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I enjoy everything I do, and I do it with glee. I'm not into doom and gloom. I'm into happiness. I hope San Francisco takes on my style and my attitude.
Willie L. Brown Jr.
Mayor-elect of San Francisco
December 13, 1995

Willie's Willie. He's not inflicted with self-doubt, and never was. He was always a sharp dresser, was quick, bright, a pretty good bullshitter. I mean, he really hasn't changed. I mean, success, or whatever it is, or power, or whatever, hasn't changed him.
John Burton
California State Assemblyman, 1965–1974, 1988–1996

Willie Brown stood on a stage in the San Francisco Longshoremen's Union Hall and surrounded himself with the living symbols of his political and personal pedigree—his friends and family. John Burton stood nearby along with dozens of legislators and San Francisco politicians. His aged uncle, Itsie Collins, wearing a purple shirt, stood alongside Brown's sisters from Texas. Facing him that December night were cheering, half-drunken supporters, many of them legislative staff members and lobbyists from Sacramento. Hundreds of them had descended on San Francisco earlier that day to walk precincts for the man who loomed as the largest political figure of their lives, and they handed him the sweetest electoral triumph of his life.


Brown's army worked like they had always worked on an election day, knocking on doors, hanging cardboard doorknob reminders to vote, making thousands of telephone calls, baby-sitting for mothers so they could vote, and doing a thousand other chores to get voters to the polls. Over the years Brown's Sacramento machine had perfected the technique to a science in the pursuit of electing Democrats to the Assembly. The method was so scientific and so structured that it had a shorthand name: GOTV, for "Get Out the Vote." This time Brown's army mobilized GOTV to give him a new lease on political power. That night, December 12, 1995, Willie Brown was elected the forty-first mayor of San Francisco.[1]

Beaming broadly beside him on stage, Brown's girlfriend, Kamala Harris, kissed him and gave him a blue cap emblazoned with "Da Mayor." Brown proudly put the cap on his balding head. Moments later the Reverend Cecil Williams handed Brown a scrap of paper with the latest election results.

"It's over!" Brown exultantly shouted as he theatrically threw the note into the crowd. "The night is over and I done won!"

By the end of the evening he was hoarse. He had won in a landslide that no one, not even his closest associates, expected when he had set out to win the mayor's job. Brown and friends went to the Fairmont Hotel, where they partied until 2:30 A.M. The next morning, with barely three hours of sleep, he was whizzing around San Francisco, shaking hands at bus stops and thanking slightly bewildered commuters.[2] Later that morning Brown held his first press conference as mayor-elect and announced he would fire the unpopular police chief (who within hours announced he would retire instead). At midnight that night Brown resigned the Assembly seat he had held for thirty-one years, an almost anticlimactic act by which to cap his Sacramento career.[3]

From that moment onward Willie Brown's stamp as mayor was indelibly marked on his city. He proclaimed that if nothing else, he hoped his own ebullience would rub off on San Francisco: "I enjoy everything I do, and I do it with glee. I'm not into doom and gloom. I'm into happiness. I hope San Francisco takes on my style and my attitude."[4]

With his election as mayor, Brown proved something that had eluded him in his three decades as a politician. He demonstrated that he was more than just an operator at insider deals, more than just a politician among politicians. He had won a tough election and shown a talent for electioneering that had lain dormant since his race for the Assembly thirty-one years earlier. Even though the arena of his victory was something less than statewide, and even though his opponent was a bumbling, hapless incumbent, Brown's victory was honestly and legitimately won. While his detractors could correctly point out that he triumphed in the only place he could possibly win—liberal, urbane, sophisticated San Francisco—those critics also acknowledged


that he had fought the hardest election race of his career and come up a winner.[5]

His critics had to concede one other salient fact: he had successfully relocated his political franchise out of Sacramento to San Francisco. He was something like the fictional character Michael Corleone, who in Godfather Part II moved his operation out of New York and transplanted it to Nevada without losing his power. Willie Brown's political power not only was intact but was enhanced by his new visibility as a big-city mayor. Brown remained the most powerful Democrat in California. He planned to run President Clinton's reelection operation in California later that year.

His election as mayor of San Francisco gave him another enormous political benefit: he was now an instant spokesman for urban America. One of the reasons he gravitated to the job for the stage it could give him in national politics. He planned to use his new pulpit to the hilt, reclaiming his right to speak as a prominent and powerful African American leader. Brown once had something close to that kind of status in the early 1970s, but his climb to power in the inner world of the Legislature had foreclosed his ability to speak as a black leader. His election as mayor of San Francisco made him a free man again, unshackling him from "keeping the members happy."

On that night of his mayoral election, Brown and his adopted hometown began to get reacquainted as no politician and no city had ever done before. "As of tonight," he told his supporters, "you should address me not as Mister Speaker, but as the mayor!"

