Nancy Pelosi’s Napa: Wealthy friends and a husband’s Porsche accident
Speaker Nancy Pelosi had just been urging Brown University graduates to stay resilient and summon their “best angels” over Memorial Day weekend when she was forced to turn her attention to a less uplifting situation: l arrest of her husband in California.
The details that emerged from the incident were not particularly flattering.
The day before, May 28, Paul Pelosi, 82, was in Oakville, among the most exclusive enclaves in the country, leaving a small dinner party at the hedge-lined estate of Alexander Mehran, a longtime friend and Democratic donor.
Mr. Pelosi took the wheel of his black 2021 Porsche 911 to drive the six miles to the Napa Valley country home of Pelosis. It was around 10 p.m., according to a police report and eyewitnesses.
He drove a little over half a mile and was trying to cross State Route 29 and turn left. But a Jeep was coming down the freeway and hit Mr. Pelosi’s car as he turned.
Responding police arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and on suspicion of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. He is due back in court on August 3. If criminal charges are filed, then he will be brought to justice. (The Jeep driver was not arrested.)
It may not just be alcohol that has hampered Mr. Pelosi’s driving. Two people who have spoken with the Pelosis since the crash said Mr Pelosi underwent cataract surgery in the days before the dinner. (Doctors are somewhat split on when it’s okay to drive, with estimates ranging from 24 hours to two weeks.)
The speaker went into crisis mode. On Sunday afternoon, Larry Kamer, a crisis manager who has a home in Napa and has worked for high-profile clients including Harvard University and Nike, was retained. The family also consulted with John Keker, one of San Francisco‘s most prominent defense attorneys, and Lee Houskeeper, a longtime public relations executive for San Francisco political types, including former Mayor Willie Brown. .
The newly assembled team had to deal with some unwelcome certainties: the accident would refocus attention on Mr Pelosi’s troubled driving record, including an accident as a teenager that left his brother dead. It would also send reporters — from TMZ to The Napa Valley Register — scrambling after every detail.
And it would shed light on the California life of the Pelosis family, where the couple live in two homes, including a 16.55-acre gated estate, and mingle with other wealthy residents, at a time when economic hardship is straining many people of more modest means.
In the end, a representative for Ms Pelosi issued a terse statement emphasizing Ms Pelosi’s distance from the accident.
“The speaker will not comment on this private matter, which occurred while she was on the East Coast,” it read.
“Everyone in San Francisco now has a Napa Place”
The Pelosis’s have had a weekend home in Napa Valley since 1990, when they spent $2.35 million on their property, which included a Palladian-style villa, guesthouse and pool.
“It’s not a palace,” Mr Brown said. “If you go up there, you’ll notice some people have places with wine cellars and all that kind of stuff. They don’t have that. They have a place where you can actually live, without servants. You wouldn’t invite the Three Tenors to sing. But the Pelosis have a vineyard from which they sell the grapes.
“Everyone in San Francisco now has a Napa place,” Brown continued. “Anyone who can afford it.”
Neighbors are aware of Ms. Pelosi’s regular presence, in part because of security details that pop up while she’s in Napa that can cause traffic delays. Ms Pelosi and her husband also hold a regular summer rally attended by many big names from the Democratic Party.
Ms Pelosi, also 82, usually attends the Memorial Day weekend dinner her husband attended just before his arrest at the Oakville home of Mr Mehran, a major commercial property developer. In an interview, Mr Mehran said he had been friends with the Pelosis for over 50 years. Since the 2020 election cycle, he has donated more than $1 million to Democratic politicians and groups, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
The Pelosis settled in Napa, an often insular world where family, political, and social circles overlap. They have their places: Mrs. Pelosi eats at the Pizzeria Tra Vigne, an artisanal pizzeria (where Chelsea Handler was recently spotted), and has a coffee at the Model Bakery (where David Beckham is a regular). She can be seen attending Sunday mass at St. Helena Catholic Church and sometimes foots the bill for her daughters’ and granddaughters’ manicures and pedicures at Blush, the local nail salon.
But even in Napa, Ms. Pelosi, who doesn’t appear to be casual in California, is often seen in the fitted suits that are her signature on Capitol Hill. After all, the Pelosis’s remain San Francisco residents at heart, and since 1987 they have settled in Pacific Heights, perhaps the city’s most exclusive neighborhood, where they own a red brick townhouse of three floors.
They make regular appearances at the city’s biggest social events – including the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra’s Opening Gala – and they have season tickets to the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers. . They have been known to turn their shopping trips to the local Giorgio Armani boutique (where Ms Pelosi was spotted two weeks ago) into a sport in its own right.
