By Dan Gifford
First published 2012
The answer is, her iron fisted daddy and some of his friends.
Her daddy was Thomas "Big Tommy" D'Alesandro, Jr., a five term Democrat US Congressman from Maryland and three term Mayor of Baltimore for whom I gofered for a time while in high school.
That's seven year old Nancy with her father during his 1947 mayoral inauguration.
D'Alesandro wanted to be Governor of Maryland, but had to get out of the 1954 race after revelations he had received undeclared money from a business man convicted of fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The friends of "Big Tommy" included the man who got him elected mayor, Maryland political kingpin James H. "Jack" Pollack.
Pollack was a former prizefighter who liked to poke me in the shoulder on occasion as a reminder that he was still a tough guy at 60 something. No doubt about that, as I told Rochelle Schweizer for her book, She's the Boss: The Disturbing Truth About Nancy Pelosi.
Outside the ring, Pollack became a bootlegger and street enforcer who was arrested multiple times for payoffs, bribery, corruption and a murder. That charge never went to trial because the case file disappeared. At the height of his power, Pollack raised the dead to vote, lined voter's pockets with "walking around money" and held sway over Maryland's legislature. The New York Times noted that Pollack "would stand in the hallways of Annapolis literally controlling the General Assembly through his handpicked henchmen." One of those was his own son, "Morty." Jack would much later help the oldest son of "Big Tommy" become Baltimore's mayor.
Other friends included members of the "Baltimore Crew." It was a faction of New York's Gambino crime family that operated independently until
Vincent "The Executioner" Mangano installed
Louis "Lugene" Morici as the reigning capo over Maryland and surrounding areas.
Mangano answered to Lucchese mobster Frankie Carbo, a former Murder, Inc killer.
Carbo was a "constant companion" of Mayor "Big Tommy," in addition to other known mobsters, according to FBI reports obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
"It was reported that these individuals had worked hard for Thomas D'Alesandro's reelection to Congress and on his campaign at that time to become Mayor of Baltimore. It was stated that John Cataneo and Magliano during the time of this campaign were under Federal indictments for violation of the Selective Service Act and for fraud against the Government and were subsequently convicted in Federal court. Cataneo allegedly admitted giving large sums of money toward the Democratic campaign and stated that he would receive the sanitation contracts for Baltimore if Mr. D'Alesandro was elected mayor."
It is believed none of that alleged criminal association or corruption was earnestly investigated by the FBI because Congressman D'Alesandro was a member of the House Appropriations Committee and was friendly with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Neither was there a holding to account of D'Alesandro's son for the gang rape of two eleven year old girls. The FBI report: "Franklin Roosevelt D'Alesandro was the only one of twelve of those tried at that time who was successful in obtaining an acquittal.
Following this acquittal, a Baltimore, Maryland, Grand Jury ind Franklin Roosevelt D'Alesandro on charges of having committed perjury in that he had lied during the aforementioned trial on charges of rape.
In addition, James H. Pollack, Baltimore City political boss, was reportedly also indicted on the charge of obstruction of justice in that he had attempted to influence testimony of several of the youthful defendants who had been tried with Franklin Roosevelt D'Alesandro. It was reported that Franklin Roosevelt D'Alesandro was tried on the above charge of perjury at Salisbury, Maryland, during 1954, following a change of venue, and was found not guilty."
So instead of a prison stretch, daddy and friends got "Roosie" a life stint as a Baltimore Court House clerk. That's where I met him amid rumors that he could alter records for a price. Few dared say that above a whisper for fear of retaliation and "Big Tommy" knew it.
Retaliation and the fear of it were the prime weapons "Big Tommy" said he recommended to achieve goals and enforce discipline in the bare knuckle world. Said he learned that's what worked early in life: When accused, deny everything, admit nothing and make counter accusations and reprisal threats.