As the mayoral race unfolded in the summer and fall of 1995, pundits and political experts considered Willie Brown the front-runner. They said the race was his to lose.[6] He was better financed than his opponents, he was a more seasoned politician than any, and he was well known to San Francisco voters. The field was crowded, but his principal opponent was incumbent mayor Frank Jordan, who had ousted Brown's friend, Art Agnos, four years earlier. Jordan had spent nearly his entire career as a police officer. He was Dianne Feinstein's police chief, and he was affable enough. But he was out of his depth in electoral politics, winning the mayor's job only because Agnos alienated his own base of supporters. Jordan could be beaten. But the race was tougher for Brown than it looked. Brown had not run a hard race since his election victory over the inept Ed Gaffney in 1964. "I've never done this," Brown said. "I haven't campaigned in 30 years."[7]

Jordan was accident-prone, stumbling from one public embarrassment to the next. Press secretaries and chiefs of staff regularly quit on him. His wife, Wendy Paskin, was a heavy-handed presence in City Hall, displaying her own


powerful ambitions too brazenly. If Jordan had any natural constituents, they were in the downtown corporate suites that had long opposed the Brown-Burton clan and exploited Agnos's weaknesses to oust him. But Jordan tried to get along with all political camps in the city; he showed Assembly Speaker Willie Brown respect, and he faithfully attended Brown's fund-raisers in San Francisco. Brown had nothing against Jordan, really, except that he stood in the way of the office Brown wanted.

But the simple math of the ballot was problematic for Brown. The mayor of San Francisco was a nonpartisan office. Whoever won 50 percent plus one vote in the November 7 election was elected mayor. If no candidate received enough votes, the top two vote-winners would face each other in a December 12 runoff. With at least five serious candidates on the ballot, however, it was probably impossible for either Brown or Jordan to win outright in November. Several candidates had the potential of knocking either Brown or Jordan out of the runoff. Among the possible spoilers was Angela Alioto, a daughter of the former mayor and a member of the Board of Supervisors. But few gave her much chance.

Roberta Achtenberg, a seasoned and ambitious politician, was the strongest of those contenders. An openly lesbian former member of the Board of Supervisors, she had gone to Washington, D.C., as President Clinton's chief of fair housing in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Clinton fought hard for Achtenberg in a tough Senate confirmation battle in 1993. Since then the Republicans had taken control of the Senate, and the likelihood was dim for another openly gay official winning confirmation (or nomination) for the rest of Clinton's presidency. Achtenberg was a national celebrity among gays, but after barely two years on the job, she quit Washington to return to San Francisco to run for mayor.

Achtenberg could depend on a base of gay voters, estimated at 20 percent of the San Francisco electorate.[8] She ran an exceedingly serious campaign, churning out position papers with such weighty topics as "A proposal to consolidate and professionalize San Francisco's financial management systems." Achtenberg's candidacy posed the very real danger for Brown of splitting the progressive and liberal vote and pushing Brown into third place. But Achtenberg was probably not electable in a runoff against Jordan. If she knocked Brown out of the race, it would probably allow Jordan to win reelection with his base of conservative voters. Achtenberg represented Jordan's best hope for reelection.

Brown and Jordan faced opposite sides of the same problem. Jordan needed to knock Brown out of the race in the November primary so that he could face Achtenberg in December and coast to an easy victory. On the other side of the coin, Brown needed to prevent Achtenberg from knocking him into third place. Brown needed to beat Achtenberg, but the trick


was in doing it without alienating her voters. Brown needed to stay focused on Jordan, refraining from attacks on Achtenberg but engaging in a whispering campaign asserting that she was not electable.

The strategy for Jordan was obvious: smear Brown as a crooked politician, and make progressives and liberals think twice about voting for him. To do the job, Jordan hired Clint Reilly, a San Francisco political consultant with a reputation for nastiness toward opponents, employees, and even his own candidates. Reilly's grudge with Willie Brown was well known in both statewide and San Francisco political circles. Indeed, their mutual loathing tinged everything about the 1995 San Francisco mayoral race.

The enmity between Brown and Reilly was deep and long-standing. Brown had blocked Reilly from winning lucrative contracts for Democratic Assembly candidates. Reilly once told a magazine interviewer that Brown was a poor role model for young blacks, and the remark made Brown absolutely livid. Reilly had also suggested to Dianne Feinstein, during his brief management of her 1990 gubernatorial campaign, that she blast Willie Brown in a speech indicting the ethics of Sacramento.[9] Feinstein refused, and it marked the beginning of Reilly's deteriorating relations with her, culminating in his quitting her campaign in a messy public huff.