Mr Pelosi, who has investments in commercial real estate and the tech sector, is still a swaggering presence on the city’s society circuit at 6ft 2in, well dressed, with a head full of salt hair and pepper. But more than a dozen people interviewed for this article said they had never seen evidence that Mr Pelosi drank to excess. (Ms Pelosi doesn’t drink at all.) “Paul is a social drinker,” said Mr Mehran, 71. “That’s the best way to put it.”
Mr Pelosi has, however, had a history of car accidents during his lifetime. At 16, in 1957, he was driving a sports car that crashed. His brother David, who was a passenger, was killed. (A jury ultimately cleared Mr. Pelosi of the manslaughter charges, according to reports at the time.)
In the late 1970s, Ms. Pelosi became the chairman of the Democratic Party of Northern California. On her way to a barbecue for a local politician, a car she was in with Mr Pelosi and a number of their children rolled over on its side. No one was injured and Ms. Pelosi hitchhiked to meet the donors.
Camp Pelosi declined to comment to The New York Times who was driving.
A political career closely linked to San Francisco society
Paul Pelosi’s family roots are in San Francisco, but he met Ms. Pelosi when they were both college students in Washington, DC. The two had a lot in common. They were liberal democrats and practicing Catholics. And both were Italian-American royalty.
When they moved to San Francisco in the late 1960s, Mr. Pelosi’s connections in the city propelled them into influential circles. Her brother Ronald Pelosi, a rising political star on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was married to Barbara Newsom, the aunt of future state governor Gavin Newsom and the sister of William Newsom (Gavin’s father), a judge in the appeals court that administered the trust of oil tycoon John Paul Getty.
Nancy and Paul became friends with John Paul Getty’s son, Gordon, and Gordon’s wife, Ann Getty. Families stay close. Last November, just before heading to Glasgow to address the UN COP26 world climate summit, Ms Pelosi celebrated the wedding of Mr Getty’s granddaughter, Ivy Getty. (Ms Getty, who wore a 16ft veil and John Galliano mirror dress for Maison Margiela, is an oil heiress; criticism from progressive Democrats followed.)
Ms Pelosi’s rise in politics began with fundraising, but as her children grew older she began to consider running for office. In 1986, Rep. Sala Burton, a friend of the Pelosi family, entered the hospital with terminal cancer. A special election to replace her was scheduled.
Ms Pelosi decided to run for her seat, but her home was just outside the district. So Mr. Pelosi rented the townhouse in Pacific Heights and the family moved about 15 blocks northeast. Ms Burton endorsed Ms Pelosi days before her death. The rest is history.
Some analysts consider Ms Pelosi one of the most effective orators to ever lead the House, and she is a pioneering figure in American politics. She has spoken at times about how her faith informs her politics and her desire to expand the social safety net, and is credited with getting the Affordable Care Act passed in the House.
But it is clear that this spring has been difficult for her.
She watched as landmark legislation passed by the House, the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act, stalls in the Senate. Plus, House Democrats look set for a bombardment this fall, which would mean Pelosi would have to hand over the president’s gavel, 35 years into her congressional career.
Among the powerful political and social figures who inhabit the world of Pelosis, there was abundant sympathy and some protection after what happened over Memorial Day weekend.
A person who witnessed the crash said both cars were destroyed and Mr Pelosi simply sat in the car, apparently frozen, for several minutes until the sheriff and fire department members arrive a few moments later.
Neither Mr. Pelosi nor the driver of the Jeep were injured.
Some friends felt that Mr. Pelosi’s entire night in custody at the Napa County Jail after the accident was excessive. Others were puzzled as to why their friend hadn’t anticipated the whole ordeal by simply taking a car service home.
And some local residents have suggested that in days before Napa, driving after drinking was met with understanding, rather than criminal charges.
“I feel really bad about what happened because there was a time when if something like this happened the cops would take you home,” society dean Diane Wilsey said, better known as Dede.
Ms. Wilsey, who is Mr. Pelosi’s co-administrator at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center, is a Republican, but has donated to several of the speaker’s political campaigns and sees the couple socially in California.
“I don’t agree with Nancy on everything, but I can’t think of anyone nicer than Nancy or Paul,” she said.
Meanwhile, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Napa County prosecutor has been busy fending off some 1,500 angry calls inspired by right-wing pundits, including Donald Trump Jr., claiming without proof that Mr Pelosi would “face no consequences” from the incident. Mr Pelosi is expected to return to court in August. Local authorities stress that he will not receive any special treatment.
Steve Eder and Thomas Fuller contributed to the reporting, and Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.