From Election Day mornings when he and his father would scale the roof of their Little Italy rowhouse to check the traffic, to his own days as a mayor who embraced the Jesuit ideals of justice and service, there was little daylight between family, faith and politics for the late Thomas D’Alesandro III, according to his sister, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“As we were growing up, Mommy and Daddy raised our family ... to be devoutly Catholic, deeply patriotic, grounded by Italian American heritage and staunchly Democratic,” said Pelosi, eulogizing her brother Wednesday at a funeral Mass.
D’Alesandro, known as “Young Tommy” to distinguish him from his father, who also served as mayor and was a congressman, died Sunday at his North Baltimore home from complications from a stroke.
The service at St. Ignatius Church in Mount Vernon drew a couple of hundred mourners, including much of the Maryland delegation to Congress and a number of those who succeeded D’Alesandro as mayor — or hope to.
“In this room, if I said ‘Mayor,’ 10 heads would turn around,” joked Pelosi, invoking laughter from an audience that included former mayors Martin O’Malley, Sheila Dixon and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, current Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Council President Brandon Scott. Young and Scott are running for mayor in 2020.
Pelosi and other speakers remembered D’Alesandro as a progressive politician, who first as City Council president and later as mayor was passionate about civil rights against what was often stiff resistance.
The Rev. William J. Watters called him a champion of “the civil rights of African Americans in this city of Baltimore."
“You modeled respect for all persons,” he said, especially “those on the margins of life.”
D’Alesandro attended Loyola High School (now called Loyola Blakefield) and what is now Loyola University Maryland, schools established by the Catholic order of the Society of Jesus. Watters said D’Alesandro always upheld Jesuit values.
“You were truly a man for others,” he said.
Pelosi recalled how her father once introduced her brother, at the time the city’s election supervisor, to presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator.
“I’m going to give you a good count," Pelosi said her brother told Kennedy. “To which Senator Kennedy said, ‘Tommy, I want better than a good count.'"
Calling D’Alesandro “my confidante, my mentor, my brother," Pelosi said, “he loved America, and was an avid student of American history."
“He knew every aspect of the sacrifices that people made to make America great,” said Pelosi, who has started an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, whose slogan is to “Make America Great Again.”
As the late morning light streamed through the church, warm memories flowed both during and after the Mass.
“He thought he was funny, and sometimes he was,” Pelosi said. “Will you ever forget his laugh, especially at his own jokes?”
She said he would regale his grandchildren — “a whole new audience” — with the jokes he’d been telling for years and with tall tales: of being the only person in football history to throw a 100-yard pass and run and catch it, of swimming out to the ocean early in the morning to fight Moby Dick and the sharks so the children could swim safely.
His son and namesake, Thomas D’Alesandro IV, drew laughter recalling how his then 9-year-old son was shocked to find out that his grandfather had been in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system but quit to go to law school, exclaiming it was too bad he’d thrown his life away like that.
The younger D’Alesandro also talked about his father’s emphasis on education, both for his children and those of the city he led, constructing nine schools during his four-year tenure from 1967 to 1971.
Archbishop William Lori noted that while he arrived late to the funeral, it was also for the cause of education: He was participating in a groundbreaking ceremony in West Baltimore for the city’s first new Catholic school in more than 50 years.
We all, he said, “stand on Tommy’s shoulders.”
The service ended with a rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and the crowd emptied into a bright fall day — limos and Suburbans ferrying the likes of U.S. representatives C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and Steny Hoyer of Maryland; Mike Thompson and Doris Matsui of California; Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, and Nita Lowey of New York, along with Maryland’s U.S. senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
Family members, including his wife of 67 years, Marge, their four sons and daughter, and grandchildren, left for a private burial at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor and longtime political consultant, remembered how the savvy D’Alesandro achieved his goal of a majority black school board. Not everyone wanted Gibson and the other black nominees seated, he said.
“There had not been a majority black anything in the city or the state, in terms of a major governmental body,” Gibson said. “The way he got it done was a trade.”
There happened to be three City Councilmen who at the time were interested in bill extending the hours of the city’s pool halls, Gibson recalled.
“Tommy agreed to support that in exchange for their confirmation [votes],” Gibson said. “And it worked.”
Former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski said D’Alesandro, by confronting the devastation of the 1968 riots, and the racial issues they raised, led the city away from its past and toward its future.
“I remember Young Tommy not at 90 but at 40, where he took us through a very tumultuous time right after the riots,” Mikulski said. “He tried to hold the city together and to be the social glue, and he did it by building schools, by opening up places that were closed to African Americans, whether it was swimming pools or housing initiatives.
“I remember Tommy," she said, "as a modern mayor.”