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"We're celebrating a change in this country," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, adding that Americans want a "commitment to economic justice" and are "fed up with their voices not being heard."
But how do those ideals jibe with a fancy affair too pricey for most working families?
"I think it's a good question, actually," Cohen said. "I do think getting the money out and getting the people in is what this is about for us."
Ahead in line, Arthur Fullerton, director of development for Covenant House California, pronounced it "a historic night. . . . I think the voices of everyone in the country get to be heard, not just the privileged few."
Like the few with $1,000 to drop?
"That's true," Fullerton said. But he got comped. "You do have folks like me who get invited."
Actor Joe Pantoliano was on the sidewalk marveling about how "stunning" it would be for his mother to have known an Italian American woman was becoming speaker. And actress Heather Thomas disclosed, "I'm 49, I'm not ashamed to say, so I never had those [female political] role models as a child. If you don't have that in your consciousness, you don't know you can do it."
Phil Angelides was in line, looking pleased, despite his recent loss to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the California governor's race.
And there came musician Wyclef Jean, one of the evening's entertainers, with a special composition in store. "I'm writing a freestyle rap on my BlackBerry," he said, whipping out the device to show his notes. Later, during his performance of "Hot Hot Hot," Pelosi would be inspired to dance, and the musician stepped into the velvet-roped area to dance with her.
The speaker, with a grandchild on her lap, also sang along to Carole King's performance of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
It didn't hurt turnout that the congresswoman from San Francisco invited members of one of her city's most famous rock bands to headline the affair.
"I am here to witness history in the making, the first woman speaker of the House, and to see members of the Grateful Dead perform," said Jersey City Councilman Steve Lipski.
Which was more important?
"I'll let readers be the judge," said Lipski, who also could recall the date of his first Dead show, 35 years ago.
Scott Orellana, 30, an insurance claims processor from Rockville, dressed in a gray suit with his long hair neatly pulled back, was walking up and down the line holding a cardboard sign that said, "I need a miracle," and holding up one finger -- universal parking-lot Dead code for seeking a ticket.
On the other side, his sign said, "Let me see Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC." "I'm excited about the new Congress. I'm excited about Nancy Pelosi being the first woman speaker of the House," Orellana said. "If I had $1,000 I'd definitely give a contribution, but I don't have $1,000."
At the last minute, just as the party was about to begin, a wired Democrat and fellow Dead fan -- who sheepishly would only be identified as a political consultant -- slipped Orellana a ticket.
The Deadhead got his miracle -- and maybe so have the Democrats gotten theirs.