previous part
next part



Chapter Ten—

Sacramento has become not so much the capital of a great state, but the headquarters of the lobbyists.
Carey McWilliams
Journalist, 1949

Big Daddy . Jesse Marvin Unruh, the Speaker of the California State Assembly. There was no one bigger in the Legislature, maybe no one bigger in California. He was physically huge, standing over six feet tall and weighing three hundred pounds. "Jesse gained about ten pounds a session," his first wife, Virginia, once recalled.[1] His neck was so fat that he was constantly jutting forth his chin to keep his flesh from pinching his collar.[2] Unruh wore expensive shoes and shiny silk suits and painstakingly greased his hair into a pompadour each morning. He drove a gigantic gold Chrysler. He was a night person; he did not like to get up early. In the evenings he went to one of several hotel suites in Sacramento to gorge off tables piled high with fried chicken, roast beef, lobster, and liquor, all paid for by Capitol lobbyists. When he felt the need, women were provided, also courtesy of the lobbyists. Unruh's first law of politics was, "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, and vote against them, you don't belong here."

Unruh's friends nicknamed him "Big Daddy" for his resemblance to the domineering father in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof .[3] "When you call me that, smile. I really don't care if someone wants to call me 'Big Daddy' or anything else," he said.[4] It was what people meant by it that counted. It was fine with him, he said, if it signified "the ability to get things


done." But if the name implied he was a "liar," that was another story.[5] And the wrath of Big Daddy was as sure as it was volcanic.

The world Willie Lewis Brown Jr. entered in January 1965 was Big Daddy's world. That the two would clash was foreordained. That they had much in common would take time for them to discover.

Unruh was born September 30, 1922, in Kansas, but he was reared a Texan. He was the youngest of five children born to German Mennonite parents.[6] His biographer, Lou Cannon, wrote of Unruh that "he was an unlovely child from the first, oversized and extra bright and with a lisp that made him the natural object of his fellow children's cruelty."[7] When the Depression hit, Unruh was seven years old, and his family moved to the Texas Panhandle town of Swenson. His father worked in a bank and was caught up in the bank failures that swept the nation. His father took up sharecropping, about the lowliest occupation there was. Although they were white, the Unruhs were probably considerably poorer than Willie Brown's family in East Texas. Brown's grandmother served fish, chicken, greens, and sugar-sweetened rice cereal. Unruh's mother served wheat gruel. Meats and sweets of any kind were rarities in the Unruh household.

When the price of wheat collapsed in Texas and most of the crop lay uncut on the ground, the Unruhs soaked it for cereal. When a window broke, they covered it with cardboard. Young Jesse Unruh rarely wore shoes; he did not own a pair of socks until he was twelve. "We were so poor I didn't know that other people took baths on Saturday night until I was ten," he once told a colleague.[8] He was limited to studying ninety minutes a day because his mother needed the light of a gas lamp to cook by. Somehow he became the only member of his family to complete high school; his mother had not gone past the third grade. Unruh did well in high school and, weighing 180 pounds, played on the football team. He graduated at the top of his class, and in Texas at that time all the top white graduates were automatically eligible for a college scholarship. He chose Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, 120 miles from home, a town about halfway between Amarillo and Lubbock. But he lacked self-discipline, and nothing went right for him in college. Unruh dropped out, and tried to join the Army. But he was excluded because of flat feet, so he returned to Swenson to help his father sharecrop in 1940, a year before the United States entered World War II. Hearing the stories about the defense buildup in California, Unruh hitchhiked west and got a job in the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica. The job lasted a year before he was back on the farm in Texas. In September 1942, with the war raging, Unruh was finally accepted into the Navy after winning an argument with a doctor about his flat feet. Unruh spent the war in the Aleutian Islands repairing airplanes from aircraft carriers, chafing under the Navy's caste system, which favored officers over enlisted men, and wondering why he had tried so hard to get in.


After the war, Unruh enrolled as a student under the GI bill at the University of Southern California, majoring in journalism and political science. USC was flooded with returning veterans, and they transformed the campus from its traditional student base of sons and daughters of the rich. Unruh showed a particular antipathy to the fraternity-sorority axis and became active in radical politics. He was approached by Communists, but did not join the party, saying he could not afford the ten-cent monthly dues. "It's somewhat of a wonder, looking back, that I didn't get in."[9] Active in a group called "Trovets," Unruh led fights to alleviate a housing shortage for student veterans and win for them representation in student government. Unruh was opposed from both the Right and the Left. One of his chief rivals was Phillip Burton, who was four years younger and had spent most of the war on the USC campus in officer training programs. Although their leftist beliefs were similar, Burton's power base was the fraternities. Unruh wanted a seat for the Trovets in the student senate, but Burton worked hard to block him. Unruh eventually succeeded, winning a seat in the student senate in December 1946. By then Burton had graduated and was gone from USC.[10]

In 1948, the year he graduated from USC, Unruh conducted his first campaign for the California State Assembly. To run, he broke with his Communist friends after they supported the third-party presidential candidacy of former Vice President Henry Wallace while he supported President Harry Truman's reelection. His march to the political middle had begun. Unruh finished poorly in the Assembly primary. He tried again four years later and lost again. For the next two years he laid the groundwork for yet another Assembly campaign. He raised money from labor unions and in 1954 mounted a well-organized precinct operation in a central Los Angeles district that contained a large and growing number of Negroes. Unruh finally won. Unruh's campaign techniques were similar to those of Phillip Burton in San Francisco, who lost his bid for the Assembly that same year but won a seat two years later.

As a freshman legislator Unruh was consigned to a sixth-floor Capitol annex office next to the cafeteria, starting at the very bottom of the legislative ladder. The clatter of dishes frequently interrupted conversations in his closet-sized office. But being out of the way at that time was not necessarily a disadvantage. Unruh entered a Legislature deeply in turmoil, churned by a power vacuum created by the conviction on income tax evasion charges of lobbyist Artie Samish, the most powerful political boss in California.

Bosses were supposed to be a thing of the past in California, rendered obsolete by the reforms of Governor Hiram Johnson in the first half of the century. Johnson instituted the ballot initiative, thus breaking the political grip of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Legislature (the reason the state capital was swampy Sacramento, a place that was insufferably hot in summer and depressingly foggy in winter, was that the city was the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad). By the mid-twentieth century machine politics


was supposed to be a failing of easterners, not an indulgence of rugged, independent Californians. But antipolitics remained a California myth along with perfect weather and unlimited opportunity.[11] Then as now, California was periodically dominated by strong individuals, and not all of them elected.

Samish, a lobbyist for liquor and gambling interests in the 1940s and 1950s, once posed for a photograph for Collier's magazine with a puppet on his knee, quipping that it was "Mr. Legislature." He did not exaggerate the reach of his power. "Earl Warren may be the governor of the state, but I'm the governor of the Legislature." Samish produced results for his clients like no one before or since. "I can't recall an instance in which I had an important failure."[12] Samish was brought down by his vanity, bragging to journalists about his power. They called Samish "The Secret Boss of California"—and he relished in the tag so much that he borrowed it for the title of his autobiography. Author Carey McWilliams brought Samish into the public eye in an article for The Nation in July 1949 exposing how Samish worked, highlighting his flamboyance. But the magazine had a limited audience.

