Why Nancy Pelosi Might Run Again newsbhunt

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I tried again and seemed to have more success.

“Well let’s just go back about six years and we had Dianne, we had Barbara, we had Jackie Speier, now Jackie is gone, so we’ll see,” Pelosi said, laying out the rationale for another run by invoking the three veteran Bay-area lawmakers who’ve retired or are retiring: Feinstein, former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who stepped down in 2017, and former Rep. Jackie Speier, who left Congress at the start of this year.

It was a striking moment of candor, when the text of our conversation (Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco) finally met the subtext of it (Nancy Pelosi’s future in San Francisco).

Yet it was only a moment. Pelosi grew characteristically elusive again — and harder to believe. “I haven’t been thinking much about it — yet,” she said, “but I will. When I need to, I will.”

Nancy Pelosi is a towering figure, perhaps the most consequential speaker to ever wield the gavel of the House and certainly the most powerful elected woman in American history, At a time when her octogenarian counterparts in the Oval Office and Senate leadership suite are visibly hobbled by age, the 83-year-old San Franciscan, older than both President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell, seemingly defies the march of time.

Now, having relinquished her leadership role in Washington, the question is if she’ll do the same with her House seat at a time when California’s clout in the capital is diminished, her party is led by Northeasterners in the White House and both chambers of Congress, and San Francisco is facing acute, if not as dire as portrayed, challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“It’s really hard to leave a job you love and are great at,” said said former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who retired In 2017. “If I’m Nancy, it’s not easy.”

As Pelosi weighs her decision, I was eager to see her home style, to glimpse at how this lawmaker so identified with Capitol Hill operates in a district that’s entirely in this singular American city. Or The City, as she puts it in her press releases and as it’s casually called by locals who subscribe to the Tennessee Williams line that “America has three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans — everything else is Cleveland.”

I spent most of a 12-hour Thursday with Pelosi, next to her in the back seat of her armored SUV as she unspooled stream-of-consciousness stories, elliptical observations and pointed assessments, and mostly answered my many questions, as we motored to a series of gatherings and appointments around the 39 square miles of San Francisco that is her district.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, the city is facing serious challenges. There’s the exodus of technology companies, the so-called doom loop that’s triggering a vicious cycle with retail and other places of business, and a downtown ill-equipped to absorb the work-from-home transition due to its lack of residential enclaves.

Yet the portrayal of San Francisco as a post-Covid hellscape, notably worse than other American cities, is wildly overstated. Its problems are much more localized and large swaths of the city remain charming and tourist-filled, and still move $6 lattes at a healthy clip.

“The city is an adult,” said former Mayor Willie Brown. One of Brown’s predecessors, Art Agnos, used similar terms about San Francisco in a separate conversation. “I worry the way you worry about an adult child in a new job, facing new challenges,” Agnos said of the city. When you’ve come through — or governed — during fires, earthquakes, serial killers, political assassinations, Jonestown and the AIDS epidemic, you gain perspective.

Of more immediate interest to the political set here are Pelosi’s plans.That’s because she’s holding back a set of electoral dominoes for federal, state and local office that will fall should she retire.

“Ask her one question: When is she announcing?” Brown told me.

I had stopped by his corner lunch table at Sam’s Grill the day before I spent with Pelosi. Brown, who at 89 is also apparently impervious to the burdens of old age, alternates between the salmon and the sand dabs but is mostly at Sam’s to satisfy his bottomless appetite for intrigue. (When I had lunch with Brown at the same table later in the week he double-booked me with a reporter working on a Feinstein piece.)

“She’s screwing up the whole thing,” Brown complained with a grin that betrayed the coming punchline. “She’s making it impossible for me to make a decision on whether or not I run?”

Run for what, mayor?

“I don’t know, but she’s screwing it up,” he deadpanned, leaving his table and visitors laughing.

In a more serious moment, Brown predicted Pelosi would run again. Agnos didn’t venture a guess but said “I hope she does” and then repeated the same phrase three times: “We need her.”

Much is weighing on Pelosi’s mind. There’s the issue of California’s power outage in Washington, there’s New York taking advantage of that prospect (she didn’t mince words about Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s efforts to get more than his state’s fair share) and there’s the needs of her city in its fragile state.

“The day is coming when we’re going to start out with a baby congressperson and some baby senator,” fretted Aaron Peskin, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, alluding to the departures of Pelosi and Feinstein, which he said he hoped wouldn’t happen simultaneously.