Willie Brown got even with Reilly four years later, when Reilly was managing Kathleen Brown's campaign for governor. Willie Brown undercut her at every turn. Reilly suffered a publicly embarrassing retreat when Willie Brown demanded that Reilly include Assemblywoman Gwen Moore, a candidate for secretary of state, on a postcard mailer Reilly was selling to candidates as a side business.[10] Reilly sold slots on hundreds of thousands of postcards that looked like official ballot endorsements, called "slatecards" in the trade. The cards were cheap to produce and hugely lucrative for the political consultants who produced them. At the top of the card would be Kathleen Brown's name, and then Reilly planned to sell a line to Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo, who was running in the Democratic primary against Moore.

But Willie Brown threatened he would not endorse Kathleen Brown if Reilly did not bump Woo from the card and replace him with Moore. "I indicated to her that I thought it would be terribly counterproductive ultimately for her if Mr. Reilly persisted in that private entrepreneurship," Brown said.[11] Reilly had no choice, and dumped Woo from his slatecard. Adding to the insult, Brown forced Reilly to sell Moore a line on his cards for less than the $90,000 Woo was willing to spend. Reilly was not happy with Willie Brown at all.

For his mayoral race Willie Brown hired consultant Jack Davis, considered just as tough as Reilly. Hiring Davis held an added benefit: Davis had once worked for Reilly. It came as no surprise to political insiders that the San


Francisco mayoral race began to look more like Brown versus Reilly than Brown versus Jordan.[12] John Jacobs, a veteran ex-reporter for the Examiner , explained the stakes for Reilly in a June column in The Sacramento Bee: "If Brown wins, Reilly not only loses a big race but has to live with his enemy triumphing in his own town."[13]

From the start, Brown and Reilly were at each other's throats. On the eve of Brown's formal announcement of running for mayor, in June, Reilly and Brown bumped into each other at the North Beach Restaurant on Stockton Street, long a regular haunt of Reilly's.[14] It was almost as if Brown planned it as a declaration of war on the eve of battle, although he denied any such intention. Brown, looking very casual, took a table near the entrance with girlfriend Kamala Harris. A few minutes later Reilly strode through the door and looked taken aback when he spotted Brown. Reilly headed straight for him, and stood over him as the two talked. Then Reilly got a table with the owner in the back.

Seconds later Brown walked over to two reporters also dining in the restaurant and told them he had just had a most amazing confrontation with his opponent's campaign manager. The conversation, the way Brown told it, went like this:

"Why are you in my restaurant?" Reilly asked Brown.

"I eat here occasionally," Brown replied.

"You know this is going to be a rough campaign," Reilly declared.

"After what I've been through, this is going to be cakewalk," Brown replied.

"You know this is going to be a rough campaign," Reilly persisted. "Nothing personal."

Then, like a school principal about to give an errant pupil a lesson, Brown wagged his finger at Reilly:

"You don't understand, Clint," he said. "With me , everything is personal ."

Reilly reportedly changed the subject, bringing up his grievance with Gwen Moore over slate cards:

"Your Assembly members stiffed me," Reilly said.

Brown told him, "I'll give you her address. You can sue her."

The next day, Brown held his kickoff rally in Japantown. As the choir sang, the crowd clapped, and Brown spoke, Clint Reilly skulked through the crowd. Approached by one of the reporters who had seen him the night before, Reilly was asked about his conversation with Brown. Reilly proceeded to chew out the reporter.[15]

"Who are you anyway?" he blasted. Yes, he minded the question. The conversation was personal, he said, and he advised the reporter not to trust anything Willie Brown said. "I wouldn't believe anything Willie Brown says about anything," Reilly growled.


He stomped off into the crowd, but returned a few minutes later and apologized. "Everyone knows how I feel about Willie Brown. There's been no change in the last twenty-four hours," he said.

As Brown spoke, Jordan's press secretary, Staci Walters, sought out the reporters covering Brown's rally. The daughter of Dan Walters, columnist of The Sacramento Bee and Brown antagonist, she was more personable than Reilly, and she was well known to both the Sacramento and the San Francisco press corps. That morning she gave a glimpse of what Reilly had in store for Brown. She walked around the rally showing off a red Marlboro cigarette pack with Willie Brown's face pasted on it. The carton was labeled, "Mr. Tobacco Pac." The Jordan campaign intended to paint Brown as the best friend of the tobacco industry, putting him on the defensive immediately. Reilly told reporters, "This is going to be an in-your-face campaign."[16]

Up on the stage, Brown was already anticipating the attack on him for his many years as the "King of Juice." He was already on the defensive.

"I have done the job," he said in his announcement speech. "And it has been costly, personally. When you raise [that kind of money], some people will question whether you still have a soul. I still have a soul."[17]

Frank Jordan stood only a slim chance against Willie Brown, but he held onto his chance to the end. For a time it looked as if he might just pull off the improbable. Through the summer Brown could not get any momentum, constantly pushed off guard by Clint Reilly's attacks and his own stumbles. Each time Brown seemed to be moving forward, Reilly unleashed a new barrage against him. First it was tobacco, then it was his cozy relationships with special interests in the state Capitol, and then it was his law practice.

