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After Nancy Pelosi: A San Francisco Race ‘That Won’t Be Named’

SAN FRANCISCO — Nancy Pelosi has made two very different, almost incompatible statements about her political future.

In 2018, she pledged that 2022 would be her last year as Democratic leader of the House, sticking to a term limit to quell an insurgency and secure a second stint as speaker. In January, she announced that she was running for another two-year term in the House.

With the House’s approval of the sweeping action to tackle climate change and the prices of prescription drugs on Friday — “a glorious day for us,” Ms. Pelosi — and her China-defying trip to Taiwan shone as a diplomatic career stone. , the question of what comes next for Ms. Pelosi is only getting more intense.

Will she push to stay on as speaker if the Democrats somehow keep the House? Or, if the Republicans take control, will she just retire?

She could break her 2018 promise and try to outnumber the Democratic leader. Her loved ones describe only one option as unthinkable: a relegation to the backseat.

Ms. Pelosi, 82, avoided discussing her plans last November and declined to be interviewed. A spokesman, Drew Hammill, issued the same succinct statement he gave earlier: “The speaker is off duty,” he said. “She has a mission.”

Some clues to Ms. Pelosi’s future can be found closer to her home in San Francisco — where the tantalizing possibility of the city’s first open congressional seat since the fall of the Soviet Union has become the city’s political talk.

Candidates, union leaders, political strategists, donors and activists are already busy planning what a race to succeed her would look like – albeit almost completely in secret, to prevent Ms Pelosi, who has made it clear that she wants to retire on its own terms.

“This is very much the campaign that will not be mentioned,” Dan Newman, a San Francisco-based Democratic agent, said of the early jostling. “Nancy Pelosi is a force of nature and no one wants to appear disrespectful or dismissive in any way.”

In interviews, more than a dozen officials said local Democrats were preparing for the possibility that Ms. Pelosi could resign rather than stay and hand the hammer to a Republican. That would lead to a quick special election in San Francisco, held within 150 days — a sprint to what, given the city’s politics, could amount to a de facto lifelong nomination to Congress.

Adding to the intrigue: A possible successor is Ms. Pelosi’s daughter Christine Pelosi, a party activist and member of the Democratic National Commission’s executive committee who serves as her mother’s adviser, has written a book about her and often accompanies her to local union halls, speeches and parades. She’s hurling her opinions online from a Twitter handle, @sfpelosithat at a glance can be confused with one that her mother might use.

Wrapped in the elderly Mrs. Pelosi’s decision and its timing are intertwined issues of power, inheritance and dynasty, and how fully a barrier-breaking, notoriously competitive public figure can stage her exit.

There’s politics in Washington, too: Ms. Pelosi called herself “a bridge to the next generation of leaders” four years ago, indicating her wish that her departure would coincide with that of her fellow octogenarian lieutenants, Representatives Steny Hoyer, 83 , and James Clyburn , 82. Neither agreed.

The Pelosi name remains popular in San Francisco, too, but there is no guarantee of a controlled succession.

A popular senator, Scott Wiener, whose district overlaps Mrs. Pelosi’s, is widely seen as the basis for a campaign. Mr. Wiener spent nearly $2.5 million on his reelection and courted under the guise of good politicians, though his ambitions to become San Francisco’s first openly gay congressman are an open secret.

In a Brazilian pastry shop interview, the 6-foot-7-inch Mr. Wiener even broach the possibility of a post-Pelosi era. “The longer she stays, the better for our country,” he said. “I’m on team Nancy.”

It was a comment that fitted what Tony Winnicker, a longtime local Democratic strategist, called “the first rule of wanting to run for Nancy Pelosi’s seat.”

“You never talk about it in a way that suggests Nancy will leave someday,” he said.

Christine Pelosi also declined to comment.

As the former chair of the Women’s Committee of the State Democratic Party, the younger Ms. Pelosi, 56, has been outspoken on the fight against sexual harassment.

Increasingly, she and Mr Wiener, 52, are criss-crossing through local events, such as a Pride breakfast where he and the elderly Mrs. Pelosi both delivered speeches. “This has been a family affair for us for over 30 years,” said Nancy Pelosi, recognizing her daughter’s presence. (She also acknowledged Mr. Wiener.)


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As in Washington, where she has outlived a generation of potential male successors — including Rahm Emanuel, Chris Van Hollen and Joseph Crowley — Ms. Pelosi has kept a string of ambitious local officials on the ice since 1987.

Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, said those planning House campaigns were smart to start, even if they were a bit premature. In a lunchtime interview, he speculated that Ms. Pelosi would eventually prove to be a powerful ally to her daughter.

