‘92 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION : Pelosi’s Prominence in Party on the Rise : Lawmaker: The San Francisco congresswoman will deliver a speech and preside over proceedings to adopt the platform.


At a cocktail reception last fall, Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose) introduced a tall, dark-haired woman standing in a corner as Nancy Pelosi and thanked her for attending the opening of a California think tank in Washington. But Pelosi, it turned out, never showed at the event.

What then was an innocent case of mistaken identity would be considered a major faux pas today. Pelosi, a longtime political activist and party insider before being elected to Congress in 1987, has emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the Democrats’ rising national stars.

She has played a key role as co-chair of the Democratic Party Platform Committee in proposing solutions to the nation’s economic, environmental and social problems that Democrats hope will help them take over the White House. And her name was mentioned by pundits and the press as a potential candidate for vice president, though Pelosi never took the talk seriously.


Tonight, Pelosi will be given a prominent role on the convention stage when she delivers a speech and presides over proceedings to adopt the party platform, called “A New Covenant with the American People.”

The 22-page policy manifesto is designed to give the party a more centrist image in the mold of presumptive Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. But Pelosi, pursuing the liberal interests of her San Francisco constituents, pushed hard for platform language that declares a “war on AIDS” and reaffirms public support for the National Endowment for the Arts without “political manipulation.”

“AIDS is a paramount issue in my district,” Pelosi said. “That was a high priority for me, and I think the strong language that is in the platform is as strong as it is because of my role.”

Pelosi’s ascent on the national scene comes at a time when other California women--from Senate candidates Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to state Treasurer Kathleen Brown--are generating enthusiasm among delegates here. This week’s convention, Pelosi said, is being used by women candidates as a staging ground to achieve political influence in years to come.

“I think this is the year of the woman the way 1776 was the year of our country’s declaration,” Pelosi said in an interview. “I feel quite certain that it’s real and it has staying power and it’s going to change public policy forever.”

Raised in a political family, Pelosi became a prolific fund-raiser and a top Democratic Party operative before running for Congress. Her father, Thomas J. D’Alesandro Jr., was a New Deal-era House member and then mayor of Baltimore between 1947 and 1959, a position later held from 1967 to 1971 by her brother, Thomas J. D’Alesandro III.


Describing herself as “too shy” for public office, Pelosi initially chose a different path in politics, preferring to operate behind the scenes as a party official and activist. She spent 25 years working within the party framework, first volunteering as a campaign aide and then rising to head the California Democratic Party and finance chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. These leadership posts mostly involved raising money to elect Democrats in California and Washington.

Pelosi was a protege of Phillip Burton, however, and it was through that relationship that she finally entered electoral politics. Before his death in 1983, Burton single-handedly ruled the California congressional delegation while representing the 5th District, one of the Democrats’ most loyal congressional seats.

Pelosi won election to the district by succeeding Burton’s wife, Sala, after her death in 1987.

In the House, Pelosi has gained wide respect as an effective legislator who has led fights to battle AIDS, protect the environment and oppose President Bush’s policy toward China. Colleagues described her with words such as “tenacious” and “talented”.

“If you want to be successful at something, you want her to be on your team,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the House Interior Committee.

One top Democratic lawmaker called Pelosi “a one-man band” who is at her best when persuading individual lawmakers to join her in an important vote. But she has not sought an alliance with a core bloc of like-minded lawmakers in the House, thus diminishing her overall influence, said the Democrat, who asked not to be identified.

In her five years on Capitol Hill, Pelosi hasn’t lost her fund-raising touch. She has raised nearly $2 million.

Holding one of the safest Democratic seats in the House, Pelosi also has quickly established herself as one of Congress’ most generous members, providing huge sums from her own campaign treasury to bolster fellow Democrats. During 1989 and 1990, Pelosi donated nearly $192,000 of her own campaign funds to Democratic candidates for state and national office, Democratic party organizations and various civic groups.

Among all of her House colleagues, only Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) donated more.

Pelosi was put in charge of drafting the platform by party chairman Ron Brown in April when Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), who was listed as one of the worst abusers in the House bank scandal, resigned the post to concentrate on a tough reelection.

Unlike in past years, the Democrats’ platform is focused on forging a new economic policy, including encouraging investment through measures such as a targeted capital gains tax cut and on reducing the burden of government on taxpayers by limiting spending increases and trimming bureaucratic fat.

The abortion rights language in the platform is “superb,” said Pelosi, a Roman Catholic who nonetheless espouses a solidly pro-choice position. “For me, it was important to have the platform say that we (will) try to reduce the number of abortions in this country,” she said.

Times staff writer Dwight Morris contributed to this story.