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'Bursting with pride' in Little Italy

Around the narrow streets of Baltimore's Little Italy yesterday, the O'Malley and Ehrlich placards were still hanging proudly in the windows of restaurants and Formstone rowhouses.

But no one was talking about the men who duked it out in the race to become Maryland's next governor. Instead, neighbors were buzzing with pride about one of their own, Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become the nation's first female speaker of the House.They remembered the shy girl who wasn't allowed on a date without one of her five brothers along as chaperone. They recalled the gracious teenager who never assumed she was better than any of the other neighborhood kids just because her father was Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., a legendary Baltimore mayor

And they marveled that "Little Nancy," who they said took after her iron-willed mother, also known as Nancy, is poised to ascend to the post that is third in line for the presidency.

"I ate chocolate pudding with Nancy and watched Howdy Doody at night," said Mary Ann Campanella, 65, who still lives two blocks from the D'Alesandro home, which is at 245 Albemarle St. "That's how far back I go with Nancy."

The families actually go back further. In 1930, Pelosi's father was the best man in the wedding of Campanella's parents, she said, holding up a sepia-toned wedding portrait. The ceremony was held at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church, which has been the center of tight-knit Little Italy.

"I'm bursting with pride for Nancy," said Campanella, president of the Little Italy Community Organization. "To have her out of this small community, an Italian-American female to hold the third-largest position in our country, I want to say it's breathtaking to me."

When Campanella learned that Pelosi, 66, a married mother of five and grandmother of five who represents San Francisco, was likely to become House speaker, she was in awe.

"I turned to my husband and said, `A little girl from Little Italy, could you believe it'?"

The tiny neighborhood with its score of Italian restaurants draws tourists and local residents. And to Little Italy natives, the D'Alesandro family is as much a fixture as St. Leo's, summertime bocce tournaments and the Feast of St. Gabriel.

Two mayors

Pelosi's father, known as "Tommy the Elder," was a congressman, then Baltimore's mayor from 1947 to 1959. Her brother, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, "Tommy the Younger" was Baltimore's mayor from 1967 to 1971. And her mother, Annunciata, ran a tight ship raising six children while serving as the unofficial power in the family Democratic machine.

Pelosi was the youngest child and only daughter in a family that seemed to always be the community's center of attention.

"You could just open their door and walk in and socialize," said Angie Guerriero, 74, who grew up several blocks from the D'Alesandro home. "Or they were at our house. We shared jokes. In those days, there wasn't much else to do. They were just fine people."

Guerriero and her husband, John, who live a block from St. Leo's, are Pelosi supporters and offer moral and financial support for her political campaigns.

John Guerriero happily displayed a photo taken at a St. Leo's function two years ago showing him standing beside Pelosi.

"We just believed in her," he said. "She's just a beautiful, charismatic person. You just couldn't not believe in her."

John Guerriero's first call yesterday morning was to congratulate Pelosi's brother Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.

"She deserved it," he said, "She'll do a heck of a job."

D'Alesandro said he talked to his sister three times Tuesday night as the votes were being counted around the country and political power was shifting to the Democrats, meaning she is likely to become House speaker.

"She was so thrilled, and I was so proud of her," he said yesterday. "She's a trailblazer. And you have to understand, she brings to the table a set of credentials that are not matched by many in Congress."

D'Alesandro said Pelosi was a polite child who developed a head for politics as an adolescent, along with the rest of the family.

'Strict taskmaster'

When she was growing up, a first-floor room of the family home was converted into a constituent office for Tommy the Elder, and each child took turns at the desk for two hours a day. Failure to report for duty meant that "you were replaced," D'Alesandro said. "My mother was a strict taskmaster."

Pelosi thrived in the position.

"When Nancy turned 13, she took over," he said. "She was just perfect. She loved it."

Pelosi was also remembered outside Little Italy at the Institute of Notre Dame, where Pelosi graduated. The school is the alma mater of another prominent politician from Baltimore, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

Sister Mary Fitzgerald, president of the Institute of Notre Dame, said students there have been inspired by the legacy left by the two politicians.

"It's truly an honor to have two women in such outstanding positions in the U.S. Congress," she said. "It's not every day that a school has that. We are very proud."

Charles Sudano, 64, who lives on High Street, around the corner from the D'Alesandro home, said he was not only proud, but also impressed at the quiet girl who grew up to become a political powerhouse. He said his sister Jackie and Pelosi were "inseparable."

"My father used to scare the heck out of her," he said. "He'd say, `Nancy eat more pizza. You're too skinny.'"

'She's tough now'

"She was real timid, a real nice girl," he said. "She was a little princess. But she's strong now. She's tough now."

In a neighborhood where loyalty mattered, "she never had that thing, you know, `My father's the mayor' thing. She didn't have that snobby thing," Sudano said. "Besides, we would never let her get away with that."

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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