The dam broke a month later when the widely circulated Collier's published a two-part exposé of Samish by Lester Velie.[13] The stories sparked a grand jury investigation, and Samish eventually was convicted and sent to a federal penitentiary. McWilliams, a lawyer and journalist who was perhaps the most astute observer of California of his generation, made an almost timeless comment in 1949 in the context of the Samish scandal: "Interests, not people, are represented in Sacramento. Sacramento is the market place of California where grape growers and sardine fishermen, morticians and osteopaths bid for allotments of state power. Today there is scarcely an interest group that has failed to secure some form of special legislation safeguarding its particular interests."[14]

Samish's downfall sparked a feeding frenzy among Sacramento lobbyists to fill the power vacuum and pick up his clients. Politicians grown accustomed to taking their cue, and their cut, from Samish were thrown off guard. The waters were treacherous, particularly for a freshman like Unruh. Taking his Assembly seat, Unruh kept his distance from the lobbyists at first. It was all he could do just to hang onto his hard-won seat in the 1956 election. Staying away from the lobbyists' trough was not easy. The Legislature met only part-time, and lawmakers were paid a small stipend, nothing close to a living wage. Unruh had little outside income, although he listed his occupation on the ballot as "economist." Lou Cannon, his biographer, wrote that the designation was imaginative because "Unruh was an economist only in the sense that he was forced to economize."[15]

Unruh was well-liked by his colleagues from the start. He stood out during a convoluted legislative battle over revenues generated by oil drilling in state-controlled coastal tidelands, a $60 billion issue. Unruh aligned himself with insurance lobbyists who were fighting oil lobbyists over the state's


tax structure. To outsiders such a war may have seemed odd. But it was one of those political dogfights, common in California, pitting seemingly unrelated industries against each other. The result in this case was taxes favorable to the insurance industry. The oil industry was forced to give a larger percentage of its tideland oil revenue to California than in any other state.[16]

Another day, another fight, and the oil industry might have won (and on another day, Unruh would have sided with oil). Of greater importance to Unruh than the actual outcome was that his skill in maneuvering through the thicket of interest groups won him praise among his colleagues and marked him as a comer. The political payoff came in 1957 during a leadership fight. Unruh backed the winning faction and was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Finance and Insurance Committee. The key to Unruh's advancement was not ideological purity, which he lacked, but an ability to work with colleagues and special interests coupled with his skill in picking the right horse in leadership votes.

Unruh's personal finances gradually improved. In 1958 Unruh was put on the campaign payroll of Attorney General Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, a Republican turned Democrat who was mounting a run for governor. It was then that Unruh uttered his most enduring quote: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."[17] Oil lobbyists, the losers in his first big legislative battle, put up the money for Unruh's salary in the gubernatorial campaign. Unruh's new role moved him close to the center of power in Sacramento. He was reelected to his Assembly seat in 1958, the same year that Pat Brown was elected governor. The Democrats took control of the Legislature, and they stood poised to enact the most far-reaching liberal programs of the century. In the next few years Pat Brown and the Democratic Legislature presided over the massive construction of a water project bringing melted snows from the far northern corners of the state to the burgeoning metropolis of Southern California. The freeway system was expanded, and the University of California grew from two campuses with satellites to nine major research universities.

By now Unruh had a loyal, if mischievous, following of colleagues in the Assembly that variously dubbed themselves the "Praetorian Guard" or the "Cub Scout Den." He used his group to line up votes in 1959 to elect a new Speaker, mild-mannered Ralph Brown, a Democrat from Modesto who was chiefly noted as the author of the state's open government laws. Unruh was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the Legislature with jurisdiction over the state budget and all legislation appropriating money.

The Ways and Means Committee in California was something of a super-committee with no parallel in Washington, D. C. Most bills of any significance generally had something to do with a state appropriation somewhere, so nearly all legislation had to pass through not just a policy committee, but also


Ways and Means, before reaching the Assembly floor. The committee was thus the chief hurdle that all legislation needed to get over. That made the chairman of Ways and Means second in power only to the Assembly Speaker, who appointed him and all the members of the committee. In reality Unruh was more powerful because he was willing to play the power game that the gentlemanly Ralph Brown was not. In 1959 Unruh used his power to write California's first comprehensive civil rights law, an act that still stands as one of the crowning achievements of the California Legislature in the twentieth century. Notably, the civil rights bill, widely considered Unruh's finest legislative work, was passed when he was Ways and Means chairman, not Speaker.

Even as he rolled up impressive legislative achievements as a committee chairman, there was no doubt that Unruh wanted the top legislative prize. Indeed, after Ralph Brown was appointed a judge by Governor Brown (largely through Unruh's behind-the-scenes machinations), Unruh was elected Speaker on September 30, 1961, his thirty-ninth birthday. In holding the job over the next seven years, Unruh became the longest-reigning Assembly Speaker in the state's history—until his record was broken in 1987 by Willie Brown.

Contrary to later misconceptions, the election of an Assembly Speaker was rarely a strictly partisan affair. Such elections were partisan to the extent that Speakers came from the majority party, and for Unruh that was the Democrats. But Speakers have been elected by putting together forty-one-vote majorities in the eighty-seat Assembly in any combination the winner could find. And they have found some improbable combinations. Successful candidates for Speaker have almost always had to reach across the aisle to win votes in the opposition party. Although Republicans would later spin a revisionist view of history to cover up their complicity in electing Willie Brown, only two speakership elections before 1969 were strictly partisan: the election of Paul Peek in 1939 and Unruh's reelection in 1968.[18] Every other speakership election featured members of both parties forming a coalition to elect the winner. The reason stemmed from California's peculiar system allowing candidates to cross-file for office in as many political parties as they dared. Until the practice was abolished in 1959, there was virtually no party discipline in the Legislature and lawmakers in leadership fights could freelance deals with impunity.

Following that tradition, with help from Republicans Unruh put together enough votes to become Speaker in 1961. His chief Democratic rival, Carlos Bee, fell short with thirty-eight votes and then withdrew after getting Unruh's promise that he would get the ceremonial post of Speaker pro tem. One other Democrat, the floor whip Gordon Winton, tried to stop Unruh, but he won only thirteen votes, twelve of them from Republicans and the thirteenth his own. Unruh then triumphed on a 57-13 vote. Unruh put together his winning combination by promising committee chairmanships and


going out of his way to protect a handful of friendly Republicans from hostile redistricting plans.[19] The internal politics of the 1961 reapportionment was pivotal to Unruh's success with both Republicans and Democrats. Unruh's chief lieutenant in the Assembly, Democrat Robert Crown of Alameda, had presided over the 1961 reapportionment as chairman of the Elections and Reapportionment Committee. In addition to helping Phillip Burton with the "fifth seat" in San Francisco (and winning Burton's vote for Unruh's speakership), Crown had favorably gerrymandered numerous districts for incumbents in both parties in return for their votes for Unruh as Speaker.[20]

From the start, Jesse Unruh transformed the office of Speaker, and with it, the dynamics of power in the Legislature. Lobbyists remained powerful, but their role became more fluid as they played the unaccustomed role of supplicant to legislators. Unruh established a professional staff for the Legislature, giving both Republican and Democratic lawmakers their own corps of policy experts. Lobbyists and the executive branch had previously held a stranglehold on information flowing into the Legislature on policy issues. Lobbyists even drafted the legislation for the elected lawmakers. That now changed. Unruh also pushed for a full-time, full-salaried Legislature to free elected officials from having to rely on lobbyists for income. Unruh's reforms succeeded with a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 1966, Proposition 1-A. Unruh was truly the national architect of a modern legislature, for his reforms were enthusiastically emulated by other states.