Pelosi won her first congressional race here in 1987 with a slogan of, “A Voice That Will Be Heard,” and, whether it’s on crime, housing or health care, San Francisco today could use the considerable influence that voice carries.

Pelosi has been highly involved in pushing Biden’s Justice Department to help San Francisco combat its fentanyl crisis, which accounts for some of the crime issues plaguing the city. Her presence at City Hall for meetings on the topic have, said one person involved in the matter, all but assured the attendance and attention of Northern California’s U.S. attorney.

Whether to run again, however, is also intensely personal for Pelosi. That’s in part because it’s an open secret that one of her four daughters, Christine, is eager to claim the seat and because San Francisco’s disorder landed all too literally on the family’s doorstep last year.

“These nuts almost killed her husband,” as Agnos put it, lauding Pelosi’s fortitude. “Do you ever ever hear her complain about it?”

Indeed, when I offered that the city’s crime problem was no longer theoretical to her, she ignored my witness-leading and responded with a practiced update on Paul Pelosi’s recovery. She did allow that the assailant’s case was coming up “so we’ll see how his spirits go with that” before calling her husband “a beautiful, lovely man.”

Known for being almost entirely apolitical — and happier in San Francisco and Napa than Washington — Paul Pelosi surprised his wife, and me, by showing up at the last event of the day: a fundraiser the former speaker headlined for vulnerable House Democrats.

She was delighted to see him as he arrived near the end of the reception at a city art gallery. I didn’t ask him if he got a vote on the matter of his wife’s plans but he seemed to register his view when we got to talking about their end-of-August trip to Italy.

You’re not going to be ambassador after all, I said, reminding the Pelosis of the incessant speculation that she would end her career as America’s ambassador to the country of her roots.

“It wouldn’t go away but she was very clear,” Paul Pelosi said of the rumor: “’I don’t want the job, I’m done, I’m done.’”

It was when he said the “done” part that I noticed his wife’s hand clench his in that way spouses do when they want to quietly convey something to one another, in this case: Please don’t say anything more on that topic to this reporter.

While Pelosi said little about the attack on her husband, she said even less about what remains the single biggest story in global politics: whether former President Donald Trump returns to office. There was only one, muttered “despicable” when she absorbed a push alert on her phone pertaining to news about one of Trump’s trials.

However, as the day ended, and her detail dropped me off at my hotel, she spoke in the manner of someone shaped by Jan. 6, by the attack on her husband and by God only knows how many threats against her. It was also the manner of somebody who could be looking to justify another run for office — or somebody who could be, in her own way, explaining why she will retire.

Pelosi was discussing her plans to write a new book and call it, “Our Flag Was Still There.”

It’s that section of the national anthem, she explained, “when I jump up and down.”

“‘Proof through the night’ — and we’re through the night now, we’re going through it — ‘that our flag was still there.’”

You think we’re still going through the night?

“Coming out of it, I think,” she said. “But we’ll see what happens with these cases and the rest. It’s very dangerous for all of us, we’re all targets. Be careful.”

* * *

Pelosi’s acumen as a fundraiser, vote counter and legislative maestro have been well-chronicled since she became House Democratic leader over two decades ago. Yet I’ve long been curious about Pelosi the local pol, how a scion from Baltimore’s Little Italy rose to represent San Francisco, mastering the city’s famously combative, liberal and tribal politics so that, after her initial 1987 victory, she never faced a serious challenge again.

She did it by uniting, at least for her purposes, the city’s rivaling Democratic cliques; by co-opting her most formidable opposition bloc soon after that first race; and by mostly avoiding local kingmaking to preserve friendships and alliances across the city.

A transplant, a social-pages fixture and a Roman Catholic mother of five, she was initially caricatured as a mere donor, living, literally and figuratively, high above the rest of AIDS-battered San Francisco. Never mind that she had been state party chair and a key player when the city hosted the 1984 Democratic convention.

Yet the dilettante who would only be a “cocktail congresswoman,” as the line went in her first race, emerged as the most significant figure from the hothouse of skill, ambition and moxie that was her cohort of Northern California Democrats. Think of them all: Feinstein, Boxer, former Gov. Jerry Brown, former state Assembly speaker turned Mayor Willie Brown, former Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy and former Reps. Phil, John and Sala Burton. There was also Jerry Brown’s teenage debate sparring partner, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. And what could have been were Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk not assassinated?