Even without Reilly's attacks there was plenty for enterprising journalists to write about in Brown's background. San Francisco Examiner investigative reporter Lance Williams led the pack, delving into every corner of Brown's wheeling and dealing in Sacramento. In July Williams wrote a lengthy article about how Pacific Gas and Electric Company had steered a lucrative contract to one of Brown's law clients while seeking Brown's help on legislative business.[18] In September Williams wrote how Brown had reaped a 28 percent profit on stock he had owned for a month in an obscure casino company.[19] One negative story after another followed.

Brown had once said that he did not care what he looked like to the world at large so long as he kept his Assembly members happy. Now he was learning why he should have cared.[20]


Brown tried to get ahead of the attacks by doing something he had refused to do as Speaker. He released his income tax returns back to 1990. "There," he told reporters at an August press conference as he plopped the documents in front of them. "All the candidates are honest. Let's move on to the real issues in this campaign."[21]

The tax returns gave Lance Williams new fodder, and he wrote stories questioning Brown's deductions. But the returns also showed that Brown's income from his law business had declined and that he was not such a high roller as his image suggested.[22] Brown's adjusted gross income for 1994 was $146,898, not much more than the $130,000 salary he would get as mayor. His income was drastically reduced from the $535,638 he had made in 1991 at the height of his clout as Speaker.

Brown's summer strategy to put attackers on the defensive did not work. Some his problems were his own fault, his penchant for off-the-cuff remarks finally catching up to him. He casually suggested that the soon-to-be closed Treasure Island Naval Base would make a terrific site for a Las Vegas–style casino. Gambling was, of course, second nature to Brown, and it seemed like an indisputably good idea to him. "It would create summer jobs," he told Kandace Bender of the San Francisco Examiner during an interview between campaign stops.[23] His notion became the basis for the lead story on the front page of her newspaper the next day. His idea made him all the more vulnerable to charges that he was cozy with the shadowy gambling industry, which, in fact, he was. Brown soon dropped the casino idea, but the damage was done. Reilly and the Jordan campaign pounded on Brown's integrity.

The long-range difficulty with Jordan's attacks was that they could only work against a candidate who was relatively unknown to voters. The voters already knew Brown. There was no surprise in the revelation that he was the biggest wheeler-dealer in Sacramento. In the jargon of political consultants, Brown was already "well defined" with voters. Jordan's campaign staff and San Francisco reporters provided new details, but nevertheless it was an old story. The question for voters was whether they wanted to bring a flashy political boss to City Hall or keep their nice but ineffectual mayor. As the candidates faced each other in an endless but inconclusive series of debates, the campaign started to get boring.

Brown stumped almost continuously in the neighborhoods. He joked that voters would consider voting for a candidate only after they had met him twice. In fact, it was just the sort of politics that he relished, the type of politics that put a premium on winning one vote at a time. If he needed to meet every voter in a city of 755,300 people, and shake every single hand, then he would do it, and do it gladly. He rose before dawn to meet commuters at bus stops, then made dozens more campaign stops before quitting for the day long after dark. He was everywhere, and he never lingered long. He began locking up endorsements from Democratic clubs.


"This is all new," he told Sacramento Bee reporter Brad Hayward, who tagged along with him for a grueling day in October. "I campaigned in 1964 and went door-to-door ringing doorbells, but we didn't do any pancake breakfasts. I've not campaigned for myself, for Willie Brown, since 1964. But contact one-on-one is the best method."[24]

Brown worked hard in black neighborhoods, gathering black Democratic clubs to his side throughout the city. The campaign kept up a steady stream of mailers into black neighborhoods, careful not to take Brown's base for granted. In fact, he won 99.1 percent of the vote in some black precincts and increased the voter turnout in the Bayview–Hunters Point area.[25]

But Brown was also careful to not alienate white voters. He was not running as a black politician, although he would be the first black mayor of San Francisco if elected. Electing a black as mayor would be a major milestone for the city, especially given its troubled racial history. But his image as a flashy political pro overwhelmed talk of that milestone, and it was barely mentioned in the media.

Still, Brown needed to walk through a minefield to keep race from becoming an issue. The first mine he encountered was the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which ground to its conclusion in early October. Simpson's acquittal worried Brown's campaign staff. Within hours of the verdict, Brown's campaign office was receiving racist telephone calls from people blaming him for the verdict because he was black.[26] Brown was an old friend of Simpson. He had known him since the athlete was a young high school star in San Francisco. Brown was saddened by the terrible events in Los Angeles, but he studiously avoided comment on the trial beyond innocuous statements about hoping justice would be served.

Far trickier than the Simpson verdict, however, was the "Million Man March," organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farakan in mid-October to bring national attention to the plight of African American men. The march organizers planned to bring one million black men to Washington for a massive rally on the Capitol Mall. Jesse Jackson planned to attend, as well as other black political leaders. Farakan, well known for his anti-Semitic statements, made it clear that women were not welcome at the march. For Brown, joining the march would have been nothing less than political suicide. Not only would participating in the march alienate Jews and give Jordan a bludgeon with which to attack him, it would also drive away Achtenberg's feminist supporters.

