Re: Jack Murtha

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As Jay notes below, Murtha was a close friend and mentor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and her effort to install him as her second-in-command counts as a rare misstep in her leadership of her caucus. So why such a close and unlikely bond between the gruff Marine and the San Francisco liberal?

They had gotten to know each other on the Appropriations Committee. Pelosi would often point to the statue of a coal miner that she still keeps in her office. It had been a gift to her father, former Baltimore Mayor Tom D’Alessandro, from Jennings Randolph, who represented West Virginia in the House and Senate. Murtha, who hailed from coal country, had noticed it on an early visit, and it helped overcome the kind of regional mistrust that often exists between lawmakers from such different parts of the country as California and Pennsylvania.

But the most important and enduring tie went back to Pelosi’s first bid for leadership, as Perry Bacon and I wrote in this story back in 2006:

That first whip race intensified her rivalry with Hoyer and also cemented her bond with Murtha, who managed her campaign. Not only did he get her the votes to win that job but his support also made it possible for other old bulls in the House to begin to imagine a woman rising to the top. The former Marine had a reputation for male chauvinism that stood out even in an institution where the only private rest room adjacent to the chamber is for men. (Women members have to go around the corner and through a reception area to use a facility in Pelosi’s office suite.) Murtha’s backing “was the answer to sexism in the place,” says an aide to Pelosi. “If he didn’t have any problem with a woman in leadership, no one else would either.”

Here’s Pelosi’s statement today:

“Today, with the passing of Jack Murtha, America lost a great patriot. He served our country on the battlefield winning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He served his country in his community winning the hearts of his constituents and served in the Congress winning the respect of his colleagues.

“On Saturday, he became the longest-serving Member of Congress from Pennsylvania, and one of the most distinguished. He is well-recognized as a champion of our national security; always putting the troops and their families first. He quietly and regularly visited our men and women serving our country who were injured to assess their needs and offer them thanks and encouragement. As proud Marine, he was always Semper Fi!

“The nation saw his courage writ large when he spoke out against the military engagement in Iraq – winning him the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

“Jack was also a hero in advancing scientific research to fight breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. He measured the strength of our country by our military might and also by the well-being of the American people.

“San Francisco lost a good friend in Jack Murtha. His leadership as Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee was essential in turning the Presidio from post to park.

“Dedicated to God and Country, and devoted to Joyce and their family, Jack Murtha was a giant. All who served with him were honored to call him colleague. I was privileged to call him friend.

“I hope that is a comfort to Joyce; their children, Donna Sue, John and Patrick; and their grandchildren that so many people mourn their loss and are praying for them at this very sad time.”