Nancy Pelosi puts her stamp on the House
Nancy Pelosi is a master tactician and the most powerful speaker in a half century. Behind her personal brand of power politics – and whether she will still be speaker after the midterm elections.
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"The arts of politics are bred in her bones: the ability to get people to like you, to build coalitions, to reach agreements," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. "It's what she grew up with, with her father and her brother. And those are the things that don't come easily to a lot of people."Skip to next paragraph
In the D'Alesandro household, Democratic Party politics and family were inseparable. Pelosi and her five older brothers took turns manning the table near the front door, where constituents came for help or something to eat. "It was an unusual situation, as I look back on it, but it was the life we led," she says. "People would come and they would ask how they could get a bed in the city hospital, a place to live in housing projects, food, a job, and our family was always there to help."
Her mother, Annunciata or Nancy, kept records of all the favors asked and granted on slips of paper to use as a contact list for others needing help. These habits were reinforced by Roman Catholic social teaching, a steady influence in Pelosi's life since childhood. Her mother wanted her to become a nun. "[T]hat was not going to happen," she wrote in her 2008 autobiography, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters." Pelosi typically still attends mass at least once a week and maintains strong ties with Catholic communities. She describes church teachings as central to her life and the inspiration for "our responsibility to each other," but she also sees a role for public policy to make such promises practical.
"How many times can we answer the door or the phone and send somebody here or there?" she says. "There has to be a different way. We have to have different public policy to meet the needs of people."
Pelosi came of age in a prefeminist era. Her politics did not grow out of anger or struggle but culture and conviction. As a student at Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University), she was inspired by President Kennedy's call for service. "Because we were in Washington, daughters of Catholic politicians came here in large numbers," says Pat McGuire, president of Trinity. "The Kennedy era was a time of great political fervor and change, a point not lost on students at the nation's leading Catholic college for women."
Pelosi didn't get into the family business right away. When House majority leader Steny Hoyer, her main rival on the way up in House Democratic ranks, was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1966, Pelosi was caring for her young family in New York City: her husband, Paul, a financier, and three babies, soon to be five children in six years.