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My own political career lasted not quite half a year, and it was as successful as it was short. As a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles, I went to a Los Angeles caucus where delegates were being selected for George McGovern's presidential candidacy. Accompanied by my roommate, Tony Ramirez, now a reporter with The New York Times , I nominated myself to become a delegate. I made a one-minute speech about how young people needed to be represented, and by the end of the day I was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, headed for Miami Beach in the summer of 1972. Thus began a lifelong journey of crossing paths with one of the most extraordinary political figures of our time, Willie Lewis Brown Jr.

Brown was named by McGovern as cochairman of the California delegation. I must confess I had never heard of this obscure assemblyman from San Francisco until the Saturday morning after the June 1972 primary, when the delegation assembled for the first time in a hotel ballroom near Los Angeles International Airport. There were two other "cochairs"—Dolores Huerta and John Burton—but from the start, Willie Brown was clearly in command. For me, the events of that summer were a huge adventure. My seat at the Miami convention was in the third row, and I was among those inside the convention hall on that crucial first night when half of our delegation remained outside with its credentials under challenge. My seatmate was Tom Bradley, who a year later would be elected mayor of Los Angeles. Willie Brown seemed constantly in motion that week in Florida; I hardly slept the entire time. He called delegation caucuses at odd hours of the night and early morning. He instantly knew every California delegate's name, all 271 of us. His speech commanding the convention to "give me back my delegation!" was


the emotional high point not just of the convention but also of the presidential campaign itself. McGovern was our candidate, but Willie Brown was our leader.

But I also witnessed first-hand that summer another side to Willie Brown, a side that convinced me that politics should not be my life's vocation. Many young delegates, including myself, balked at voting for Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton as McGovern's vice-presidential running mate because we thought he was too closely aligned with the reactionary labor leader George Meany. But Brown countenanced no such rebellion from his delegates, and certainly not from self-righteous college kids. Shortly before we were to leave for the final night of the convention, he cornered me in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying. Pressing his face to within a few inches of my nose, he asked:

"I hear you're not voting for Tom Eagleton?"

"That's right," I replied.

"How do you plan to get home?"

I swallowed hard, and said, "I thought I was taking the delegation airplane home."

"Who are you voting for for vice president?"

"I guess I'm voting for Tom Eagleton."

Later, when the convention was over, and I had knuckled under to vote for Tom Eagleton, I sheepishly asked Brown if he really would have kept me off the airplane.

Nah. You didn't believe that, did you?"

To this day I am still not sure.

McGovern lost the election (but not before Eagleton had been ignominiously kicked off the ticket because he had received electroshock therapy), and I drifted away from active involvement in politics, never to work in an election campaign again. I ended up becoming a reporter for a succession of California newspapers, writing about politics whenever possible, and I kept one eye on the career of Willie Brown. He was elected Speaker of the state Assembly in 1980, and five years later I was given a chance to move to Sacramento and cover the Legislature. It was the luckiest break of my life. Brown turned out to be the greatest show in town.

Writing this book has been a wonderful adventure. It has taken me from Sacramento and San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and to small towns in East Texas. The research really began in July 1985, when I arrived in Sacramento as the statehouse correspondent for The Press-Enterprise of Riverside County . I am in great debt to Marcia McQuern, editor in chief, for having enough confidence in my abilities to send me to the Capitol and for encouraging my career over many years. I am also hugely grateful to my predecessor, Richard Zeiger, who became editor of California Journal . The idea of writing Willie Brown's biography was hatched over lunch with Zeiger, and he has been endlessly helpful as the months have turned into


years. I joined the Capitol staff of The Sacramento Bee in 1988 and from that vantage point witnessed the final years of Brown's speakership.

This biography became a reality because of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, which enabled me to take a one-year sabbatical from The Bee during 1993. Most of the research for this book was conducted during that year. The foundation's executive director, Margaret Engle, was hugely supportive of this project and saw the possibility of its success when others did not. I am also deeply grateful to Robert Caro for his help in launching this project.

I am immensely thankful to The Bee for that year off, and for the summer after that, and for the many other indulgences shown me by my editors, especially Gregory Favre, executive editor; Rick Rodriguez, managing editor; and William Endicott, deputy managing editor and former Capitol bureau chief. Other editors have been greatly supportive along the way, particularly Marjie Lundstrom, deputy managing editor; Amy Chance, Capitol bureau chief; and Tom Negrete, my deputy metropolitan editor. Four editors from my former newspapers have also been immensely supportive: Mel Optowsky, Jim Bettinger, Tony Perry, and, of course, Marcia McQuern.

Thanks also to Tom Hoeber for his unwavering encouragement and the many courtesies he extended to me at California Journal .

I am indebted to one colleague above all others: John Jacobs, political editor for McClatchy Newspapers based at The Bee . Jacobs spent many hours reading the manuscript and suggesting improvements. Together we have traveled along the Willie Brown trail, from the Assembly floor in Sacramento to restaurants in San Francisco. We have had a great deal of fun. He has been a guide, mentor, and good friend throughout. I hope this volume is a worthy companion to his masterful biography on Phillip Burton, A Rage for Justice .