But there was much more to Unruh. He stood out as a larger-than-life character in a state where politicians were often two-dimensional and bland. His flaws were enormous, his ego and appetites gargantuan. He was easy to caricature—or demonize. Democrat Jim Mills, who later became one of Unruh's chief supporters in the Assembly, recalled his first impression of Unruh operating on the Assembly floor in his memoir:

One of the first things I noticed about him was that he seldom sat at his desk. Most of the time he stood up in the aisle between it and the north wall, turning his ponderous bulk this way and that way upon his expensively shod feet, surveying all the rest of us in our places levelly, like a straw boss overseeing a gang of hired hands. Occasionally, he would raise a thick hand up to his pastel shirt collar, and he would hook two of his big fingers over it and take two tugs at it. Obviously it was too tight. I thought there probably weren't any shirts made that didn't have collars that would be too tight for that neck. Sometimes he would raise his chin and thrust it forward at us in the manner of Benito Mussolini.[21]

The job of Assembly Speaker in the 1960s was far more powerful than its counterpart in Congress, and Unruh made it even more so. Unlike the Speaker of the House in Washington, the Speaker of the house in


Sacramento could dispense committee chairmanships at will and take them away again. Unruh decided which bills would be heard by which committees, thus controlling the flow and fate of legislation. He could do anything he wanted as long as his forty-one-vote majority held firm, and to ensure that it did, Unruh did favors big and small for his members. Ed Gaffney liked to play the ponies, so Unruh sent him track passes.[22] Unruh put legislators' relatives on the Assembly payroll despite the squeamishness of his aides.[23] Unruh made "suggestions" to lobbyists about where to send their campaign donations, and the money flowed. Unruh held a series of dinners to raise money for a centralized campaign war chest for Democratic candidates to the Assembly.

Unruh kept copious files on each member; he dissected their strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and political interests. Nothing seemed to escape his gaze. Unruh also operated an "Assembly Contingent Fund" with state money that members could draw from with no oversight. An alarmed Kenneth Cory, Unruh's chief administrative officer, privately reported to him in January 1964 that the slush fund appeared to be $400,000 short from what the state controller's records showed it should have.[24] The problem was kept quiet.

As Unruh's power and effectiveness increased, so did tensions with Governor Pat Brown. The governor needed Unruh to win passage of his water projects, freeways, and university campuses, and he resented having to go to the rough-hewn Unruh to get it. Pat Brown's resentment was deeper still because John F. Kennedy's White House went to Unruh if it wanted to get anything done in California. Pat Brown let his insecurities show with petty snubs of Unruh and his legislative allies. John FitzRandolph, the attorney who drafted Unruh's full-time Legislature constitutional amendment, observed, "Jesse Unruh knew where he was going and knew what he wanted. Nobody accused him of being a waffler. He was a power in his own right, and the governor was almost incidental and a figurehead that got in the way. Pat Brown let that happen."[25]

But from his suite in the northwest corner of the Capitol, Unruh was envious of the governor's stature, and he let it show.[26] In-house, Unruh had problems with Phillip Burton, who was actively working to defeat an Unruh loyalist, Ed Gaffney, and elect Willie Brown. Although Burton did not openly oppose Unruh for Speaker, he was a constant thorn in Unruh's side and something of a prima donna. Burton threatened to withdraw support at the slightest provocation. Typical was a note Burton sent Unruh in November 1962 congratulating him on his reelection. Scrawled across the bottom, Burton wrote "I refuse to serve with John Knox as co-chairman of Engrossment & Enrollment—Unless I can call the meetings to order."[27] Unruh's relations with the Young Democrats were equally terrible, especially after he unsuccessfully opposed Phillip Isenberg, a student from Sacramento State College, as the Young Democrats' president in 1961.[28]


Pat Brown was forced into the role of supplicant to the Legislature, but outside he had strong allies. The governor remained popular with the Democratic clubs of California and with Democrats in general. The "club Democrats," as they became known, resented Unruh's bosslike rule and his increasing tilt toward the lobbyists for corporations and trade associations. Student activists sided with the governor as well. Isenberg and the YDs made it abundantly clear that they were Pat Brown Democrats, not Jesse Unruh Democrats.

By the 1963 session liberals were chafing at their inability to get even the simplest of progressive legislation out of the Unruh-controlled Assembly. Typical was the fate of Governor Brown's broad series of consumer-protection bills: most were bottled up in committee. One example was a truth-in-lending bill introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Charles Warren that would have required disclosure of loan interest rates to consumers as annualized percentages. The bill would have given consumers a basis for comparison shopping at banks and savings and loan institutions. But Warren's bill was killed in the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee because of opposition from the California Retailers Association, Wells Fargo Bank, and the California Savings and Loan League. In despair, Frontier magazine observed, "Not since 1952, when Artie Samish left Sacramento for federal prison, have the lobbies been so influential."[29]

There was, in fact, one major accomplishment in the 1963 session, and it stood as a testament to what Unruh could do with his power if he so chose to use it. The high point of the session was passage of the state's first law prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. The landmark open housing bill, AB 1240, was authored by black Assemblyman Byron Rumford of Oakland and was backed by the governor. But nothing happened until Rumford wore down Unruh's initial resistance. Unruh feared a white backlash, and believed that the courts would eventually resolve the open housing issue without the need for new legislation by applying his own 1959 civil rights law. But Unruh did not want to be outflanked on the issue either, and certainly not by the governor, so he got on board the Rumford bill. Unruh's support proved crucial in forcing the bill through the Legislature. Larry Margolis, his chief of staff, later recalled that Unruh supported the open housing law out of political expediency: "[Unruh's] feeling was that if the Legislature would leave matters alone, the courts would gradually apply his Civil Rights Act to housing, and you would not get it all at once and you wouldn't get a backlash. But if you pass the Rumford Act, there's the possibility of a backlash because it's too hard-edged, specific, and happens all at once. However, the movement for civil rights in housing with the governor's support was too strong, and so Jess felt that he couldn't afford not to be with it."[30]

Assembly members voting in favor of the Rumford Fair Housing Act on June 21, 1963, included San Franciscans Phillip Burton and Ed Gaffney. Those voting against it included Republican George Deukmejian of Long Beach.[31]


The measure was signed into law, but Unruh's instincts were right: the Rumford Act sparked a vicious white backlash in California that ultimately brought about its repeal at the ballot box by initiative.

The rest of 1963 was a disaster for Unruh. As he grew fatter and more powerful, Unruh relied less and less on his "Praetorian Guard" of legislative cronies and more on his staff, directed by Larry Margolis. Colleagues noticed that he increasingly drank more and indulged his huge sexual appetite, bedding willing young women from around the Capitol.[32]

Unruh's "Big Daddy" image was indelibly set in July 1963 when the Assembly met to vote on the state budget. Ironically, the episode revealed Unruh at his weakest. The episode began when Republicans demanded to know the details of Unruh's agreement with the state Senate over a school finance measure. When he would not tell them, the Republicans refused to vote on the budget. Neither side would budge. Finally, at 1:40 A.M. on July 30, after an evening of heavy drinking, Unruh ordered the Republicans locked into the Assembly chambers until they voted. The move badly backfired on Unruh, the biggest political blunder of his career.