Brown stayed away from Farakan's march. But he needed to do more than stay away. He had to counter any suggestion that he was simply laying low. So on the day of the Million Man March, Willie Brown stood on the steps of Raoul Wallenberg High School in San Francisco and explained why he was not joining the march in Washington. "While I support the concept of promoting pride and self-empowerment in the African American community,


I vehemently object to the racist and sexist comments uttered by the leader of this march," Brown proclaimed.[27] The place he picked for his speech had symbolic importance—a school named for a Swedish diplomat who smuggled 4,000 Jews out of Budapest during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Brown's campaign for mayor forced him to reeducate himself about the city of San Francisco. He had come home on weekends throughout his legislative career, but his homecomings usually consisted of lunch with Herb Caen and dinner with a beautiful woman. Willie Brown was a fixture in San Francisco, but mostly in restaurants. The closest Willie Brown usually got to City Hall in recent years was dinner at Stars, a trendy nightspot a couple of blocks away. Brown rarely ventured into the neighborhoods except to get a haircut. His reelections were a cinch, and were hardly covered by the media since his bizarre 1968 race against Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver. Brown was not necessarily out of touch with San Francisco, but for years he had not pounded the gritty sidewalks in search of votes, either.

Much had changed in San Francisco since Brown first ran for office. The Fillmore was no longer exclusively black but now had pockets of Asians and other immigrants. The landmarks of his early entry into politics were largely gone. The Casino Row of his young adulthood had long since been paved over for the Japan Trade Center. The barbershop where he had shined shoes was gone, replaced by a Bank of America branch. Brown's 1964 campaign headquarters on Divisadero Street had become a beauty supply store. Further south on Divisadero, Brown's 1962 campaign headquarters was now the Muslim Community Center. The law office on Sutter Street he once shared with Terry Francois had been torn down, replaced by condominiums. Jones Methodist Church still stood, but the sign in front that had once proclaimed "Church Families Are Happier" now proclaimed "To Serve the Present Age."

Even as he campaigned for mayor, Brown still had twinges of ambivalence about the job he was working so hard to get. He never admitted his ambivalence to San Francisco reporters, but when Sacramento Bee reporter Brad Hayward rode with him for a day, Brown let his guard down for an instant. "I love the Legislature," he told Hayward, and he acknowledged that he would still rather be Speaker of the California Assembly. Were it not for term limits, Brown asserted, he would still be there. "I love the action, the ability to move from major subject matter to major subject matter. I love the competition."[28]

Back in Sacramento, Republicans were still relentlessly trying to capture control of the Assembly. Doris Allen was punished for making a deal with Brown and removed by voters in a special election in her Orange County district. Brian Setencich, the new Speaker, hung on to the speakership by a thread. The Democrats began jostling in private to succeed Brown as the Assembly Democratic leader. The maneuvering pitted Latinos against blacks


and whites in the caucus. Older Democrats backed veteran Richard Katz of Los Angeles, while the Latinos backed freshman Cruz Bustamante. Willie Brown was still the leader of the Democratic Party in the Assembly, but he could not be two places at once. He did his best, however, to do just that.

While he campaigned for mayor of San Francisco, Brown laid the groundwork in Sacramento for a new generation of Democrats to retake control of the Assembly. Beginning in early June 1995, Brown invited anyone with ambitions of being Speaker to talk with him, and he would train them. But he laid down a tough standard to test their mettle:

"When you start to talk to me, you got to tell me how many folk you already have who would blindly be of assistance to you," Brown told his Democratic colleagues. "If you announce tomorrow that you're going to challenge me for the majority leader's job, or the leader's job, which person do you think would hesitate before they would say 'No, don't do it, it's Willie?' If you don't have at least one, you're wasting my time."[29]

He also told them they had better be prepared to raise campaign cash, and lots of it, just as he had done. "Those kinds of things will be the thresholds," he explained, "and you won't have a whole lot of people willing to meet those thresholds. They may be nice people, they may have all the other qualities, but these are survival qualities that you need. And you've got to be from a district where you don't need to run for reelection, where you're canonized."

Not even Brown, with his legendary capacity for energy and work, could keep up with the pace he set for himself. He began losing his voice in October, but he continued pushing himself. He sounded raspy at campaign appearances, but he insisted on scheduling every minute of the day and evening. He lost weight, he looked exhausted, his expensive suits began looking a little limp on his small frame. His campaign aides, some of them also nursing bad colds by then, began fretting about his health and theirs.[30] The campaign seemed to be going on too long.