It’s a generational murderer’s row equaled only by that other assemblage of talent to emerge from the Bay Area in the 1960s: the band Pelosi saw play at the home of the Giants this summer in what may or may not have been the Grateful Dead’s final show.

California, Boxer told me, “opens its arms up, to women and to people who weren’t born there,” and the alchemy of natives and transients who bring a convert’s passion is potent.

So what better way to understand this history than to spend a day with her in what she calls “heaven on earth?”

We began with lattes, espressos and scones at Manny’s, an only-in-San-Francisco coffee shop-bar, event space and bookstore in the Mission District. There were also stops at a San Francisco State convocation, a senior center in traditionally African-American Bayview, a Democratic fundraising luncheon on The Embarcadero. And also a taping of an interview about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at the old Presidio Officers Club, a tour of a park within the Presidio, a community center in Chinatown, a youth art awards gathering at her district office and that evening fundraiser.

It was a tour de force, revealing not only her stamina — “do you like our pace?” she asked late in the afternoon — but also her multitudes.

There was the charming Italian grandmother, calling everyone from the newly naturalized custodian in her district office to the park ranger at the Presidio “darling.”

There was the canny precinct politician, recalling not only names but the pet projects of local machers in the audience of her events (Florence Fang got a shoutout in Chinatown for her work on an urban farm and the new museum for Chinese-American rail workers).

There was also the demanding boss, wanting to know precisely which union was leafleting outside her remarks at San Francisco State and telling her young aides in the third row of seats not to bother connecting her on speaker phone with advance staffers at the next event as we rode through the Broadway tunnel, which she said made the aides’ voices sound like “Donald Duck.”

Her interactions with voters were almost entirely positive — there’s a reason why she’ll one day have her name emblazoned across the city — but at the senior center she was pressed on reparations for Black Americans.

After a bit of hemming and hawing about a study of the topic and Republican obstructionism, Pelosi finally offered what she called “a direct answer to your direct question: Right now, no, I don’t see that.”

The questioner, who was wearing a 49ers Deebo Samuel jersey but declined to share his name, told me after the event that the answer “showed who she was” and said he was for the Green Party. That didn’t stop him, however, from later approaching “Nancy,” as he called her, and taking a picture of her and his wife.

Pelosi has a reputation for being relentlessly on-message with reporters, and she offered plenty of sanitized commentary during the day, mostly cooing about the splendors of her adopted home. Yet, sometimes at my prodding but usually of her own volition, she was remarkably revealing about a range of topics.

There was the matter of whom she considered her political mentor here (McCarthy not Phil Burton, who once had her seat); Schumer’s zealousness in claiming money for New York as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (“You have no idea how, shall we say, inquisitive he was in the whole process,” she confided); and even the Biden administration’s reluctance to send F-16s to Ukraine (reading a push alert on her phone about Ukraine’s slow counteroffensive, Pelosi said: “See, we got to send them those planes. I’ve been, we’ve been, saying it for a year.”)

Pelosi was defensive when I wondered if, having left the congressional leadership, she could now focus her attention more fully on helping the city that elevated her in its time of need, a sort of full circle ending to her career.

Sensitive to any suggestion she had forgotten where she came from — she said she always “kept the home fires burning” — she chided me for “fishing.”

However, in what was the closest thing to a valedictory, Pelosi said these emeritus years offer her “a chance to say thank you and that’s the way I think of it — to say thank you for all the latitude they gave me to be national and global, really.”

* * *

Most telling were the two moments she showed another side of herself: the politician with little patience for impertinent lines of inquiry.

During the course of a long day, Pelosi flashed evident irritation only twice. And both times were when I steered the conversation from her means of ascent and the glories of the city of Saint Francis to the more fraught present and immediate future.

No topic animated Pelosi that day more than the delicate matter of California’s frail, 90-year-old senior senator. This may come as a surprise to close students of San Francisco politics, who know that the speaker and the senator were more neighbors than friends. Feinstein could be forbidding and, seven years her senior, had been mayor for nearly a decade before Pelosi’s first run.

Then there was the matter of their differing factions, which Pelosi volunteered almost as if to say: Even a good liberal like me is standing up for Dianne!