That night Republican State Chairman Caspar Weinberger swiftly issued a press release denouncing the lockup as the tactics of "Stalin, Hitler and other dictators." The press ate up the melodrama. Meanwhile Unruh's allies pleaded with him to release the Republicans, but he would not relent. Unruh retreated to a bar at the El Mirador Hotel and got even more drunk. As the situation spun out of control, Deukmejian quietly went to Democratic Assemblyman Jim Mills and told him, "You guys should really try to get yourselves out of this situation, you know." Finally, after twenty-two hours and fifty minutes, Unruh caved in and showed the Republicans the school bill. The Republicans then voted to approve the budget.[33]

By night's end what really mattered to Republicans was not the school bill or the budget, but that they had succeeded in showing Unruh as tyrant. In the aftermath, not only was Unruh denounced by editorial writers but his political opponents now included influential Democrats who were appalled by his poor judgment. He seemed weakened, wounded, and destined for a dustbin built with his own hubris. Phillip Burton rivaled him from the left and might well have challenged him for Speaker except that his sights were set on Washington. In February 1964 Burton departed from Sacramento after winning a special election for a congressional seat.

Every politician, it seemed, took the measure of Unruh in 1963 and 1964, including two young freshmen from San Francisco—Willie Brown and John Burton. The pair arrived in Sacramento on January 4, 1965, six months after the lockdown, to be sworn in and to take their seats. Brown was assigned a seat in the third row from the rear near the northwestern corner. On his left was Bill Stanton, a San Jose liberal activist from the Democratic clubs in his second term. On Brown's right was Carl Britschgi, a Republican from


Redwood City who was beginning his ninth year in the Assembly. John Burton was seated in the far southwestern corner in the very last row, next to Unruh, no less. Like mischievous school boys who talk too much, Burton and Brown were placed at opposite ends of the room.

Burton and Brown were about to commit mischief, and they were about to badly underestimate the headmaster, Jesse Marvin Unruh.

In their first opportunity to cast votes in public office, the two freshmen abstained from voting for the reelection of Unruh as Speaker of the Assembly.[34] In later years they promoted the story that they had courageously voted against Unruh. In truth, they were not quite that courageous, for they abstained. But for all practical purposes they may as well have voted against Unruh because that is exactly how Big Daddy took it.

Columnist Jack McDowell seriously questioned their political competence, writing at the time, "This achieved about as much as belting the principal in the eye on the first day in a new school."[35] Even all the Republicans voted for Unruh. The hold-outs were four Democrats: Brown and Burton; Gordon Winton, who had run against Unruh for Speaker in 1961; and Stanton, who cryptically said, "I am not an Unruh Democrat or a [Pat] Brown Democrat but a member of a third force."[36]

John Burton, awkwardly seated next to Unruh, sat silently, and then told him he could not vote for him as Speaker because Unruh had supported his Democratic primary opponent. Cornered later by reporters, Burton said "I'm not here to be anti-Unruh. I am here to do a job in the Legislature for my district and my state, and I shall support liberal causes."

Willie Brown was more explicit with reporters: Unruh had supported Gaffney, not him, and he had "evened the score." Unruh had made a bet with Phillip Burton that Brown would lose. "I would be letting my supporters down if I voted for Mr. Unruh. We invested $37,500 in this seat. Now I think we've cleared the air and evened the score. And now that Mr. Unruh is the Speaker again I intend to work with the Assembly as it is constituted. I shall vote my conscience on all matters. I do not anticipate any reprisal," Brown said.[37]

The unanticipated reprisal came, and came swiftly.

"Unruh immediately shit on us like you wouldn't believe," Brown recalled.[38] Unruh assigned Brown to the Committee on Municipal and County Government, a nowhere land of drudgery and boredom. John Burton was assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, a meaningless assignment for an urban lawmaker. Brown did not even get an office of his own, but had to share one with another freshman legislator, Jack Fenton. There was barely enough room for the two of them, let alone desks and telephones. Brown later said he didn't mind; the office was something of a badge of honor. "I was so happy to be elected and holding office and having a seat on the floor. I didn't know about all these perks. I wasn't on the in-


side, so nobody told me about the perks. So his [Unruh's] efforts to insult me didn't succeed because I didn't know. You really can't insult anybody unless they know you're insulting them, you know? Not 'til I learned how to insult did I realize it was an insult."[39]

As freshmen, Brown and Fenton were consigned together in a sixth-floor Capitol annex office next to the cafeteria, starting at the very bottom of the legislative ladder. "Unruh assigned me to the worst place in the world," Brown recalled.[40] The clatter of dishes interrupted conversations in his closet-sized office. He was as low as a legislator could get, and his climb up was going to be long. Years later, when he finally reached the pinnacle of legislative power, it was a point of considerable pride to Willie Brown that he had started his Assembly career in the exact same office as Big Daddy.


Chapter Eleven—
Rock the Boat!

There's only one way for the cause of Negroes to be advanced in the Democratic Party, that is: Rock the Boat!
Willie Brown
January 1966
Bakersfield, California

Willie Brown's first year in office was rough. He found the boundaries of his district under legal attack, and he unwittingly stepped into a major controversy over the Vietnam War. Threatened with recall, Brown kept his cool, and won moderate success legislating. More importantly, he forged his own path outside the traditional power structure in Sacramento. By the end of his first term, he proved to be an emerging force Sacramento politicians needed to take seriously. He succeeded during a period of turmoil both in the Legislature and in California.

The Legislature was in a grumpy mood as it settled down to business in January 1965. Democratic majority leader Jerome Waldie glumly predicted the session would be "long, disturbing, tiring and probably non-productive."[1] He turned out to be right. Lawmakers were particularly temperamental on the day Governor Pat Brown came to deliver his annual state-of-the-state address. Legislators gave the governor their most hostile reception of his six years in office. Assembly members and senators sat in bored silence for most of his speech, and then burst into sarcastic laughter when the governor proposed repealing the two-thirds majority vote requirement for approval of the budget. They applauded only once, when the governor suggested that lawmakers needed a pay raise. Years later, Democrats and even some Republicans raised Pat Brown onto a pedestal, paying him homage as the


greatest governor of the second half of the twentieth century. But in the winter of 1965, legislators of both parties were weary of Pat Brown and ached for him to cede the stage to a new generation.