“If her mother isn’t there, Christine would be a formidable candidate,” said Mr Brown. “Because her mother would make her a formidable candidate.”

Few expect the speaker to reveal her intentions until November. If she did that sooner, she could reduce her power over the wafer-thin Democratic majority in the House, not to mention her power as a fundraiser. Next weekend, she’s hosting a big fundraiser in Napa, including a cocktail reception at her home.

Whenever her home seat becomes vacant, it will be an opportunity not only to succeed the first female speaker in United States history, but also to represent a city that has long risen above its weight in national politics. , despite a population smaller than Columbus, Ohio.

Today, the No. 2 and No. 3 officials in the presidential line of succession—Vice President Kamala Harris, once the city’s district attorney, and Ms. Pelosi—both got their teeth into San Francisco politics. Democrats emerging in the city’s notoriously cutthroat liberal politics, from Governor Gavin Newsom to Senator Dianne Feinstein to Ms. Pelosi, have found ways to appease the Democratic Party’s often warring factions.

“The fight gives you muscle,” said Debra Walker, an artist and activist who has served as president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club. Ms Walker was appointed to the San Francisco Police Commission in June, as Mayor London Breed wanted defuse an explosion between the police and the city’s annual Pride Parade organizers, who had tried to ban officers from marching in uniform.

Even among Ms. Pelosi’s friends and allies, some have wondered if Christine Pelosi, who wrote: a book about campaigning but has never been a candidate himself, is sufficiently prepared.

“I’d rather see Christine start at the state level rather than Congress,” said Joe Cotchett, a major Democratic donor and family friend.

Mr. Cotchett expected Nancy Pelosi to support her daughter to some degree. ‘Do I think Nancy will push her? Emotionally she is her daughter,’ he said. “But I don’t think Nancy is the type of person who would step in and try to stop someone from running.”

If the elderly Ms. Pelosi is known for her deft relationship management, it’s less true of Christine, whose activist years have pushed for DNC resolutions — an effort to ban corporate contributions and demand a 2020 climate debate — sometimes leading to great chagrin of party officials.

Her last name has shielded her from public criticism, but half a dozen officials on both coasts say hidden frustrations have increased.

For example, she annoyed the Newsom team when she suggested during the 2021 recall that: mr. Newsom must resign when it looked like he was going to lose. In public, she tried to undermine Mr Newsom’s central strategy to label the recall as a Republican coup. Privately, she texted Mr. Newsom directly to complain about his tactics, according to two people who were aware of the messages she sent.

mr. Newsom defeated the recall in a landslide.

In a city where politics is often personal and fickle, Mr Wiener has also gathered critics.

“People talk about it all the time,” Mike Casey, president of the San Francisco Labor Council, said of the race to succeed Ms. Pelosi. ‘But above all, who do we not want. Like Scott Wiener really got into the business and some of our bad side. ”

And while Mr Wiener and Ms Pelosi are progressive by any national yardstick, neither would necessarily satisfy the city’s ideological purists, a wing that could also run a candidate. “I haven’t ruled it out,” said Jane Kim, a 45-year-old former supervisor and executive director of the California Working Families Party.

Jen Snyder, a San Francisco strategist who works with progressives, had little enthusiasm for a Pelosi-Wiener match.

“It’s going to be Mothra versus Godzilla,” Mrs. Snyder said. “I think I’m going to eat popcorn on the sidelines.”

Another possible candidate is Mrs. Breed, the first black woman to become mayor. She has indicated that she is not interested in a congressional run, according to people close to her.

“I can tell you she’s a friend of hers, she’s not,” said Lee Housekeeper, a local public relations veteran, who joined Mr. Brown joined for the lunchtime interview.

“As a friend of hers, I can tell you she better be,” interrupted Mr. Brown.

Clint Reilly, who led Ms. Pelosi’s congressional campaign in 1987 and has known her family ever since, initially declined to speak. “Leave me alone!” he stood on it. “They won’t be happy with anything I say!”

But Mr. Reilly, an investor who now owns The San Francisco Examiner, agreed to talk, including how Mrs. Pelosi won that first race, beating a gay rival, Harry Britt, who ran to her left, in a multi-candidate scrum.

Her prophetic slogan: “A voice that will be heard.”

If the Democrats lose in November, Mr Reilly said, “most people would call it that at the time.” But not necessarily Mrs. Pelosi. “She likes the game,” he said, “she hates losing.”

“How it ends?” he mused. “I don’t think even she knows the answer.”

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