By Erin Bryant and Megha Rajagopalan
BALTIMORE – The state has a new governor and a new U.S. Senator, and the city soon will be getting a new mayor. But in the proud corner of Baltimore known as Little Italy, the talk was all about a congresswoman from far away San Francisco who will become the nation’s first speaker of the House of Representatives.
Nancy Pelosi learned her precinct level politics on the narrow streets and in the Formstone rowhouses of the old neighborhood as the daughter of one Baltimore mayor and the sister of another.
“It’s great. Someone from our neighborhood who played on our steps, with all the other little girls, to progress like this,” said John Pente, who has lived in the same grey rowhouse here for each of his 96 years.
Pelosi, who became the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives after the Republicans were swept from power, claimed a majority of seats, grew up in a Little Italy home at Albemarle and Fawn. Now a neighborhood known mainly for its score of Italian restaurants, Little Italy is still the kind of place where many have spent their whole lives.
Along with her five brothers, one of whom still lives in Little Italy, Pelosi was born into a prominent Baltimore political family. Her father, Thomas A. D’Alesandro, Jr., was a mayor of the city and represented Baltimore in Congress. Her older brother, Thomas A. D’Alesandro III, was also mayor of Baltimore.
Pelosi went to high school at the Institute of Notre Dame, a Catholic all-girls school in the city, which also numbers among its alumna a member of the United States Senate, Barbara A. Mikulski, who like Pelosi is a Democrat.
“It’s very flattering to have someone third in line for the presidency come from your school,” said 17-year-old Jennifer Sykes, a junior at the school.
Pelosi left Little Italy when she went to Trinity College in Washington, where she met her husband, Paul Pelosi. She moved with him to San Francisco, where she raised a family before going into politics.
“She was one of our neighborhood girls,” said Giovanna Blattermann, perched on a stool at the counter of Iggy’s, a diner that has been a fixture in the neighborhood.
Blattermann says her husband, Albert, has a special connection with Pelosi, with whom he attended class.
“She was the first girl he ever danced with,” Blattermann said.
She said that when he learned Pelosi, now 66, would become Speaker of the House, he invited his wife to touch his hands for a second-hand brush with celebrity.
His wife, laughed. “After all these years, he still has a crush on her.”
Residents are eager to share memories of Pelosi, their local celebrity, as a little girl.
“When we were 10 and 11, we used to eat chocolate pudding together in what we called the mayor’s house,” recalls Mary Anne Campanella, who is 65. “We would watch Howdie Dowdie,” she added, recalling how uncommon it was for a family to have a television.
Unearthing a black and white photograph from a plastic grocery bag, she points to each face in the picture – her mother in a wedding dress, her father in a tuxedo and Thomas D’Alesandro, Pelosi’s father, as the best man.
“[Nancy] didn’t have very many dates because of her five older brothers were very protective,” said Campanella, now the president of the Little Italy Community Organization. “When a fellow asked her out, the five older brothers had to chaperone.”
The neighborhood has always been proud of her. Even though she left long ago, many say she remains one of the family.
“Nancy don’t take any guff,” Campanella said proudly. “She’ll go toe to toe with her [political] opponents. She’s very strong-willed. She sticks to her guns – very firm.”
Though there are no banners draped in her honor, residents show their pride in small ways. When she became minority whip, for instance, her former neighbors held a celebratory bocce ball tournament and named the field where the game was played after her.
This week, Little Italy residents chose “245” as their lottery number – Pelosi’s old street address – and Blattermann said residents are planning a street festival as celebration and many want to name a street in her honor: “Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi Street.”
Although she visits infrequently, she always orders cheese ravioli at one of Little Italy’s restaurants when she does, Campanella says.
“Anytime her name comes up in national news, they’ll say, ‘you know, she’s from Little Italy,'” says Roland Keh, the owner of a restaurant called Amicci’s, with a laugh. “I say it myself, all the time.”
But even though most residents haven’t seen their local hero in years, they see her face on national television and follow her career in the newspapers. Here, she will always be a hero.
“Her family is very proud, and all the Italian Americans are very proud,” said Guido DeFranco, the chef and owner of Caesar’s Den. “In this neighborhood, she’s almost family. It’s really something.”
Blattermann says Pelosi was named after her mother, Annunciata, who was also called Nancy. Pelosi was this called “Little Nancy,” though with Tuesday election, that may have changed. “Today,” Blattermann says, “Little Nancy has become big Nancy.”