 2003 to give the Republicans a victory on an administration medical reform bill. She told members there were only three acceptable reasons for breaking from the caucus: "conscience, constituents, or the Constitution." Pelosi was an ardent fundraiser, spending much of her time recruiting candidates for House seats and raising money for their campaigns.


Attacked Bush

Pelosi also led tougher Democratic criticism of the Bush administration. After the president's 2004 State of the Union address, Pelosi said: "America must be a light to the world, not just a missile." In an interview with Soledad O'Brien of CNN after the speech, she attacked the president sharply, charging "he is in denial when it comes to the fact that nine million Americans are put of work and he's boasting job growth." She also charged that he "did not build a true international consensus on Iraq. He went into war on the basis of unproven assertions, without evidence. He used a doctrine, a dangerous doctrine, of preemptive strike, which is unprecedented in our history."

Pelosi's suggestion that the president's policy was responsible for the deaths of U.S. service people enraged Republicans, who called on Pelosi to apologize for the remarks, but she did not. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said: "She apparently is so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk." Pelosi stood her ground on Bush: "His activities, his decisions, the results of his actions are what undermines his leadership, not my statements. My statements are just a statement of fact."

Still, Bush and the Republicans solidified their hold on government in the 2004 elections. Pelosi told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "Democrats did not connect well enough with the American people" on issues of faith and patriotism during the campaign. She said she was "very concerned about the radical right–wing agenda of President Bush and the Republicans in Congress." But characteristically, she refused to dwell on the defeat and said defiantly: "We're ready for the next session of Congress. We're ready for the next election."

A few days later, Pelosi said the Democrats were ready to work with the president. "Our partisan split, rather than being an excuse for inaction, must be a call to compromise and commonsense," she said in the Democrats' weekly radio address. "We stand strongest as a nation when we stand on common ground." In a later interview with Fox News's Chris Wallace, Pelosi said: "I'm very proud of my leadership of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and proud of them to make history, choosing a woman as their leader. I'm proud of the fact that we have had unity in our party . . . We have clarity in our message. We know who we are as Democrats."

Periodicals

The America's Intelligence Wire, January 21, 2004; March 24, 2004; November 3, 2004; December 5, 2004.

American Prospect, June 2004.

Fort–Worth Star Telegram, November 19, 2004.

O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2004.

Political/Congressional Transcript Wire, January 6, 2005.

UPI NewsTrack, November 6, 2004.


Online

"Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi," http://www.house.gov/pelosi/biography/bio.html (January 1, 2005).

"Pelosi questions Bush's competence," CNN.com,http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/05/20/pelosi.bush/ (January 1, 2005).

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Pelosi, Nancy Patricia

Nancy Patricia Pelosi (pəlō´sē), 1940–, U.S. congresswoman, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (2007–11), b. Baltimore as Nancy Patricia D'Alesandro. The daughter of Thomas J. D'Alesandro, Jr., who served as Baltimore's mayor and a congressman, she moved to California, where she became active in the Democratic party. In 1987 she was was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election. A liberal from San Francisco, she became minority whip in 2001 and, succeeding Dick Gephardt, minority leader in 2003, becoming the first woman to hold high-ranking leadership positions in the U.S. Congress. Democratic victories in the 2006 and 2008 congressional elections led to her election as Speaker of the House; she became the first woman to hold the post. In 2011 Pelosi became minority leader again, after the Democrats lost their majority.

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