Pelosi’s day to shine

The spotlight belonged to Nancy Pelosi on Thursday as she became the first woman in U.S. history to stand at the head of the House of Representatives, second in line to the presidency.

Pelosi, a 66-year-old Democrat, aimed to introduce herself to America not just as the San Francisco liberal decried by Republicans, but also as an Italian-American Catholic, mother of five and native of gritty Baltimore, where her father was mayor.

She arrived on the House floor for the historic event with her six grandchildren in tow, including baby Paul Michael Vos, born to her daughter Alexandra in early November. She thanked her family for supporting her journey “from the kitchen to the Congress.”

After her election by a vote of 233-202, the chamber’s Democratic-Republican breakdown, Pelosi stood holding the sleeping infant — who did not stir — and shook hands as she accepted congratulations from her fellow House members.

Minutes later, cheers erupted in the chamber as House Republican leader John Boehner handed her the speaker’s gavel. Pelosi always has said she wants to be judged by her abilities, not her gender, but she happily acknowledged the importance of her achievement.

“Today I thank my colleagues. By electing me as speaker you have brought us closer to the ideal of equality that is America’s heritage and America’s hope,” Pelosi said. “This is an historic moment — for the Congress, and for the women of America. It is a moment for which we have waited more than 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights.”

“For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling,” she said. “For our daughters and our granddaughters now, the sky is the limit.”

Boehner, in handing her the gavel, said, “For more than 200 years, the leaders of our government have been democratically elected. And from their ranks, our elected leaders have always selected a man for the responsibility and honor of serving as speaker of the House. Always, that is, until today.”

Pelosi had entered the chamber to prolonged cheers from fellow House members and the packed visitors’ galleries, where onlookers included actor Richard Gere and singer Tony Bennett, crooner of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Pelosi began her history-making day at a prayer service with her husband, Paul, and a daughter at St. Peter’s Catholic Church near the Capitol. Attending the service with her were Republican leaders that her party put into the minority in the November election: Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Also there were new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a one-time Pelosi rival elected by House Democrats to be her No. 2 over her protests, and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.

She also attended a ceremonial swearing-in of the Congressional Black Caucus, where the incoming leader of the 42-member group, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., made clear that they intended to have a voice in the new Congress. “She must deliver because black people delivered that we might have this majority,” Kilpatrick said of Pelosi.

The House convened at midday with Democrats rejoicing over taking control of Congress after 12 years in the minority.

“We look forward to the rest of the country appreciating the real San Francisco values, of diversity and a city of dreamers, ” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said after attending a brunch in her honor. “You can only exploit the gay community so much … They’re going to see there’s so much more to San Francisco.”

Throughout, the symbolism of Pelosi’s triumph for women was center stage.

Outside a brunch Thursday at the Library of Congress, leaders from the National Organization for Women greeted her with a giant congratulation card. The message: Way to Go!

Thursday evening, Pelosi was being feted at a $1,000-a-head concert hosted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at the National Building Museum with performances expected from Carole King, Bennett, Wyclef Jean and others.

Pelosi attended Mass Wednesday at Trinity University, where she’s an alumna, and dined that night at the Italian embassy.

Friday begins with an open house event across from the Capitol. Then she heads to Baltimore, where the street where she grew up in Little Italy is being dedicated in her honor: Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi Via.

Pelosi was raised there, the daughter of New Deal Maryland congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, who later became the city’s mayor. She didn’t run for the House herself until 1987 after marrying wealthy businessman Paul Pelosi, moving to San Francisco and raising her children.

In Congress Pelosi displayed the tough politicking of her childhood environment. She wrung loyalties, counted votes and muscled aside Hoyer to become Democrats’ second-in-command, and then Democratic leader in 2002.

Personal loyalty is key to Pelosi. She tried to block Hoyer’s bid in November to become Democratic majority leader, suffering an embarrassing defeat when her preferred candidate, Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, lost badly.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press