Speaking more in admiration than warmth — she never called Feinstein her “sister” as she did when speaking to me about Boxer — Pelosi was emphatic.

“You’re talking about somebody we owe so much to,” she said. “And, by the way, we were never really on the same page politically. Death penalty and all that.”

Pelosi’s point, though, was that Feinstein “is an iconic figure” and deserves better than the treatment she’s gotten from the press and even those Democrats urging her to resign. Which is where it got personal for the former speaker, who knows from both gendered criticism and questions about when she’ll retire.

First off, there’s the role of Nancy Corinne Prowda, Pelosi’s eldest daughter and namesake. When the two families lived across from each other in Presidio Terrace, the younger Pelosi and Feinstein bonded.

The Pelosi family joke, as the former speaker tells it: “If Dianne ran against me, who would Nancy be for?”

The Pelosi daughter has been a frequent presence at Feinstein’s side in Washington, as the senator is pushed around in a wheelchair, and is also a companion here, where the two watch movies together.

What’s less publicly known is how personally involved the elder Pelosi has been in arguing that Feinstein be allowed to decide for herself if she wants to remain in office.

“She’s doing OK, she’s doing OK,” Pelosi said of Feinstein, less than convincingly, as we rolled by Pacific Heights on the way to Chinatown. “She’ll be able to do what she needs to do to vote and serve on the Appropriations Committee.”

When I told her I knew how forceful she had been in pushing to let Feinstein keep serving — never mind the trepidation of the senator’s doctors and daughter — Pelosi let loose about what she sees as a sexist double standard when it comes to enfeebled senators.

“It’s OK, you know they can vote, and it’s all they need to do,” she said of the rationalizations offered for those male lawmakers who were better suited for a nursing home than Congress. “And then Dianne comes along and then they’re making such a fuss? Uh-uh. It’s a guy thing, but that’s the way the world is.”

Now she was going.

Pelosi minimized a spill Feinstein had taken last month — it was “a very little fall, it was like a nothing” — and then came back to “the stories I know about some of those people when they were sick and they were serving and they didn’t even know where they were.”

She went on a bit about what Feinstein has meant to California when I had the temerity to ask if, given that legacy, she ought not to have retired gracefully.

Which is when I got a quick, ferocious glance across the seat that said a lot more than her question back to me: “What’d you talking about?”

Unable to safely throw myself from the moving vehicle, I took refuge in a journalistic safe space: Just playing devil’s advocate, I explained.

“Did you ever say anything about any of those other guys, that they should leave, because you never ever wrote about them,” she said. (Fact check: I did write about them and my congressional colleagues haven’t exactly covered up for likes of, say, Thad Cochran, to name one former male senator who was barely functional during his last days in office.)

* * *

The other noticeable, man-made chill in the car came later in the day, after Pelosi held up a tablet and participated virtually in a meeting of the local Building Trades council. A longtime favorite of labor, the former speaker was bathed in praise from Secretary-Treasurer Rudy Gonzalez, who concluded his remarks with her online by assuring her that she’d have the trades’ support “as long as you’re willing to serve.”

Did such encouragement factor into her thinking, I asked Pelosi when she had put down the tablet.

“How can I say this immodestly, or modestly: that’s what I’ve been hearing constantly, constantly,” she explained.

To which I replied: Even from Christine?

As in: the Pelosi daughter whose life, as Willie Brown put it, “has been devoted in preparation” to succeeding her mother and who appeared at two of the stops we made.

There was that look again and a demand as to what I meant.

This time I explained that I was being a smart-ass (fact check: also true) and Pelosi briefly insisted she hadn’t discussed the matter with her daughter and would-be political heir.

However, before we moved on, and tellingly, she offered an unprompted defense of Christine Pelosi’s political smarts.

The former speaker claimed it was her daughter’s advocacy that prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to switch his messaging in the failed 2021 gubernatorial recall from a singularly anti-Trump message to a more empathetic one coming out of Covid. “Christine said to him, ‘You have to change your message,’” and after doing so he easily prevailed, she said.

(Newsom’s advisers would, to put it mildly, take issue with this recounting of events.)

* * *

That Pelosi could have a decided favorite in her succession is notable given that she largely steered clear of factional disputes in a city where winning the Democratic nomination is tantamount to victory. She has done so deftly, from that first race in 1987.

