Nancy Pelosi was elected "whip" by the Democratic caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives Oct. 10. The eight-term veteran from San Francisco will take over the No. 2 leadership slot next January when David Bonior steps down to run for Governor of Michigan. Pelosi is a strong friend of the gay and lesbian community and has been a leading voice on AIDS issues.
Pelosi, 61, defeated fellow liberal Steny Hoyer ( Maryland ) by a convincing 118 to 95 margin to become the first woman to advance so high in the congressional leadership of either party. The victory was built upon the large block of votes from California and, although she did not make an appeal to it, upon her gender, combined with good old-fashioned politicking.
The job of party whip is to round up support and count votes on the party's agenda, using a combination of carrots and sticks to move recalcitrant Members into line. The Republican counterpart is conservative Tom DeLay ( Texas ) , who many argue is the most powerful man in the House.
"This is difficult turf to win on for anyone, but for a woman breaking ground here it was a tough battle," Pelosi said. "We made history, now we have to make progress." She vowed to use her fundraising skills to help Democrats take back control of the House, but most observers feel that is a difficult task as reapportionment based on the latest census tips in the Republicans' favor.
"She is a big advocate for our programs," said Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People With AIDS ( NAPWA ) . From her position on the Appropriations Committee, Pelosi looks out for her San Francisco constituents, who receive more federal money per AIDS case than any other jurisdiction, but she also "gets more money for AIDS for everyone across the country," he said.
But not all AIDS advocates supported Pelosi. Patrick Monette-Shaw, a San Francisco activist and member of the AIDS Accountability Project, wrote to Democratic members of the House Sept. 30 urging them to vote for Hoyer.
"As you may not know," he wrote, "much of the federal funds routed to AIDS Inc. in San Francisco is spent on such frivolities as flirting classes, fisting how-to seminars, HIV proms ... " while some people in other jurisdictions lack basic medicines and services. He urged the Members to "send a message to Pelosi et al. that AIDS Inc's Fleecing-of-America days are numbered." The letter seemed to have had little effect.
"Few people know more about AIDS" than Pelosi, said Bill Arnold with the ADAP Working Group. "I have high hopes because she knows how all of the programs are interrelated." The Congresswoman often has taken the lead in building the bipartisan coalitions that have overwhelmingly supported increased funding for AIDS.
In the "really tough appropriations environment" that he anticipates for next year, Anderson says, "It's really nice having someone like [ Pelosi ] at the table, because the leadership often gets what it wants."