The most immediate reason for legislative sullenness in 1965 was a federal court order requiring California to redraw legislative district lines—again.[2] The Legislature was given until July 1 to comply. Reapportionment was painfully political under the best of circumstances, but this order had an extra bite: California was now required to draw legislative districts containing roughly equal numbers of voters. The districts could not deviate by more than 15 percent in population. The principle was devastatingly simple—"one man, one vote"—and it radically shifted the balance of power to Southern California, pulling power away from the rural northern and central counties. It was the biggest political earthquake since Governor Hiram Johnson broke the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the first decade of the twentieth century with the advent of the direct-ballot referendum.[3]

The most dramatic change was to the state Senate. The forty-member Senate was comprised of districts conforming to the borders of the state's fifty-eight counties, with no senatorial district containing more than three counties or fewer than one. The old system rendered an absurd result: Alpine, Inyo, and Mono counties, with a combined population of 15,600 people, shared one senator; Los Angeles County, with a population of 6,737,300 people, had one senator.[4] That meant that one Alpine County voter had as much voting power as 430 voters in Los Angeles. Demographically, the system gave disproportionate power to rural voters because fewer than half of the state's counties had more than 100,000 people. The majority of seats in the state Senate were held by senators representing only a tiny fraction of the state's population. The rural senators controlled the upper house, and their clout was far in excess of the population they represented. The state's booming metropolitan areas were ridiculously underrepresented in the state Senate. The powerful lions of the Senate included the likes of Randolph Collier, a silver-haired patrician who represented Siskiyou County, a mountainous, largely undeveloped region in the northern reaches of the state with a population of 35,300. It was no accident that his region had some of the best highways in the state even though it did not have many cars or voters.

Although the Assembly was more representative than the Senate, the Legislature as a whole did not come close to reflecting the demographics of the state it purported to represent. In 1965, the year Willie Brown took his seat, there were four blacks, one woman, and no Latinos in the eighty-member Assembly.[5] The Senate was composed entirely of white males, all of them middle-aged or older. The "one man, one vote" decision threatened to drastically change the complexion of the Legislature and completely tilt the political balance of power away from rural conservatives and place power into the hands of urban liberals. The grip of the rural senators was unavoidably about to be broken; they were now ordered to abolish their own districts. It was the


last hurrah for many of those taking their seats January 4, 1965; incumbents by the drove would not have a district in which to run in 1966. As it turned out, more than half of the Senate's forty seats and almost half of the Assembly's eighty seats changed hands, the largest turnover in the Legislature's history.[6]

Although the focus that winter was on redistricting in the Senate, there were implications for the Assembly as well. Theoretically, San Francisco was entitled to three and one-half Assembly seats—four at the outside, and certainly not the five it had. Willie Brown held the fifth seat, thanks to the handiwork of Phillip Burton, and it did not take a political genius to realize that Brown was the most at risk under the court's order. Brown had barely settled into his new, if small, office in the state Capitol before he had to scramble to save his hard-won seat. He began voicing fears that his Eighteenth Assembly District would be merged with the Twentieth Assembly District, pitting him against his good friend, John Burton.[7] There is no record of Speaker Jesse Unruh's reaction, but he was probably richly amused at the idea of the two upstarts pitted against each other for political survival. Brown's friends in the civil rights movement were shocked. "Jess kind of annihilated Willie," said Virna Canson, the lobbyist for the NAACP in Sacramento.[8]

It was not long before the clever architect of San Francisco's redistricting Congressman Phillip Burton, proclaimed that someone else would have to go—not John Burton and not Willie Brown. "Under no circumstances would my brother run against Willie Brown," said Phillip Burton, speaking for his brother. The message was clearly aimed at Unruh: the Speaker had better carve up someone else's district.[9]

Brown's troubled winter of 1965 was just beginning. On the same day that Phillip Burton was shooting a warning shot across Unruh's bow about redistricting, brother John unwittingly opened a second front. While Willie Brown was away from the Capitol undergoing an agonizing rabies treatment because of a dog bite, John Burton was sitting in his Capitol office ruminating about the Vietnam War with Bill Stanton, one of the four who had refused to vote for Unruh's reelection as Speaker. They were talking about the prospects for peace and about Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin, who was about to depart Moscow for talks in Hanoi.

John Burton and Bill Stanton decided they had to do something about the war and do it then and there.[10] They sent a telegram to French President Charles de Gaulle and to Konnie Zilliacus, an obscure left-wing backbench Labour member of the British Parliament, who had long had ties to the East European Communist bloc.[11] The telegram said, "We earnestly ask you to use your influence to halt any further escalation of the war in Vietnam. The only answer to world peace is a peaceful Southeast Asia. This cannot be accomplished by American air strikes while it is visited by the premier of the Soviet Union."[12]

Burton and Stanton signed their names, and for good measure, they signed Willie Brown's name. "We just put Willie's name on it 'cause he


would want to. If he were in the room, he would have said yeah," said Burton. In reality, the telegram was mild, especially compared with the protests that came later. But in February 1965 some believed that it was rebelliousness bordering on treason for three obscure Democratic state legislators to challenge the president of the United States, the leader of their own party, by sending a telegram to foreign leaders.[13] On February 12 they got a reply signed by fifty-three Labour members of Parliament, including Zilliacus and Michael Foot, the pacifist socialist who, years later, became the Labour opposition leader to Margaret Thatcher. The choppy telegram said, "Believe our government should respond growing demand for British-Soviet initiative as cochairman international supervisory commission reconvene 1954 Geneva conference powers vie [sic] arranging armistice concluding treaty guaranteeing withdrawal all foreign forces advisers complete military neutralisation whole Vietnam."[14]

A day later Brown got a telephone call from a reporter asking him why he had sent a telegram to Konnie Zilliacus. Brown was totally ignorant, and he played for time. "I have no clue who Zilliacus is," Brown recalled. "I was of course smart enough to say, well, yes, that's an appropriate place to send it or something to that effect. I had to keep pulling 'til I could figure out what I was supposed to do." The reporter finally mentioned John Burton. "Ahh! Then the light went on! So I said, 'Mr. Burton, of course, is clearly the person you ought to chat with.' Then I called up John: 'You son of a bitch, I will kill you.' "[15] But Brown never snitched on his friend. "He took all the shit and never said a word," said Burton.[16] Even years later, Willie Brown kept the secret.

By the time Willie Brown became Speaker, California legislators routinely —and self-importantly—wrote letters and passed resolutions on all matters of foreign policy, their missives often bordering on the ridiculous and rarely noted in the press. But in 1965 it was still unusual for a California legislator to take a public position on foreign policy. The firestorm of criticism that the Burton-Stanton-Brown telegram ignited against the three appears excessive by the standards of a later time, but it was very much in keeping with the mainstream standards of 1965.

Newspaper editorialists skewered them. By now they were becoming a favorite target of columnist Jack McDowell in the News–Call Bulletin , who ripped, "Their new ruckus brings up once again this simple, practical question: How effective can these men be in behalf of the people they are elected to represent?"[17] The Examiner called them "the Meddlers" in a headline, and branded their conduct "outrageous," adding that "the public shouldn't forget it."[18] The Chronicle was perhaps mildest: "If San Francisco's freshmen Assemblymen, Willie Brown Jr. and John Burton, will accept a word of well-meant advice, we don't think their recent essay in foreign policy expression has helped them at all to do the job of representing their city in Sacramento." It went on to call them "amateurs" and "presumptuous."


