Correction to This Article
A Nov. 10 Style article about Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) incorrectly identified Gilbert Sandler, a Baltimore author and historian, as Gilbert Sanders.

Pride of Baltimore

(By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006


When she wasn't racing to school at St. Leo's in her blue uniform or buying sweets in Mugavero's Confectionery or playing on front stoops up and down the block, Little Nancy sometimes worked the front desk at the family home at 245 Albemarle St., taking down the requests and sad stories of the folks who arrived to seek help from Big Tommy, her dad.

Or maybe she was riding around with her dad and his bullhorn, as he touted his candidacy from a convertible.

The late Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., also known as Old Tommy or Tommy the Elder, was the flamboyant and legendary machine politician, a Roosevelt Democrat, whose only daughter is the woman poised to be the speaker of the House, second in line of succession from the presidency.

She grew up stuffing envelopes for her dad. She grew up watching how the political game was played. She saw how favors were handed out, how chits were called in. She watched her mother balance full-time motherhood with grass-roots organizing, and later followed her example. Albemarle Street was Nancy Pelosi's training ground, the center of a political universe forged from a community as tight-knit as an Italian village.

Critics deride Pelosi, 66, for a presumed lightweight liberalism they attribute to her latter-day home in San Francisco. But her liberalism -- and the keen political instincts and skill at the inside parry of the game -- can be traced more deeply and more precisely back to Albemarle Street, to the political empire that grew there when her father held court through decades of an intensely political life.

In that brick rowhouse on the corner of Albemarle and Fawn streets, politics was a family business that became a local dynasty. Big Tommy served 22 consecutive terms in public office, from state delegate to city councilman to U.S. congressman to Baltimore mayor, followed by a low-level appointment from President John F. Kennedy to something called the Federal Renegotiation Board.

One of Pelosi's five brothers, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, Young Tommy, served on the Baltimore City Council and became the city's mayor as well.

Theirs was the politics of the New Deal, of the hand up for those who were down.

"It was always about the progressive economic agenda for a fair economy, where many Americans, all Americans, could participate in the economic success of our country," Pelosi said yesterday when asked about the influence of her family's politics on her own.

"What I got from them was about economic fairness," Pelosi said. "That was the difference between Republicans and Democrats all those years ago." She also learned about the power of loyalty, both extending it and enforcing it.

And even though the D'Alesandros could have moved away from the neighborhood's narrow streets and tight rowhouses, they stayed, no matter the patriarch's success.

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