Two days after the Million Man March, Brown and John Burton hosted a book signing party at the Fort Mason Officers Club for John Jacobs, who had recently written a biography of Brown's political mentor, Phillip Burton. Brown took a brief timeout from campaigning for the party. The party turned out to be a reunion of the old Burton clan. Many had gone their separate ways since Phillip Burton's death, and the gathering underscored the political fact that Willie Brown had built his own organization. He was in charge now. Asked if he was going to win, Brown replied wearily, "After all this, I better."[31] He looked worn out. A few minutes later, he slipped out of his own party to go to a campaign appearance somewhere else in town.

Brown grew brittle around reporters; the months of negative newspaper coverage were taking a toll. He always had been thin-skinned about the press, and now he let it show. He was testy in meetings with the editorial boards of


the city's major newspapers, and he was ornery with out-of-town reporters who came to San Francisco to cover the political spectacle. In one instance, William Claiborne of The Washington Post caught up to him after a campaign appearance and asked him whether Jordan's attacks had struck a nerve.

"I'm not into this bullshit about my integrity," Brown bristled as he stalked off to his waiting car. "I'm Willie Brown, that's the difference. I'm a real person. I'm not a stick figure."[32]

With Jordan and Brown locked in combat, Achtenberg continued to issue position papers, and she gradually began rising in the polls as the best alternative to Jordan or Brown. Angela Alioto, strapped for campaign funds, pulled out of the race, giving Achtenberg a boost. By mid-October the polls showed Brown and Jordan in a dead heat, tied at about 30 percent, and Achtenberg 10 points behind and catching up.[33] Brown faced the very real danger of placing third, of losing .

Then Willie Brown got lucky—unbelievably lucky.

Ten days before the November election, Frank Jordan posed with two radio hosts, Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps, for a photograph in which all three were standing in Jordan's shower stark naked.[34] One of the disc jockeys held a microphone, and all three had silly grins. The picture of the three, cropped to show them only from the waist up, landed on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner . Jordan's flabby paunch was displayed to the world, though viewers were spared the rest of his anatomy.

As the public tittered, and comedians had a field day, speculation was rife over just what possessed Jordan when he posed for the picture. He said he was just trying to look like a "regular guy." His wife, Wendy Paskin, was blamed for dreaming up the stunt, or so it was said by unnamed sources. Reilly was reportedly beside himself.

Jordan looked like the town fool, and the San Francisco newspapers reprinted the photo day after day. The Examiner sponsored a photo caption contest. The photo went out on the Internet and began showing up in newspapers all over the country. Jordan became the butt of jokes everywhere. The New York Times described the San Francisco mayoral campaign as "loopy."[35]

Willie Brown began to have fun with Jordan's misstep. The Brown campaign aired a radio spot with Bobby Darin singing "Splish Splash." Brown cracked that the only way he would appear for a photo naked in a shower was with two naked women. He kept wisecracking all the way to election day, telling his crony Herb Caen (for print) that the reason he did not pose naked in a shower was "I hate one-button suits."[36] The damage for Jordan was irreparable; his stunt reminded voters of the buffoonery of his administration.


The voters went to the polls on November 7, and Brown finished ahead of Jordan by two percentage points. Neither had won an absolute majority, and they headed for a December 12 runoff.[37] Achtenberg finished a strong third, only 4.8 percentage points behind the incumbent mayor. Jordan was doomed.

There was no pause in the campaign. But the momentum was with Brown and he never lost it. Within days Achtenberg threw her support to Brown. In desperation Jordan began posting signs around San Francisco with the word "Trust" printed on a blue background and another sign with "Mistrust" on a black background showing Brown's face. The signs were the final nasty blow from Reilly.

The press soon complained that Brown had ceased talking about issues. He made no commitments to anyone about anything. He stayed deliberately vague, sticking to his general campaign theme: "This race is about leadership—and the lack of it," he said.[38] Brown was letting the clock run out.

Brown was already beginning the transition of power. He quietly helped defeat a proposal at the Board of Supervisors for district elections for supervisorial seats. The proposal was popular among progressives, but Brown wanted to leave himself plenty of room to appoint two new supervisors to seats that likely would open after the election. Brown began to lay the groundwork to wield power just as he had in Sacramento.

Election day, December 12, 1995, began with the worst rainstorm of the season. Brown's campaign set up shop in a vacant three-story warehouse-store complex on Thirteenth Street in an industrial area south of Market Street. The campaign purchased six hundred rain ponchos, seven hundred flashlights, 1,000 umbrellas, and 1,000 sack lunches for precinct workers. Busloads of Democratic legislators and their staffs, and dozens of lobbyists, fanned out across the city with voter lists and cellular telephones. Men in jeans with United Farm Workers union buttons directed traffic in and out of the headquarters parking lot. Dolores Huerta, the vice president of the union, was among those working inside the nerve center of what was possibly the biggest get-out-the-vote drive in San Francisco history.