They were castigated in a Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper, which distorted their telegram to allies Britain and France by accusing them of being "flagrantly unpatriotic to want to establish relations and communications with foreign governments which, in addition to being enemies, are at present in bellicose conflict with our country."[19]

Even the tiny Alameda Times-Star got into the act, wildly distorting the telegram by linking it to antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco and attacks on U.S. embassies abroad. "There is simply every indication of a certain directed action, an action that has as its source the apparatus that consistently and unequivocally supports the principles and objectives of Communism." The newspaper could not believe that a trio of state legislators were opposed to the war unless they were Communist agents. "Only one answer makes sense at all. It is that these pickets and these legislators believe in the Communist side of the struggle and are opposed to our side."[20]

Only one newspaper loudly defended them: the Negro Sun-Reporter: "Three young, stalwart liberals have shown the courage to and the fortitude to articulate the basic needs and desire of the people. . . . They are voices of warning in our wilderness of shame."[21]

The editorials were just the opening chorus. Things became still rougher. It was one thing to have Brown, Burton, and Stanton roasted in the editorial columns. But the flap was beginning to prove an embarrassment to the Assembly as a whole.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Burns, the powerful leader of the Democrats in the state Senate, and Senator John F. McCarthy, the leader of the Republicans, jointly introduced a resolution calling on the federal Justice Department to prosecute Brown, Burton, and Stanton under a 1799 law banning American citizens from conducting private relations with a foreign government.[22] Known as the Logan Act, the law was enacted to stop American citizens from privately negotiating a dispute with the French government. The law was of dubious constitutionality, but the resolution signaled that the three delinquent assemblymen would be treated roughly in the state Senate. More important, the Burns-McCarthy resolution spurred Republicans to take things a step further by demanding that Brown, Burton, and Stanton be prosecuted for treason. The Young Republicans organization from the Bay Area filed petitions with the secretary of state to recall the three legislators.[23] A Republican activist in San Francisco filed a lawsuit to have Brown removed from office for "insurrectionary actions tending toward treason"—all for having his name at the bottom of a telegram sent to other democratically elected officials in Britain and France.[24]

Brown did his best to bring reason back into the controversy. "I suppose in the eyes of those Young Republicans, de Gaulle and [British Prime Minister] Harold Wilson are part of the North Vietnamese government." He headed toward the middle, which indeed is where he really was on the war. Brown was not an antiwar crusader; he considered it John Burton's issue. Indeed,


Brown was still unsure where he stood on the Vietnam War, although not for much longer. In the midst of the telegram controversy, Brown said, "I am as critical of the Viet Cong killing Americans as I am of Americans killing the Viet Cong. I am equally critical of any conduct which causes death, whether it be in the name of law, or communism, or in the name of patriotism."[25]

The Democratic-tilting Sacramento Bee , which had ignored the telegram for three weeks, published a backhanded defense of the three, arguing that "legislators must not have enough work to do" if Hugh Burns had time to introduce resolutions condemning other legislators for sending telegrams to Britain and France.[26]

At first Phillip Burton tried to make light of the flap in public. With John Burton and Willie Brown looking on at the annual dinner of the San Francisco Chinese-American Democratic Club, Phillip Burton joked that the Vietnam conflict was a congressional issue and that John Burton "should not invade his brother's jurisdiction."[27] But the mess was getting seriously out of hand, and Phillip Burton was highly irritated. "We were kind of in bad shit [with Phillip] that we would be getting in this fucking trouble," recalled John Burton. "[Phillip] wasn't for the war anyway, but he thought, 'What do you need this shit?' And I remember getting in arguments [with him]."[28]

The congressman placed a call to Unruh and asked him if he would put out the fire.[29] Unruh was a close friend of Senate leader Hugh Burns, and Phillip Burton asked Unruh to talk with Burns about withdrawing his resolution against the three. Enough was enough; these were Democrats under attack and the Republicans were having too much fun with it. This was now partisan politics, pure and simple. Phillip Burton also called Burns and half-jokingly threatened never to take him on another bar crawl to topless joints in San Francisco's North Beach if he persisted in attacking John Burton and Willie Brown. Burns reportedly replied, "Hell, Phil, I've always been an ankle man anyway, that ain't going to bother me."[30] But Burns got the message.

The Assembly Democrats met in caucus behind closed doors on February 24. Unruh turned the flap into an issue of the Senate meddling in the affairs of the Assembly. Burton and Brown did not withdraw their telegram, but they apologized for causing any embarrassment to their colleagues.[31] Unruh then pronounced the affair over. After the caucus adjourned, Unruh issued a prepared statement: "This action was taken by only three of the eighty Assemblymen. It is their privilege to choose this method to show their concern. I think they may have done it this way because they knew that any resolution saying in effect what their telegrams did would not have the support of a vast majority of legislators, both Republican and Democratic."[32] He also told reporters, "The whole thing is at an end."[33] Brown and Burton quietly slipped out and kept their mouths shut with reporters. "That's when we became friends with Unruh," Brown said. "He stepped up to the plate and said, 'I don't give a shit what these guys did, or who they are, you can't


censure a member of my house.' He told Hugh Burns that, and they backed off."[34]

But Stanton would not play along and be quiet. Taking the Assembly floor, Stanton demanded to be allowed to speak as a "point of personal privilege." Unruh cut Stanton off and would not allow him to speak. Unruh then took Stanton to his office and told him to shut up because things were being smoothed over quietly with the Senate leaders.[35]

Stanton would not take the advice. The next day he spoke again on the Assembly floor, demanding that Burns press his resolution forward. "It's my intention to take this to the very end. I'm going to be fully vindicated." Stanton even suggested that Burns should leave the Democratic Party. "I can't see where he has done much to defend the principles of the Democratic Party."[36] Democratic leader Jerome Waldie, who was presiding, angrily ruled Stanton out of order.

"I'm not going to be gagged!" Stanton shouted.

"You're going to be gagged if you're not speaking to the point," Waldie retorted.[37]

Stanton stood on a principle that some other legislators eventually embraced as the Vietnam War dragged on.[38] But in confronting Hugh Burns so openly, Stanton committed political suicide. His legislative career was over. Brown and Burton kept their silence; their careers were just beginning. "I saw the shit coming and Willie saw the shit coming," said John Burton. "We sort of ducked and laughed and weaved, and Stanton wanted to do battle. Well, fuck him. I wasn't going to do battle when I knew we were outnumbered. But Bill [Stanton] just kept going."[39]

The lawsuit against Brown was dismissed, and the recall efforts against the three eventually fizzled. But Stanton was punished through reapportionment. As legislative leaders drafted their plans to comply with the court order equalizing legislative districts, Stanton found his district carved to pieces.

In the long run Willie Brown benefited by the affair. Lawmakers respected him for his loyalty when they privately learned that Brown had not signed the telegram but had stood by his friends. That kind of loyalty was highly prized in the closed world of the state Capitol. He had taken a huge beating in public and not lost his cool. His earlier brushes with controversy in San Francisco stood him well now.

The affair paid off for Brown outside the Capitol as well. He was now a hero of the budding antiwar movement. "I became an instant peacenik overnight, made by John Burton," said Brown. "All the left-wing organizations around the world came to my defense. I didn't even know these people." As the Democratic Party inched its painful way toward opposing the Vietnam War, Brown was increasingly well placed as something of a founder of the antiwar movement, however accidental his initial involvement was. His status would pay a rich dividend four years later when he became involved in


the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, and later as an important figure in the antiwar presidential candidacy of George McGovern. But in the days immediately following the telegram controversy, having dodged Hugh Burns's bullet, Brown reverted to caution. He declined to appear at an antiwar rally in April and instead issued a statement supporting President Lyndon Johnson. "The President's offer of unconditional negotiations has been made. I think it's time now to support that call and see what answer is given by the other side."[40]

The episode also had its social dividends. "I became one of the biggest items at the University of California. Oh, it was fabulous. I mean, the young women—oh God!"[41] Brown lived a frenzied life, and was by now partaking of the social benefits of being a legislator in a male-oriented world, enjoying the young women who were so freely available.