By now, the Pelosi origin story is well known. Sala Burton on her deathbed tapped the reluctant housewife, who had no designs on the seat, as the Burton favorite.

What’s not commonly understood is Pelosi was more closely aligned with the Burton organization’s rival, Leo McCarthy, at that time the lieutenant governor.

The Burtons were the dominant Democratic force in the city, led first by Phil, the legendary tactician and mapmaker, and then his widow and successor, Sala, and his younger brother, John. In fact, as of next year, it will have been 60 years since the bulk of San Francisco was represented by someone other than a Burton or a Pelosi.

The Burton tribe also include Willie Brown and George Moscone, the mayor assassinated in City Hall. They were to the left of McCarthy and would clash with his faction over patronage and primaries.

Remarkably, Pelosi bridged the rivals and enjoyed both groups’ support when she ran in the special election to fill Sala Burton’s term. Going forward, she was always careful about not alienating allies in a one-party city.

“She gets that, in San Francisco, the differences are smaller and that you’re maybe with people on an issue one day or not with them and then you’re going to be with them again,” said Leslie Katz, a former city supervisor who snagged a rare Pelosi endorsement. “And so she’s never conducted herself in any way that really creates that kind of schism.”

Another former supervisor told me Pelosi was rarely willing to intervene in local races, or even on some ballot measures, but that she reliably sent handwritten notes on his birthday and after his electoral victories.

Staying out of her party’s internecine wars at home meant that Pelosi never wielded the sort of local machine that Burton built. But neutrality at home allowed her to fully focus her efforts on climbing in Washington, where she succeeded where Burton fell short by becoming leader and then speaker.

“She didn’t start any fires here,” said Phil Matier, the longtime San Francisco political writer. “I can’t remember a single time she was in a knockdown dragout.”

Pelosi met McCarthy by way of Paul’s brother, Ronald Pelosi, a San Francisco supervisor in the 1970s.

“Through Ronald — not really politically but just going to church and all this — I got very close to Leo McCarthy, and Leo McCarthy was, if anybody was a mentor to me, it would’ve been Leo,” she recalled. “People say: ‘Oh, Phil Burton was your mentor.’ Phil wasn’t, we screamed and yelled at each other.”

The perception of San Francisco as a city of liberalism and libertinism obscures how vital the Catholic Church was to Pelosi’s rise. Not only did she find social justice allies like McCarthy in the church, but she was able to narrowly forge a winning coalition in part because of her connections to the city’s parishes.

A native, Paul had grown up in the Marina neighborhood and attended the prestigious St. Ignatius, the same high school Jerry Brown and Moscone attended. The Pelosis had relationships across the city.

“We had our Nonna Brigade,” the former speaker told me, recounting how her mother-in-law and “some of her Italian woman friends would call all these places.”

When Pelosi was told her bid would prove difficult because a woman would struggle in San Francisco’s more traditional precincts, she said she looked at the neighborhoods and dismissed the analysis.

“I said, ‘But you’re making one mistake: Those areas are Italian-American and I will win them,’” she recalled. “And I did.”

In her excellent biography of Pelosi, author Susan Page notes that voters in such enclaves were sent a mailer with photos of the Pelosis and their five children, her own family growing up and Paul’s parents, a caption stating that the candidate was “steeped in the traditions of her Italian Catholic childhood.”

As we rode around, Pelosi said something about that childhood that explains it, explains her and illustrates why she was able to rise in her adopted city.

“Our family was very liberal politically but very conservative personally,” she said.

That may seem hard to grasp in this era of political homogeneity, a 1950s-era ethnic politics redolent of the fedora, bow tie and Cold War liberalism. Yet how could it work in a city so identified with the 1960s?

Pelosi recounted a radio interview she once gave to Larry King in which the talk show host couldn’t grasp how a nice Catholic girl from Baltimore could mix in San Francisco’s liberal scene.

That thinking, Pelosi explained, was “completely wrong” because it was precisely her Catholicism that inculcated in her the importance of “respecting the dignity and worth of people.”

What she, and King in that interview, were alluding to, of course, was San Francisco’s large gay population. LGBT voters and their left-wing allies were the only impediment Pelosi had in her first, and really only, competitive race.

Her leading opponent that year was Harry Britt, a gay member of the Board of Supervisors.

As Pelosi phrased it the morning we met, “there was a whole argument, who can do more for AIDS: a gay man or a Catholic woman, who would not be the likely suspect?”