That is exactly what Nancy Pelosi famously did in 2009 when she was trapped in a lie about not having been told by the CIA that it was waterboarding terrorists in order to make them talk. She was outraged that the US was "torturing" terrorists and claimed the CIA had not told her it was performing what were euphemistically called "enhanced interrogations." The CIA responded that it had told her and pointed to a letter dated prior to her meltdown. She responded with counter charges that the letter was a fake, which the CIA was fully capable of producing, and made threats to cut budgets and dramatically expand congressional oversight of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Whether "Big Tommy" would approve of her using his advice to undercut part of the national defense against terrorists who were trying to murder Americans in order to cover up her own apparent prevarication, ineptness or frequently occurring memory losses is a matter to be pondered.
What I understood Pelosi's father to mean was that the best defense is a good offense against those seeking your destruction for their own political gain. However, he must have recognized that political survival tactic had its limits, because "Big Tommy" was a man with a history of putting community safety and national defense first even at the risk of his own political career, a principle daughter Nancy does not appear to share.
How do those ideals square with "Big Tommy's" mob associations and political corruption? D'Alesandro was part of a political and moral dichotomy I found was rather common among big city pols then.
He had opposed the Klu Klux Klan, among other groups, in battles against separate but unequal racism in Baltimore when Jim Crow was quite popular. He had made radio broadcasts in Italian urging his piasons to reject Benito Mussilini and anti-Semitism at a time when both were more popular than can be imagined today. On the flip side, Baltimore politicians, police and judges received alleged payoffs with one hand while they kept organized crime and street criminals under control with the other. That was mainly accomplished by setting zones in which certain activities were allowed. Rule breakers faced ungenteel enforcement.
Several years before the New York City Police Department announced it would no longer beat confessions out of suspects, "enhanced interrogation" at the Baltimore cop shop was freely employed using the three languages hard-core criminals understand: Loud, fear and pain.
Brutal? Unconstitutional? Maybe so. But contrast the relative calm of that Baltimore past with Baltimore's present filled with headlines like "Woman lucky to be alive as upscale Baltimore neighborhood terrorized by marauding bands of teens." That didn't happen in "Big Tommy" world.
Now fast forward and compare the national domestic calm of past years with the alternative of bloody attacks which the CIA says its interrogators stopped by forcing terrorists to talk. Somehow, Nancy Pelosi missed her father's presumed lesson about community security being more important than political pettiness.
I met Pelosi's father shortly after moving to Baltimore from North Carolina during the early 60s. The introduction was made by a guy who became a friend after helping me in a street fight against the neighborhood tough guys seeking to test the new kid on the block. In the pre-snowflake world, that was a common big city ritual to establish pecking order among young males who then became friends. Afterward, my new friend said he'd been asked to find a helper to deliver envelopes and run errands.
He said the main routine was to collect little white envelopes at union headquarters like the Longshoremen's and other places and deliver them to people in Baltimore's city hall, police department, courts and political power centers. The recipients all wanted their envelopes ASAP but the number getting them had expanded to the point that my new friend could not make the appointed rounds fast enough to stifle the kvetching. So for 50 bucks, decent weekly teen money for that time, I rolled off the turnip truck I rode into town and signed on.
After being introduced around, learning the routes and being repeatedly told by serious men that my task was to deliver the envelopes, not to wonder what was in them or to talk about them, I found myself with a pretty easy job that included lots of side benefits like the good will of important people and free food at some of Baltimore's best restaurants -- and Baltimore had some truly great eating places.
That's why I was always glad to find an envelope I'd know was for D'Alesandro in my stack and head for his drop at Sabatino's Baltimore's Little Italy. If Sabatino's sounds familiar, it's the same restaurant where government prosecutors found Nixon Vice President and former Maryland governor Spiro T. Agnew received payoffs "in little white envelopes" while both an elected state official and Vice President of the United States.
It's also the restaurant where Agnew gathered his family after pleading no contest to tax evasion and other charges.
That scene of the crime surrealism was interrupted by another diner, according to the Baltimore Sun, who summed-up the normalcy of Maryland corruption: "'Hey, governor,' shouted an old acquaintance, a veteran East Baltimore bookmaker who, coincidentally, had simultaneously face gambling charges in a federal courtroom just a few doors from Agnew's earlier that same afternoon, 'I see they got you today. What the hell, they got me, too, don't worry about it.'" According to Agnew, everybody in Maryland politics got payoffs and it wouldn't surprise me if they still do
On arrival at Sabatino's, I'd be offered pastries or even a meal. But on occasion, "Big Tommy" himself would be there. Sometimes, he'd invite me to his table and then engage in the sort of personalized conversation that had gained him so many friends and supporters. A fair percentage of that support was certainly due to the job and charity patronage he dispensed, but unlike most younger politicians I've met, people really liked Pelosi's father because there was nothing at all phony about him.
