Nancy Pelosi might represent California but she’s always Baltimore’s Italian auntie to me

Published on: November 18, 2022 6:00 AM EST|Updated on: November 18, 2022 9:09 AM EST

FILE - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her husband, Paul Pelosi, arrive at the State Department for the Kennedy Center Honors State Department Dinner, Dec. 7, 2019, in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, was “violently assaulted” by an assailant who broke into their San Francisco home early Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, and he is now in the hospital and expected to make a full recovery, said her spokesman, Drew Hammill.

It’s always tickled me whenever media folks characterized Nancy Pelosi as some champagne-sipping Northern California limousine liberal. You can take the girl out of Baltimore, but you can never take the stretched-voweled, in-your-face, proudly extra Baltimore out of the girl.

And make no mistake — Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi is, as the ladies down the street might say, super-duper Bawlmer, hon.

I don’t care that she represents the state of California in Congress, home to the rich and famous. Real recognizes real, as they say, and though she lives in the Bay Area, Old Bay recognizes old bay. And like our patron spice, we are spicy, delicious and will get right in that paper cut and sting you. You might not love us but you can’t ignore us.

In the wake of the speaker of the house’s announcement that she will no longer be seeking a leadership role in Congress, I can’t help reflect on how her homegrown political pedigree has informed her distinctive path in the American zeitgeist. Love or hate her, Pelosi’s polish and style has always been undercut with a plain-spoken, unapologetic, say-it-to-my-face ethos. It reminds me more of my South Baltimore neighbor ladies than some dithering Diane Keaton heroine like in “Something’s Gotta Give” sipping chardonnay in a white turtleneck in her immaculate kitchen.

I have always suspected that underneath those expensive coats and expertly coiffed hair is the same earthy, scrappy fire I see in both the Black neighborhood grannies in my native Northwood neighborhood and the nonnas down the street in Pelosi’s native Little Italy. They might call you “baby” and give you one of those lemons with the peppermint sticks on a hot day, but would also narc to your mom if you stepped out of line.

You know the type. Warm. Slightly scary if crossed, but in a badass way.

Many of the traits that stand out about Pelosi are, to me, so recognizable as a Baltimorean. Being underestimated or disregarded. Having a barely hidden streak of rebelliousness that shines behind our professionalism. Not caring if we seem petty, as long as we’re winning.

It’s that GIF of her coolly putting on her shades as she leaves the White House, that, “Yeah, I did that. What of it?” thing she does. It’s like when she tore up her copy of then-President Trump’s State of The Union speech and theatrically tossed it in the air. She didn’t have to give interviews about what she was thinking in that moment. It was plain. It always made me chuckle how her opponents clutched their pearls at that moment, as if she’d set the chambers on fire, in the midst of much more direct and hateful speech.

That was not the act of some mealy-mouthed, beige-souled San Francisco lightweight. That was Baltimore. I personally thought it was a little over-the-top, but there was no mistaking what she meant. She wasn’t backing off or backing down.

More recently, I saw her Baltimore upbringing in the footage of Jan. 6, shot by her daughter as an angry mob searched for her, menacingly calling out her name as they tried to stop the certification of the presidential election results. What I saw was raw, human and defiant, a woman who understood implicitly that she was being recorded, but too angry to care because they were literally trying to kill her. It is a moment of helplessness and disbelief, and you’re ever aware that for all of her fierceness, she was a tiny 80-year-old woman, and that somewhere not far from where she was hiding were hordes ransacking her office.

But even in the face of this terror, Pelosi was unapologetically plucky. When told that Trump had pledged to his followers that he would join them in the Capitol, she makes a hand gesture that can only be characterized as righteously angered matriarch. She was the daughter of Edna Turnblad from “Hairspray” and Alexis Carrington from “Dynasty” — classy, practiced but not enough not to curse you out.

“I’m gonna punch him out,” she said, and that elongated “owt” tells you she’s serious in a Baltimore way. “I’m gonna punch him out, I’m gonna go to jail, and I’m gonna be happy.”

That is not the statement of a benign, blithe lady. That’s a Baltimorean, injecting some exasperated humor into a very serious moment. Is violence the answer? Not usually, but — and this can’t be overstated — people were out to get her. There was a literal gallows outside. She doesn’t care how it looks. And she said what she said.

Maybe the recent attack on her husband, Paul, perpetrated by a man who admitted looking for her, may be why she is stepping back from leadership. She’s not running away, but reassessing. Perhaps her legacy might be her sharp-eyed calculation, a woman literally descended from a Baltimore political dynasty.

She picked her moments. She did what she felt was right, on her own schedule, on her own time, and she is stepping back. I’m excited to see who comes after, and I know it’s going to be big, bold and without artifice.

It’s gonna be real. It’s how we do.