The clouds lifted by afternoon, and Brown's precinct operation went into high gear. His sisters, Gwendolyn and Lovia from Texas and Baby Dalle from San Diego, worked the telephones pleading with voters to get to the polls. His brother from Tacoma, James Walton, walked precincts in a black neighborhood. Old friends from Mineola came, too, and worked the phones. Upstairs, Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson worked the phones: "Hi. I'm Marguerite. Have you voted?" Posted on a bulletin board was a photocopy of Frank Jordan's shower scene. Scrawled underneath was the caption: "In my campaign for mayor, it's the little things that make the difference."


Gale Kaufman, Brown's principal political aide from Sacramento, performed hundreds of chores that day, and kept the callers pumping 250 telephones spread around the building. At one point, Assemblywoman Debra Bowen told Kaufman that a voter was complaining that she had already got three telephone calls from the Brown campaign.

"Good," Kaufman replied. "Call them again."

Across town, Jordan set up his campaign headquarters in a vacant auto showroom on Van Ness Avenue near City Hall.[39] In its heyday the showroom was probably one of the targets of civil rights demonstrators, including Willie Brown. Now it looked more like a movie set of what a campaign headquarters was supposed to look like, with a podium for the candidate and a giant board with precincts numbered and tallied. But with only a few hours to go, the headquarters was nearly vacant. Only eight callers worked the telephones in a back room. The smell of defeat hung heavily in the air.

In another corner of San Francisco, in one of the poshest residential districts overlooking the Golden Gate, a storm drain burst under a street and a giant sinkhole swallowed an entire house. Television crews rushed to the stricken neighborhood as more houses were threatened by the gaping hole. Then they noticed they were on Clint Reilly's street. His house remained safe that day, but his political fortune crashed into the sinkhole along with Jordan's.

Brown began celebrating his victory before the polls closed at a private dinner party upstairs at Alioto's restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf.[40] Brown's dining at Alioto's on his victory night was almost like rubbing it in the noses of the downtown establishment that had long opposed him, epitomized by Joseph Alioto, the former mayor. Sitting around a huge table that night was Brown's personal and political family: his girlfriend, Kamala Harris, his sisters and brother, John Burton and Michael Roos, and others. Brown had a terrific time walking around the table with a glass of red wine and laughing at every joke. Waiting outside for him was his driver and a white unmarked police car. The San Francisco police had already begun protecting the new mayor, even though he was not quite elected.

A few hours later Brown claimed his victory at the nearby Longshoremen's Hall. Then he partied into the night. When the last ballots were counted, it was not even close: Brown won 57 percent to Jordan's 43 percent.

There was one other major victor that night. Terrence Hallinan, a member of the Board of Supervisors who as a student had been arrested and roughed up by police at the Mel's Drive-In demonstrations three decades earlier, was elected district attorney in San Francisco. Hallinan's triumph also gave Brown his first seat on the Board of Supervisors to fill by appointment.

In the hours and days ahead Brown forced the police chief to resign, named his successor, and attended to a thousand other political and personal chores. Within forty-eight hours he resigned from the state Assembly, completing thirty-one years in the Legislature.


The Democrats in the Assembly needed a new leader, and they still depended on Brown to maintain cohesion. If Brown could not come to Sacramento, the Democratic Assembly members would come to him. Brown was still so important to the unity of the Assembly Democratic caucus that it convened a private meeting in San Francisco in December on the weekend before his election as mayor to decide what to do without him as their leader.[41] It did not go well, and no vote for leader was taken because the Latino members of the caucus wanted more time. Brown agreed they should have time.

After his election the Democrats convened in Sacramento to elect a new leader. In a gesture showing how much power he still held, the Democrats invited Brown to preside over their closed-door caucus even though Brown was no longer a member. Brown played his father role, coaxing reluctant Latinos to close ranks behind Richard Katz, the new Democratic leader. And Brown promised Katz that he would raise $1 million for Democratic Assembly candidates.[42]

However, without Brown in Sacramento, the Republicans regrouped, dumped Brian Setencich as Speaker (considering him a turncoat), and finally elected a Speaker of their own choosing, Curt Pringle, a right-wing ideologue from Orange County. In the weeks ahead Pringle began dismantling Brown's legislative machine with wholesale firings of Democratic legislative staff. The Republicans also began winning Assembly approval of their legislative agenda—one year late—sending their bills to an uncertain fate in the state Senate, which was still controlled by Democrats. The Republicans also put up a candidate against Setencich in his Assembly primary in March and defeated him.

John Burton prepared to leave the Assembly, announcing he would run for the state Senate to replace retiring Milton Marks, who had held the seat since a special election against Burton three decades earlier. Many of Brown's oldest associates headed for retirement, including Robert Connelly, the executive officer of the Assembly Rules Committee and a Brown staffer from the early days. Term limits caught up with the few Assembly members remaining from the pinnacle of Brown's speakership, among them Phillip Isenberg, another Brown staffer from the old days.

