Pelosi with Congresswoman Connie Morella

Nancy Pelosi becomes House Minority Leader and the highest-ranking Italian American and Woman in Congressional history.

The election of Nancy D'Alessandro Pelosi as Minority Leader in the House of Representatives in November 2002 stands as a major milestone not only for women but most especially for Italian Americans. Simply put there has never been a woman or an Italian American who has achieved such a prominent position in the national legislature of this nation. The Nancy Pelosi saga is significant also because it sheds light on the most important Italian American political dynasty in history -the D'Alessandro family. The D'Alessandro household originated in the East where it became a powerful Democratic Baltimore family but now prospers in the West –California -- in the person of Nancy. Her father Thomas, one of 13 children, was born in 1903 in the Little Italy of Baltimore, Maryland, educated at St. Leo's parochial school, and married an Italian girl who bore him seven children. At age 23 he won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates and then a Congressional seat that he held for many years. An ardent New Deal Democrat he even named a son after Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also never forgot his ethnic roots as, for example, during and after the Second World War when his radio broadcasts exhorted Italians to abandon Benito Mussolini and join the Allied side, and in the postwar period his was a stalwart voice urging Italians to vote against the Communist party. In 1947 he won the Baltimore mayoralty –the first of his nationality to gain that position and was re-elected three more times. His eldest son Thomas J. D'Alessandro, Jr., served as Baltimore's second Italian American mayor from 1967 to 1971. Born in the family's Baltimore homestead in 1929, and raised in the immigrant neighborhood, Thomas, like his father, married a neighborhood Italian girl, attended local schools and received a law degree. Thomas Jr., however, tired of politics after one term and retired from the field.

The zest for political life rubbed off on the youngest of the D'Alessandro clan, Nancy who married and moved to California where she became the mother of five children, but never lost her enthusiasm for political interplay, thereby becoming the third member of the D'Alessandro dynasty. Once her children had reached college age, Nancy became active in Democratic Party politics, emerging in the early 1980s as the chairperson of the northern California Democratic Party, then chair of the party's Senatorial Finance Committee. That she possessed an authentic commitment to ethnic roots was reflected in such examples as efforts to bring succor to Italians devastated by an appalling earthquake and by serving on the board of directors of the National Italian American Foundation. In 1986 Nancy Pelosi ran and won a seat in Congress representing a largely liberal constituency in San Francisco that continued to re-elect her to the post -in 1996 she received 84 percent of the vote in her Congressional district. From the outset she demonstrated remarkable ability to integrate the needs of her district that included gays, environmentalists, and newly arrived Asian immigrants. A devoted mother whose family always takes priority, she is also a feminist. Observers say she has done all this without evincing a hard-edged persona. Nancy made an aggressive bid to become the Democratic whip in the House of Representatives-an effort that succeeded in October 2001. The failure of the Democratic party to gain Congressional seats from Republicans in 2002, set the stage for her election to House Minority Leader, a highly visible post where she will be a central figure in the nation's policies in the immediate future. She sees her challenge to be that of consensus builder and spokesperson for her party.

When the Democrats won the 2006 mid-term elections, it set the stage for Nancy Pelosi to be elected Speaker of the House, often called the second most powerful position in government, and second in the presidential line of succession. She was the first female and first Italian American to reach that vaunted position.

House Minority Leader Pelosi addresses the audience of a NIAF Public Policy Forum
Leader Pelosi with New York Stock Exchange Chairman and CEO Dick Grasso
NIAF reception on Capitol Hill recognizing Leader Pelosi as the Highest Ranking Italian American in the History of the U.S. Congress

View Previous Entry     View Next Entry       Back to Timeline