He was genuinely interested in my studies at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Baltimore's top academic high school where I became Student Body President), what I thought about current events and what I wanted to do in life. The fact that I'd known North Carolina US Senator Sam Ervin helped. Ervin was a fellow Democrat and prominent citizen of Morganton, NC where my uncle was mayor for many years. The fact Ervin had been my boyhood mentor in things Constitutional, probably enhanced Big Tommy's friendliness. That connection aside, D'Alesandro had an "old school" caring style shared by his contemporary pols that would seem to be at odds with the obvious corruption they engaged in and that I abetted until wising up.
The envelopes we delivered allegedly contained cash. I say "allegedly" since I wasn't foolish enough to open any and look, but I did learn later that certain people were required to tithe to the Baltimore powers that assured their businesses or activities could operate. Some of those were legal adult businesses that benefited from prostitution like the many strip joints mentioned in the FBI reports that comprised "The Block" near Baltimore's inner harbor. Others were illegal businesses like the drug dealing that was quarantined in West Baltimore -- where HBO's "The Wire" action took place -- under the tacit thumb of a prominent black venture capitalist named Little Willie Adams. He and his friends received envelopes too, I was told, but they were delivered by others since Adam's territory was too dangerous for white boys like me.
Adams always denied his venture capitalism business hid gangster activities or that he had parlayed the well known numbers racket he admitted running to the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee on organized crime into one that included a heroin operation run at extreme arms length by others who would become legends in their own right. Adam's image as a completely legitimate, millionaire businessman and top black community power broker was blown in 1979 when he was arrested for racketeering activities. "Willie just couldn't keep his hands out of it" remarked an investigator to The Washington Post.
The understanding between Adams and those I visited each week, I was told, was that Adams could keep on keepin' on so long as no drugs showed up for sale in other parts of the city -- which they didn't. Those willing to put their lives at risk in his land of the "misdemeanor murder" took their chances.
So when six foot nine, 290 pound something Baltimore Colt star defensive tackle "Big Daddy" Lipscomb died from shooting enough heroin to kill 10 men in 1963, there was barely an official shrug following the proforma outrage of being "shocked!" that heroin was available in Baltimore.
That was about the time I met Nancy Pelosi the first and only time at some Catholic function. Practically everybody I met in Baltimore was Catholic and they all tried their hardest at one time or other to convert this protestant southerner with the Catholic ancestry of English recusants and archbishops back to the "true faith." On this occasion, Municipal Court Judge Mary Arabian, a rare Baltimore judge who had publicly expressed her dislike of police, had me in tow to meet some people.
She was a smart, beautiful woman with jet black hair, as I recall her. Unfortunately for my teen hormones, she was also a virtual Mother Superior whose interest in me was purely parental. She insisted that I bring my report cards and assorted other schoolwork by her office on occasion for inspection and discussion. She and others in Baltimore's hierarchy were concerned that academic standards in the public schools were sliding. And except for my school, they were.
At one time, I began to think of Judge Arabian's social and school interest and that of others I met as border line mania. All seemed obsessed with the protection of children and mainstream society from the corruptions and vices they knew could only be contained by their extra legal means but never eradicated by legislation.
They were probably right, but not once did I hear any include the pay-offs I allegedly delivered on their list of corruptions. For what it's worth, that alleged money was used to assure their office tenure which they equated with community protection. Never did I observe evidence of high lifestyles or profligate spending by D'Alesandro, Pollack or any of their associates.
Whatever hypocrisy that frames also frames a bigger irony: The corrupt political world of "Big Tommy" D'Alesandro that protected little Nancy while she learned power patronage politics provided more safety, more personal freedom and less government intrusion into private lives than the People's Republic of Political Correctness fascism big Nancy and her legion of latte liberals want to impose by fiat.
Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated film producer and former reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer News Hour and ABC News.