Pelosi’s Pizza Problem

Posted August 29, 2003 at 5:32pm

A lively debate on immigration during the dog days of August nearly turned into a sort-of food fight as a staffer for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to launch a bizarre protest by walking off with a pizza.

Federico DeJesus, who handles Hispanic media outreach for Pelosi, was infuriated by Victor Davis Hanson’s presentation at the Aug. 19 event, sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies.

Hanson, author of the book “Mexifornia: A State of Becoming,” is an outspoken advocate of stopping the flood of illegal immigration from Mexico to California.

At the end of the speech in the Longworth House Office Building, DeJesus stood up to deliver the first question from the audience and launched into a long rant accusing Hanson of penning a “racist” book.

The controversy was compounded by the fact that Hanson had earlier noted he is a “classicist,” as in a classics professor at California State University at Fresno.

“You yourself admitted that you’re a ‘classist,’” DeJesus shouted, apparently believing that the professor had confessed to being an elitist or some such taboo.

“I thought Pelosi would have had more sensible staff,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the CIS, told HOH. “Some basic democratic civility would have been appropriate. There were some other Democratic staff there, and I think they were embarrassed.”

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly told HOH that DeJesus was merely trying to correct the record with regard to some statements the professor had made about a prominent Hispanic group.

“He felt the speaker was making some comments about La Raza that were inaccurate, and he wanted to correct them,” said Daly, in reference to the National Council for La Raza, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving life for Hispanic Americans.

Daly allowed that the discussion did grow heated, but only because some people in attendance repeatedly referred to DeJesus as “Mr. Sosa,” as in Hispanic baseball star Sammy Sosa, during his question.

“He felt that they were intentionally getting his name wrong, and he was offended by that,” Daly said.

The fight reached its climax when DeJesus stormed away from his seat and decided to grab one of the many boxes of pizza in the back of the room on his way out the door.

“He tried to steal one of our pizzas,” charged Krikorian. “One of my guys had to get it back. He yelled, ‘I hope you enjoy the pizza!’ He was basically a heckler.”

DeJesus claimed that he merely wanted to take some food back to his office and meant no disrespect, but Krikorian wasn’t buying that.

“This was sort of sophomoric,” said Krikorian. “Something you’d expect at some radicalized university campus, not Capitol Hill.”

Minority Leader Gets the Boot. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one recess, Pelosi got a surprise from the District of Columbia last Tuesday when the city booted her 1999 Cadillac for unpaid parking tickets.

The car, which her daughter Christine drives, had “several hundred dollars” worth of outstanding tickets when it was parked at the corner of Third and East Capitol streets, according to Daly. The boot was gone within a few hours of its placement on the vehicle that morning, he added, noting that Christine Pelosi paid the fees in cash immediately.

Pelosi rides with a security detail and rarely drives that car herself.

According to the D.C. government Web site, a boot is administered when a vehicle holds two or more 30-day-old parking tickets. It costs $50 to remove the boot, plus the cost of the unpaid tickets.

“The boot is now gone,” Daly said. “She has moved the car.”

Daly said the tickets dated back to 1997 and 1998, before Pelosi purchased the Cadillac. For some reason, he said, the tickets carried over onto the newer vehicle.

Language Barriers. White House aides and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have both been having a hard time with linguistic issues lately.

White House spokesman Taylor Gross revealed to the Houston Chronicle in August that the Bush administration has found a new way to reach out to Hispanic voters: Hire more press secretaries who speak Spanish — although that’s not exactly how the staffer put it.

“Every agency under this administration has a Hispanic-speaking spokesperson in their public affairs office, or is in the process of hiring one,” Gross said.

HOH called over to the White House press office to find out if, in fact, the administration had created a new language — “Hispanic” — to teach its staffers. A less-than-amused White House aide declined to comment on any new language, but said the administration is indeed hiring Spanish-speaking staffers.

Gross may have been following the lead of Kerry, who told CNN in July that the United States should internationalize the peace effort in Iraq by bringing “Muslim-speaking and Arab-speaking Muslim troops” to the region.

Kerry spokesman David Wade shook off the ribbing that the Senator has taken for inventing a “Muslim” language.

“I think it was Governor George W. Bush himself who said it best: ‘We’re all capable of mistakes, but I do not care to enlighten you on the mistakes we may or may not have made,’” cracked Wade. “And if that fails, HOH should just chalk it up to strategery.”

Rival camps, meanwhile, had a field day with the summer story about the allegedly elitist Kerry sidling up to gritty Pat’s King of Steaks — the beloved little shack in the middle of South Philadelphia that puts Cheez Whiz on its steak and cheese sandwiches — and requesting Swiss cheese.

Prior to the mid-August Iowa State Fair, a strategist for a rival candidate joked to HOH: “Kerry’s advance staff should make sure he knows not to order fois gras with his pork chop on a stick.”

Where’s Issa When You Need Him? Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) probably never thought that he might need to reach out to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the car alarm magnate who funded the recall effort in California.

But the liberal Senator probably wishes he had chatted up Issa before the recess since he, like Pelosi, had a vehicular problem last month. Harkin’s car was swiped recently from a street on Capitol Hill, where it was parked in front of a staffer’s home while the Senator was summering in Iowa.

The vehicle was special to Harkin because it was previously owned by his late brother Frank. His brother’s deafness inspired the Senator to push the Americans With Disabilities Act through Congress in the first Bush administration.

But the car was not exactly full of amenities anyway. It was a 1992 Ford Taurus with a busted air conditioning, a big problem in Washington.

“The car means a lot to Tom Harkin,” adviser Patrick Dorton told HOH. “But clearly this thief didn’t have a sharp eye because it’s not exactly a luxury model.”

Close Calls. As if the blackout of 2003 was not enough, three New York Members were travelling on a bus in Jerusalem last month when, just a few miles away, a terrorist attack killed more than 20 people.

Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel, Gregory Meeks and Anthony Weiner were all headed to the Western Wall when the attack, which injured more than 70 people, occurred.

“We didn’t hear anything, but we could see the aftermath of lights and whistles on the opposite side of where we were entering,” Weiner told The Associated Press.

A separate Congressional delegation, meanwhile, was in Baghdad when a truck bomb destroyed the United Nations headquarters there, killing U.N. official Sergio Viera de Mello.

The CODEL — which had planned to meet with the U.N. chief and other officials later in the day — included Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) as well as Reps. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

Before the trip, McCain had told Roll Call that he was aware some people were advising against traveling to Baghdad at the time. But the former Vietnam POW said he had been through plenty already and was confident that he would not die in Iraq.

“I know I will die in bed,” said McCain, adding of the rest of the delegation, “As long as they stay close to me, they’ll be OK.”

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.