House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.), speaks at her weekly news… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )
As noted in an earlier post, it was somewhat awkward when Republican Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio feted Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the House floor on the occasion of her 25th anniversary in Congress.
But Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for the ascension of their nemesis, the representative from San Francisco and erstwhile Speaker of the House.
Pelosi, who grew up in a political family in Baltimore, went on to become a leading Democratic luminary in her adopted hometown. She served as chairwoman of the California Democratic Party — helping lure the party’s national convention to San Francisco — and was a major national fundraiser. In 1986, Pelosi headed the money drive for Democrats in the U.S. Senate, helping the party win back control of the chamber.
With five children to raise, she was content to remain behind the scenes — influential but largely unknown to the public — until an abrupt turn of events in 1987.
As San Francisco Congresswoman Sala Burton lay dying, she summoned Pelosi to her hospital bedside in Washington. Burton and her late husband, Phil, were longtime friends and political allies of Pelosi. When Phil Burton suffered a fatal heart attack in 1983, Sala inherited his congressional seat. Four years later, Sala Burton said she wanted Pelosi to succeed her.
What followed was a short and exceedingly bitter special election, with 14 candidates vying for the open seat. Overnight, Pelosi went from relative anonymity to being the target of attacks -- "a legislator or a dilettante?" -- on billboards across San Francisco.
She threw herself into the race with characteristic vigor, eventually prevailing by fewer than 4,000 votes. Pelosi actually lost the Democratic vote to Harry Britt, who succeeded the assassinated Harvey Milk on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The difference? San Francisco’s beleaguered and overwhelmingly outnumbered Republicans, who cast enough votes for Pelosi to push her past Britt and into office.
According to knowledgeable insiders, a crucial piece of campaign mail went out to San Francisco Republicans in the waning days of the campaign, over the objections of Pelosi, suggesting she was the best candidate of the Democratic lot. (Her husband, Paul, quietly prevailed and the mailer went out.).
Pelosi has easily won reelection ever since, no thanks to the GOP.