Brown frequently traveled the ninety miles between Sacramento and San Francisco, although he saw little of his family. In May he was in the first of a number of automobile wrecks he would have over the years on the highway connecting the two poles of his life. He suffered a bruised shoulder in a three-car accident near Davis.[42]

As life settled down after such a bumpy start in the Capitol, Brown threw himself into his job, offering up legislation at an audacious rate for a freshman. He introduced bills to prohibit police officers from using dogs to control demonstrators and another bill that would require delaying until the conclusion of the legislative session any criminal case in which the defense attorney was also a legislator.[43] The latter bill was designed to delay the Auto Row and Sheraton-Palace criminal trials for Brown's clients, but the tactic ultimately failed. Most of Brown's bills were related to welfare and poverty housing. One bill would have directed the state welfare department to publish a newsletter for welfare recipients. Another bill would have provided supplemental payments to welfare mothers to put their children in nursery schools. Three of his bills were designed to help housing agencies acquire land and build new low-rent apartments. Another bill would have authorized low-cost home loans for the elderly. He also threw into the hopper a bill to raise the state's rental subsidy from $62 to $73 for those on a state pension.[44] Brown's bills were consistent with his platform in his unsuccessful first election campaign in 1962.

Republicans especially found Brown and Burton scary. "Johnny and Willie would go into the Legislature, and Johnny would come down the aisle waving a resolution to unilaterally disarm America, and Willie would object on the grounds that it would put too many blacks out of work. That's how we sort of saw their first time up here," said John Mockler, who was working for Republicans at the time although he was an old friend of both Brown and Burton.[45] Mockler later returned to his roots to become one of Brown's most trusted advisers.


Relations between Unruh and the two upstarts improved for a time after the telegram controversy. So did the committee assignments. Burton said that his sitting next to Unruh on the floor helped. However, it probably did not matter where he sat. Unruh's consistent pattern was to ease up as quickly as he could on those he punished. His affability won over many of the most virulent anti-Unruh Democrats. It also helped Unruh that Pat Brown was standoffish with Assembly members and that his staff treated legislators with barely concealed contempt. "Willie and I came up there as Pat Brown people and not Jesse Unruh people," said Burton. "It's a tribute to the ineptness of some of the people around Pat Brown . . . that we ended up with Unruh, because Pat's people never did anything for us. They didn't know how to schmooze us, and we ended up with Unruh because it was more fun. You could sit down and bullshit with Unruh."[46]

Brown won several good assignments, including a seat on the Judiciary Committee—of central importance to civil rights legislation—and on the Elections and Reapportionment Committee, in which he could protect his district in the upheavals of the 1965 redistricting. Brown was also offered a slot on the Assembly Education Committee, but turned it down in a cordial letter to Unruh because it would "conflict in terms of meeting time" with the Judiciary Committee.[47] John Burton was also sending cordial notes to Unruh thanking him for "the friendship and consideration you have extended me" and adding, "Coming to the Assembly with the label of 'Phil Burton's little brother' made me rather apprehensive at the beginning of the session."[48]

Brown's success at legislating that first term was mixed. His bill proposing trial delays in legislator-lawyer cases, AB 377, won approval in the Assembly 45-19 on March 3. Most of the lawyers in the house lined up behind it, but Republican Assemblyman George Deukmejian was one of two lawyer-legislators voting no.[49] The bill died quietly in the Senate Judiciary Committee without a vote that spring.[50]

"Willie and I used to cosponsor each other's bills, and . . . try to change the world," John Burton recalled. "We never quite did it. There wasn't a hell of a lot Willie could do for me or I could do for Willie except be friends, you know, in a place where we were outnumbered. The only vote I could give him was mine; the only vote he could give me was his. I mean, we were looked upon as being kind of wild anyway."[51]

Brown joined forces with one of Unruh's principal lieutenants, Assemblyman Jim Mills, of San Diego, with a proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 49, to make improvements on dwellings exempt from increased property taxes. The purpose was to give slumlords an incentive to improve their property without getting hit with a tax increase for doing it. Brown showed his touch for showmanship with a series of full-page advertisements in newspapers around the state promoting the bill. The ads had a huge headline: "Thank You, Mr. Brown!" and were signed by Sidney Evans, a retired real


estate developer from San Diego who backed the bill.[52] Evans reportedly spent $25,000 on the ads. The proposal, however, was defeated by rural legislators who argued it would be the ruin of agriculture in California as they knew it. They maintained that the bill would provide an incentive for land speculators to buy up farmland and develop it into houses or shopping malls with no increase in property taxes. The argument was persuasive, so to counter the rural objections, Brown amended the bill to exempt unincorporated areas.[53] In effect, the bill applied only to cities, not rural areas. But although his amendment protected farmers, the rural legislators would have none of it from an urban liberal such as he. The bill needed a two-thirds majority— fifty-four of the eighty votes in the Assembly—but it garnered only thirty yes votes to thirty-three no votes in the Assembly. The rest of Brown's colleagues sat on their hands, abstaining, and the bill died.[54] Brown did not yet have the clout to overcome determined economic interest groups.

Brown began to focus on what turned out to be his most important piece of legislation for 1965: a bill that would regulate when and how insurance companies could cancel auto insurance policies. The issue was not just a technical matter. As it stood, motorists who believed they were covered by insurance and got into a wreck sometimes discovered that their policy had been previously canceled and they had never been notified. Such motorists who believed they were protected now faced financial ruin. Racial minorities and the working poor were particularly victimized by such unscrupulous practices by insurance companies. Brown's proposal, AB 1036, required auto insurance companies to notify the customer when a policy was canceled, and set up procedures so that a customer could appeal a canceled policy to the state insurance commissioner. The bill was further designed to prevent insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling the policies of blacks, Latinos, and the elderly for no other cause except that they were black, Latino, or elderly. The bill was amended and reamended and eventually made it to the desk of Governor Pat Brown, who signed it into law on July 17. The bill was Willie Brown's first serious foray into the knotty insurance issue, and he would revisit it again and again in the years ahead. It was also his first major legislative victory, and he won with support from both sides of the aisle. "The guy who stood up on the floor and spoke in favor of it was George Deukmejian because he represented a bunch of old people in Long Beach who were getting shit on by the insurance companies, too," said John Burton.[55]

Brown also introduced a bolder insurance bill, AB 1037, that would have required insurance companies to seek state approval before raising auto insurance rates, treating them like public utilities. AB 1037 won editorial support from The Sacramento Bee ,[56] but it was quietly killed in the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee, whose chairman, George Zenovich, was a member of Unruh's inner circle. Zenovich later became one of the most influential lobbyists in Sacramento.


At the end of the 1965 session, Willie Brown was named "Outstanding Freshman Legislator" by the Capitol press corps, which would vote on politicians as if they were baseball players (the tradition has fortunately expired). All in all, Brown's record for his first session was a respectable .250 batting average: forty bills introduced, with ten signed into law by the governor and one vetoed.[57] Not surprisingly, his efforts at amending the state constitution met with no success: all five constitutional amendments he proposed were defeated. Brown coauthored ninety-four other bills, most frequently with John Burton, Bill Stanton, and another liberal, Edwin Z'berg.