That case won Britt strong support in the city’s heavily gay and more liberal enclaves and Pelosi could claim victory only when absentee ballots came in. She won by less than 4,000 votes, noticed who had been against her and set out to ensure she wouldn’t have that problem at the polls again.

She immediately hired a gay man, Stephen Morin, to handle AIDS policy in her office, and when she was sworn in she used her first address on the House floor to say she’d take up the fight against “the crisis of AIDS,” a comment that prompted some of her fellow Democrats to privately chide her at the time for identifying herself with such a taboo issue. Pelosi knew what she was doing, though, and her now-famous efforts for the AIDS quilt and Ryan White Act followed.

There’s a saying that good policy is good politics, but Pelosi wouldn’t dare connect the two. “I was doing the job,” she said, representing a city in the ravages of the AIDS crisis and, she reminded me more than once when I asked about the city’s challenges today, attending “three funerals a week.”

But she’s had strong support in the gay community ever since, and when she wanted to give Rep. Adam Schiff’s Senate bid a highly visible boost earlier this year, she did so by letting him ride with her in San Francisco’s Pride parade.

* * *

It was AIDS, also, that prompted her to take another step that would help secure her seat and standing at home: joining the Appropriations Committee.

“They would always say to me, ‘You should go for Ways and Means’ and I said, ‘Well, you have to remember HIV-AIDS,’ we needed money and that was it — we needed money, we needed big money.”

Pelosi’s pursuit of the spending panel over the tax-writing committee was all the more wise given what San Francisco endured, in addition to AIDS, in the first decade after her initial victory: namely, the devastating 1989 earthquake and the shutdown of five area military bases.

Pelosi’s father had served on Appropriations in the House as a congressman from Maryland in the 1940s, but she got her own early glimpse of the committee’s clout when then-Chairman Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, who had been a colleague of her father on the panel, approached her after the earthquake.

“He said: ‘You come to the floor tomorrow and you tell me what you need,’” she recalled, adding with a chuckle: “I mean Jamie was my hero. He was ancient, probably younger than I am now, but he seemed ancient.” (Yes, Whitten was only 79 at the time).

Pelosi’s role on the committee helped her mitigate the effects of the base closures, most notably with the Presidio, the old Army base (and onetime proposed United Nations headquarters) with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

On this, Pelosi was careful to credit Phil Burton, recalling how “in the dark of night” he had put language in a bill ensuring that, should the Department of Defense cede control of the post, it would become part of the federal Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

When the moment arrived, though, it was Pelosi, working with Boxer who was then in the House, who battled local opposition and the National Park Service to help craft what became known as the Presidio Trust. The innovative public-private partnership has transformed the base into a mix of private homes, museums, playgrounds and a path on the old Crissy Field by the bay that Pelosi told me she uses for her morning walks.

As we walked along the Presidio’s Tunnel Tops, a park area that sits atop the tunnel that leads to the Golden Gate Bridge, we also caught a glimpse of the veteran’s cemetery that overlooks the bay.

That’s where Phil and Sala Burton are buried, she told me.

Earlier in the day, perhaps mindful that she had brought up her scraps with Phil Burton, Pelosi made a point of singling out Sala Burton for praise, noting how important Sala’s prodding and eventual support was in that first race.

“I didn’t even think about running for Congress and she was insisting I run,” Pelosi told me, recalling how she “loved her.”

They had lunch in the fall of 1986, before it was known how sick Sala was, and the then-member of Congress pushed Pelosi. “I said, ‘I’m not running for anything, I’m shy,’” the former speaker recalled.

I didn’t exactly buy it, but I played along. How did you get over that, I asked.

“Maybe I wasn’t as shy as I thought,” Pelosi admitted.

John Burton will turn 91 later this year and remains the same combative and profane labor liberal, straight out of the longshoreman halls where he and his brother built first built their machine.

In between the f-bombs, though, he’s insightful.

He was hardly close with Pelosi going into that first race, but he deferred to his sister-in-law’s dying wishes and became her campaign chair. Sala, he said, saw then “what everybody fucking sees today.”

And what would the old couple say if they could see Pelosi today, the most powerful San Franciscan in American history?

“’I’ll be goddamned,’” John said Phil would exclaim. “And Sala would say, ‘I told you, Phillip.’”

Benjamin Johansen contributed to this report.

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