A few of Brown's oldest friends came out of retirement to help him in San Francisco, the most important being Rudy Nothenberg. The former chief administrative officer for the city advised Brown throughout the campaign and helped him assemble a new team to run City Hall. A few other Sacramento hands were important, such as Sam Yockey, a former Ways and Means Committee staffer who had worked for Agnos when he was mayor. Brown also gave a City Hall job to Paul Horcher, the renegade Republican who had voted for him for Speaker following the disastrous 1994 elections, an act that forestalled the Republican takeover in the Assembly by a year—and caused his Horcher's recall by voters in his home district. For the most part, however, Brown started


from scratch building a new staffin San Francisco. The word went forth to Sacramento that résumés were not welcome. If he wanted you, he would ask.

As Brown prepared to assume office, he attended to a few personal tasks. He put the contents of his law office—books, furniture, and all—up for sale and referred his remaining clients to new lawyers. During the campaign he pledged to follow San Francisco law to the letter: he would take no outside income as mayor.

Columnist Herb Caen all but predicted two days after the election that Brown would wed Kamala Harris, his constant companion throughout the campaign. "Keep an eye on these two," Caen wrote.[43] No mention was made of what Brown would do about Blanche, to whom he was still married. But the day after Christmas, Brown stunned his friends by announcing that he was breaking up with Kamala. Brown invited Blanche to appear with him on stage for his swearing-in and to hold the Bible. A television reporter from KPIX caught up to Blanche, who had kept a low profile throughout the campaign, and asked her what it was like to live with the future mayor.

"Difficult" was her one-word answer.[44]

After scorching him for months in print, the San Francisco newspapers began enjoying Brown's style. The newspapers were filled with stories about his clothes and cars, his jokes and bold manner. The media that had so recently savaged him was now filled with glee at the prospect of the flashy mayor. Rob Morse, the wry columnist of the Examiner , declared the opening of the media's uneasy honeymoon with the new mayor:

Please do not change a bit in office, Willie. Keep those beautiful women on your arms. Keep going to the Academy Awards. Keep wearing that yellow silk tuxedo. We've had enough "citizen mayor" baloney. We want a real mayor, a slick politician who is funny and fearless, who charms us and who makes us proud when he goes on "Nightline" or "Letterman." San Francisco is a royalist city without a royal family. You're it for the next four years.[45]

It seemed Brown's biggest challenge was in deciding what to wear for his inaugural. The candidates in his wardrobe included a $3,300 brown double-breasted cashmere Kiyon suit with a burnt orange tie; a $2,800 double-breasted Brioni with six buttons and a blue Valentino tie; and a $2,800 blue single-breasted Brioni with brown stripes and a light blue shirt.[46] The winner was a stately English-style blue suit with a white shirt, a gold striped tie, and a Borsalino fedora, size 7 5/8.

Brown planned the biggest inaugural bash in San Francisco history, staging it on Pier 45, the site of his "Oh, What A Night!" party for the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Brown signed up Huey Lewis, Carlos Santana, Joe


Louis Walker, and Big Bang Beat, among others, for the entertainment. The party was open to all, with seventy restaurants donating food. Across town, Brown set up a soup kitchen to feed ten thousand homeless and poor people; all told, organizers expected a throng of one hundred thousand people would attend at least one of his inaugural celebrations.

On his inaugural morning, January 8, 1996, Brown went to an ecumenical church service led by one of the many old friends who had supporting roles in his political career, the Reverend Cecil Williams. Gale Kaufman saw to it that the delegation of Assembly members was escorted to pews near the front; Brown's duties as the "Members' Speaker" remained. At the conclusion of the service, Brown walked across a plaza, shaking hands, to a stage in Yerba Buena Gardens, a development he had helped guide to approval in City Hall as a lawyer. The site faced the Moscone Center, named in honor of his slain friend.

Brown was sworn in by another old friend, John Dearman, who had become a judge many years earlier with help from Brown and had presided over the oath when Brown was elected Speaker in 1980. Standing by his side were Blanche Brown and his three children. The dignitaries that morning included both of California's United States Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and every living ex-mayor of San Francisco and dozens of legislators. Rounding out the official party was a delegation from Mineola, Texas, led by the town's mayor, who eagerly told reporters that Mineola now had an Amtrak stop for the Texas Eagle on the Chicago–Los Angeles route, thanks to Willie Brown. The new mayor agreed to return to Mineola in April to open the new train stop.

During the inaugural ceremony Brown took a telephone call, broadcast to the crowd, from President Clinton. The connection was delayed. "They've put me on hold! What nerve!" Brown quipped to roars of laughter. "I've never waited this long for anybody." When Clinton came on the phone, Brown told him: "You should be here with us. It is just incredible. There's no snow and no Republicans."[47] And with that, Willie Brown threw a blow-out party for 100,000 of his closest friends.


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