Wednesday, December 27, 2006

BALTIMORE — Before Nancy Pelosi takes the reins of the U.S. House next week, the California Democrat will visit a row house in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood.

It was where the nation’s first female House speaker grew up and learned politics long before she was old enough to vote.

The youngest of six, Mrs. Pelosi was born into a political family in a house always full of strangers asking for help.

Thirty years before going to Congress, Nancy D’Alesandro was brokering political deals for constituents of her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., who served as Baltimore mayor from 1947 to 1959 and as a congressman from 1939 to 1947.

“She got her basic training in politics right in this room,” recalled one of her older brothers, Nicholas D’Alesandro, 72, who still in lives in the Little Italy row house, now home to a health clinic on the ground floor. “We gave help to hundreds, thousands of people. It was the kind of thing she was raised to do.”

The political breeding didn’t convince Mrs. Pelosi’s playmates that she was destined tobe second in line for the presidency.

Childhood friends said they never imagined Mrs. Pelosi’s political career eclipsing those of her father and her brother, Thomas D’Alesandro III, who served one term as mayor from 1967 to 1971.

“Nancy was a very quiet, shy young lady,” said Mary Ann Campanella, 65, who played with Mrs. Pelosi as a child and still lives in Baltimore’s Little Italy.

“She had no interest whatsoever in politics at the time. That’s what made us so shocked — she was a very quiet shy young lady,” Miss Campanella said. “But I remember we were all in awe of her being the little princess and riding in the open-top cars in the parades. Still, we’re can’t believe how far she’s come.”

So proud is Little Italy of Mrs. Pelosi’s political ascension that the city will name part of Mrs. Pelosi’s childhood street for her.

Neighbors also want to see her name added to the neighborhood bocce court, now named for Mrs. Pelosi’s father.

Mrs. Pelosi will attend a ceremony to name the street Tuesday to kick off four days of festivities to celebrate her becoming speaker.

Mrs. Pelosi also plans to visit her Washington alma mater, Trinity Washington University, in a tour designed to show the nation she is not a California-bred liberal, but a good Roman Catholic girl from a working-class neighborhood.

The message is not lost on the Rev. Michael Salerno, a priest at St. Leo the Great, the Catholic church Mrs. Pelosi attended as a child.

Father Salerno didn’t minister to Mrs. Pelosi as a child, but he will say a few words at the street naming next week.

“Fifty, 60 years ago a woman never even got to venture out of the neighborhood. Now one of our daughters is going to be speaker. It’s amazing,” Father Salerno said.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said that visiting Little Italy and Baltimore “always has the feeling of a homecoming” for Mrs. Pelosi.

“It has always had a special place in her heart,” Mr. Daly wrote of Baltimore.

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