I am immensely grateful to Bruce Cain and Susan Rasky in Berkeley for their reading of the first draft and for their insights. Over the years I have enjoyed many discussions with both of them about Brown and politics, and they have sharpened my thinking immeasurably. The text is much improved for their suggestions.

Several others also read all or part of the manuscript and offered valuable suggestions: Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Christopher Bowman, Ginger Rutland, Fred Martin, William Coblentz, and Amy Chance. My thanks to the staff of the University of California Press, especially Naomi Schnieder and William Murphy.

Many people have asked me whether this biography is "authorized" or "unauthorized." This book is entirely my own; I alone am responsible for any errors of fact or perspective. To his credit, Willie Brown has never asked to read the manuscript, and in accordance with standard journalistic practice I would not have allowed him to read it if he had asked. That said, I am enormously grateful to Willie Brown for his time and his help, particularly in arranging introductions to his relatives.


Brown was initially skeptical about my motives in undertaking this project, and was perhaps rightly suspicious that it might do him more harm than good (his exact words were "I hear some fool has given you a grant"). Toward the end of 1993, after I had been working on this project full-time for nearly a year, Brown granted me the first of what became four lengthy interviews. He has also extended numerous courtesies for which I am exceedingly thankful, including answering questions on short notice. He has never attempted to interfere or direct the research or writing in any way.

Brown's press office responded unfailingly to requests large and small. I want to especially thank Darolyn Davis, Julie Conboy, and Dana Spurrier. Thanks also to Barbara Metzger, Brown's former press secretary, for locating old transcripts and providing help when asked.

There is a reason why biography probably should not be written about living people. Willie Brown turned out to be a moving target; his life is still unfolding as I write this. I therefore offer this work as the first attempt at writing his story, and I hope others will follow and offer new insights into this fascinating and controversial character.

Much of my sabbatical year was spent as visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies. My thanks to Nelson Polsby for offering his friendship and arranging my residency; to Bruce Cain, Adrienne Jamieson, Eugene Lee, and Jerry Lubenow for their friendship, support, and insights. My time with them was well spent, and a treat.

I also extend my gratitude to Katera Estrada, who served as my able and underpaid research assistant while the money held out. She had infinitely more stamina in front of microfilm machines than I.

Many archivists and librarians across the country helped immeasurably in finding obscure files and documents relating to Willie Brown and the times he has lived in. When I began, I never dreamed how much paper was out there, and how many places I needed to go to find it. Two professionals especially stand out: Georgiana White, archivist for California State University, Sacramento, and Melodi Anderson, with the California State Archives. White not only helped guide me through her own collections but also acted as a go-between with archivists throughout the United States. She opened doors everywhere. The research material from this book will be given to the archive at California State University, Sacramento. Anderson helped me maneuver through batches of documents at the State Archives, including the unindexed files once belonging to Jesse Unruh, and the state's immensely valuable oral history project.

Other archivists providing assistance included Katie McDonghue and her helpful colleagues at the Library of Congress; Maura Porter at the John F. Kennedy Library; the archivists at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; the librarians at the Institute of Governmental Studies; Charlene Noyes of the Sacramento History Museum and Special Collections;


the University of Arkansas; and the Texas Collection at the Dallas Public Library. I am also grateful to Frieda E. Sheel with the Mineola Library for allowing me access to microfilmed newspapers and genealogical collections. I also thank the African American Museum and Library at Oakland for its assistance.

I am especially grateful to Elizabeth McKee, an old friend and historian with CalTrans who found documents relating to Brown's first Assembly campaign. I am also indebted to Pete Basofin and Rebecca Boyd of The Sacramento Bee library and to librarians at the San Francisco Chronicle for opening their files to me. I am also grateful to my close friend Jennifer Pendleton for sending me batches of clippings from the Los Angeles Times and for her support of this project. I am also grateful to my friend and former Bee colleague Dale Maharidge for insights about the collapse of cotton in the South and to Lou Cannon for his encouragement over the years and support for this project. Thanks also to Robert Forsyth for his help, friendship, and support.

Many people have spent hours telling me stories about Willie Brown and explaining the events surrounding his life. They are all listed in the bibliography, and I thank each one. A few must be mentioned here. First, Willie Brown's sisters, Baby Dalle Hancock, Lovia Boyd, and Gwendolyn Hill; his brother, James Walton; his uncle, Itsie Collins; and his minister, the Reverend Hamilton Boswell. They gave me a glimpse of life in the segregated Texas of their youth that I could not possibly have had otherwise. I am also grateful for the time I spent with Brown's father, Lewis, a year before his death. Special thanks also to Russell Collins Stieger for introducing me to many of Brown's relatives. Some of Brown's oldest friends also spent considerable time with me, and I am especially grateful to San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Dearman for his time and insights.

A number of people in Mineola, Texas, were especially helpful, but none more than Marcus McCalla, who became my guide in Mineola's African American neighborhood and a friend during many long days exploring East Texas. I am also grateful to his aunt, Jewel McCalla, and to Bill Jones, president of the Wood County Historical Society, for their time and help. The hospitality of the Mineolans was tremendous, and I am especially thankful to Shirley Chadwick of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce. She can take credit for locating 1930s Mineola postcards, including one showing Brown's father.

Several political figures were exceedingly generous with their time above the call of normal press relations, particularly Phillip Isenberg, who let me return again and again for hours of interviews; John Burton, who was especially earthy and candid; and Patrick Nolan, who spent hours with me while in the midst of battling a criminal indictment that eventually sent him to federal prison. I am grateful to former governor George Deukmejian for his courtesy in talking with me; this book is better for his insights. Howard Berman rearranged his schedule to accommodate me and kept others waiting


until we were through; his colleagues, Julian Dixon and Maxine Waters, were also extra generous with their time. Brown's senior advisers, including Bob Connelly, Michael Galizio, Gale Kaufman, Steve Thompson, and John Mockler, also extended hours of their valuable time. I am grateful to Tom Hayden and his assistant, Duane Peterson, for opening their files. An old friend, attorney Ben Ginsberg, proved crucial in arranging an interview with Ed Rollins, and I extend to him thanks for his help and encouragement.

There are a few people noticeable by their absence. I especially regret that Brown's wife, Blanche, would not grant an interview, although she was quite gracious during several telephone conversations. This book would have had more depth with her help. Governor Pete Wilson also never granted an interview, although his staff repeatedly promised one. Only a few political figures refused to be interviewed. Richard Alatorre never responded to requests, and Dolores Huerta could never fit an interview into her schedule. Jesse Jackson proved elusive and missed telephone appointments scheduled by his staff. Most frustrating of all, Mervyn Dymally agreed to an interview, but on the eve of my departure for Los Angeles to meet with him, his staff called and said he would only talk "off the record." They permitted no negotiation on the point, and Dymally's staff abruptly canceled the meeting.

This book is built largely on the work of my colleagues in the Sacramento Capitol press corps. They labor under intense deadlines, battle with self-important politicians and bureaucrats, and seldom receive praise or appreciation from editors in the home offices. A number of my colleagues, past and present, have been especially helpful and supportive, including Dan Smith, Stephen Green, Kathleen Smith, Brad Hayward, Rick Kushman, Laura Mecoy, Dan Weintraub, Mary Lynn Villenga, Lisa Lapin, Jon Matthews, Dan Carson, Steve Swatt, Mark Gladstone, Paul Jacobs, Dan Moraine, Ed Mendel, Dan Bernstein, Vice Pollard, Jerry Gillam, Mark Lifsher, Steve Capps, Ilana Debare, Bob Forsyth, Tupper Hull, Rob Gunnison, Greg Lucas, Herbert Sample, Jack Cavanaugh, and Steve Wiegand.

I am especially mindful of Thorne Gray, the journalistic partner with whom I covered the budget meltdown of 1992 and shared an office at The Bee . He recommended me for the Alicia Patterson fellowship, and he was perhaps my biggest booster. He died before the completion of this book.

My thanks also to columnist Martin Smith for his wisdom and support. Columnist Dan Walters has also been an invaluable friend and insightful observer.

Two of my photojournalist colleagues have been especially helpful: Lois Bernstein and Rich Pedroncelli of the Associated Press. Rich has tirelessly and unselfishly helped in the closing stages of this project.

On more than one occasion I found myself reaching for one of the editions of the California Political Almanac , written by my colleagues at The Bee . It was an immeasurably valuable resource, and I thank them for it.


Colleagues outside of Sacramento also have been immensely helpful locating clips and documents and lending encouragement. I am especially grateful to Dan Bernstein in Riverside; Ron Marsico in New Jersey; Herbert Sample, Mark Z. Barabak, and Leo Rennert in Washington, D.C.; Darla Morgan in Austin; Marty Nolan of The Boston Globe ; and Tom Beesley in Mineola.

Many people have extended me much help, including places to stay. My thanks to Larry Nagy and Nancy Jaffer, in New Jersey; Jim and Dee Bettinger, in Palo Alto; Raul Reyes and Linda Vaughan, in Texas; Herbert Sample, Laura Mecoy, and Cary Walker, in Washington, D.C.; and Ilana Debare and Sam Schuchat, in Oakland. I am especially thankful to Jim and Helen Wysham for use of their Tahoe cabin during some of the writing. And daily visits by the bear livened up the routine.

My friends and family have supported me through an ordeal of time and stamina. I am grateful to my special friends at Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, especially the Very Reverend Donald Brown and his wife, Carol Anne, for their long support and confidence. My parents, David and Jean Richardson, have seen little of me in the past couple of years, and I thank them for their patience. My sister, Janet, and her husband, Patrick, and nephew Trevor, have been unstinting in their support. And much of this was written with my dog, Chulita, sitting in my lap. Some of her spirit is in this book.

Finally, this work would simply not have been possible without the love, support, and help of my wife and soulmate, Lori. She is my biggest backer, my strongest critic, and every inch a professional journalist. She edited the final manuscript, kept my computer running, and was an endless source of ideas. Most of all, she never gave up on me or this project, and it is to her that I give my deepest thanks.

FEBRUARY 14, 1996


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