The Legislature that year complied, however grudgingly, with the court order to equalize legislative districts. San Francisco indeed lost one Assembly seat, but instead of carving up Brown's or Burton's districts, legislative leaders heeded Phillip Burton and collapsed the Twenty-first Assembly District in San Francisco, held by Republican Milton Marks. The Twenty-first Assembly District was put in Tulare County, in the Central Valley farm belt two hundred miles away. The plan meant that all four San Francisco Assembly members would be Democrats: Willie Brown, John Burton, John Foran, and Charles Meyers. Foran's district got most of the Republicans, but he could survive.

"When it really boiled down," said John Burton, "I guess that it made a hell of a lot more sense for Jesse to have peace and harmony with me, Willie, and Phillip, even if Johnny [Foran] was a little bit discomforted, than it would have been otherwise. . . . He wasn't really hurt at all. But it made more sense to offend Johnny [Foran]."[58] Burton further surmised that Foran got the unwanted Republicans in his district because at that point he had no allies from San Francisco in the Legislature to help him deflect the redistricting plan. Foran was part of the McAteer Democratic alliance, long a rival to the Burton camp. For the moment, McAtter's foothold in the Legislature was Foran. "So we came out very protected," said Burton. Republican Marks ended up with no district whatsoever and eventually ran for a municipal court judgeship in San Francisco. Marks eventually got even with the Burton camp, and so did Foran.

The Legislature passed a budget, finished reapportionment, and left town for the summer on July 6, 1965, for vacations and a respite from politics. But events dictated that the legislators would have no rest. The events that summer in California shook the nation to its core.

The Los Angeles community of Watts, a flat concrete maze of shabby bungalows and liquor stores, blew up in the worst rioting in the nation's history.[59] It began when a highway patrolman stopped a black youth for alleged drunken driving. The youth's mother arrived, and a crowd gathered. Rocks flew and windows were broken. A television truck was set afire and looting began. Snipers began shooting from rooftops. Dick Gregory was wounded in the leg by a bullet as he attempted to bring calm. The violence continued for six days until ten thousand national guardsmen marched into


the neighborhood. When it was over, thirty-five people were dead—twenty-eight of them black—hundreds more were wounded, and more than eighteen hundred were jailed. The rioting shocked not only white political leaders but also national black leaders who had believed that Los Angeles was an oasis of racial tolerance.[60] That the Reverend Martin Luther King was booed by residents when he visited Watts after the rioting showed just how out of touch such leaders were.

Willie Brown was one of only four black legislators in California, so his opinion was naturally sought. He offered it at a gathering in the San Francisco Longshoremen's Hall to raise appeal money for Free Speech Movement demonstrators from Berkeley. Brown pointedly referred to the Los Angeles unrest as "demonstrations"—not riots—and said it was "part and parcel of a desire by people to change their lot and expose the hypocrisy of a power structure that maintains it's leading the change."[61]

Not surprisingly, Brown was far more interested and involved in the black political movement than he was in the antiwar movement. Brown was moving in national black political circles and was meeting many of the era's civil rights leaders. He met Jesse Jackson at a black political conference in Las Vegas in the early 1960s, but like many black leaders of the time, he was not impressed with the brash young aide to Martin Luther King Jr. He also met King and Malcolm X.

Most notably, Brown formed a lasting alliance with Julian Bond of Georgia. Bond and Brown found that the national civil rights movement was cliquish, dominated by eastern leaders. Bond from the South and Brown from the West felt like second-class citizens among the so-called national leaders. "It always seemed as if New York Politician A would dominate and then New York Politician B would take over," Bond recalled.[62] The two agreed to collaborate to "break that cycle," Bond said, but it was an uphill struggle. The perception persisted throughout Brown's career that he was not a national black leader. It was true that as he grew in power in California, he deliberately downplayed his black political connections. But it was equally true that Brown remained largely unnoticed throughout the 1960s by the eastern press, which defined who was "national" and who was not.

In the next few years the black political movement in California split along two distinct paths. The Black Panther Party, a group of leather-coated gun-toting militants from the streets of Oakland, became increasingly visible. The Black Panthers rose in number, then went into a slow decline in the 1970s.[63] Scarcely mentioned in the white, mainstream media or by subsequent black historians was a second path of black leadership in California that has had a longer-lasting legacy. Black political figures led by the elders among California's black elected leaders—Congressman Augustus Hawkins, who represented Watts, and Assemblyman Byron Rumford, who represented Oakland—formed the Negro Political Action Association of California (NPAAC).[64] The Watts riots


gave NPAAC a crucial impetus for becoming a serious political force and not just a club of black politicians. The organization was politically successful beyond the dreams of its founders. And Willie Brown was both a founder and a beneficiary of that new force. The second path, which led inside the halls of political power and leadership, was Willie Brown's path.

The Negro Political Action Association of California convened in January 1966 with Chicano political leaders in Bakersfield. Willie Brown was credited as a catalyst for bringing the meeting together.[65] Rhetoric sometimes spun wildly, at times resembling that of the Black Panthers. But there were important differences. The black and Chicano leaders recognized that they needed to work together, not against each other. They recognized that black power and brown power meant something far different to them than it did to the Panthers. It meant political struggle, not armed struggle. From the meeting grew an often rocky alliance between black and brown politicians.

Of even more lasting importance, black political leaders met among themselves and plotted electoral strategy. Black leaders were coming out of their separate ghettos, both physical and psychological, and discovering that united they could be a formidable electoral force statewide, especially within the Democratic Party. One of those in attendance at the Bakersfield meeting was Carlton Goodlett, the publisher of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter , who some delegates wanted to nominate for governor against Pat Brown. But a sense prevailed that symbolic candidacies were a meaningless luxury, and Goodlett prevailed on the delegates not to put his name forward for governor. The delegates included Brown's old law partner, Terry Francois, who had been appointed to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by Mayor Shelley. There were other notable delegates as well, among them a city councilman from Los Angeles, Tom Bradley.

The emotional high point of the conference was Willie Brown's speech.[66] Without text or notes, Brown implored, "There's only one way for the cause of Negroes to be advanced in the Democratic Party, that is: Rock the Boat!" Brown continued, "If what we do splits the party then it is a healthy thing. Out of chaos and division comes strength. In any event, I do not believe the Negro will be any worse off. . . . What we do here could very well demonstrate how much power we have in the Democratic Party."

Maxine Waters, a Head Start teacher from Watts, was not impressed.[67] Brown said something about Southern California blacks being "brain-dead" and "stupid" and not aggressive enough politically. "I was mad at Willie Brown," said Waters. "I remember wanting to challenge him, but decided maybe I better not. He minced no words. He was quite arrogant, and insulting everybody in those meetings in those days," said Waters, who gained a reputation of her own for fiery oratory. She was glad that she held her tongue that day. Waters went on to a political career in the Assembly and in Congress—and she was helped immeasurably by Willie Brown.


From the Bakersfield meeting black political leaders built a sometimes loose, but effective, statewide organization outside the traditional seniority-driven legislative committee systems in Sacramento and Washington. The Negro Political Action Association of California eventually grew into the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC), and it became a formidable, if little known, political force in California. NPAAC, and its successor, BAPAC, would never have a high profile like the Black Panthers, but it proved more successful and powerful. Its impact on California politics was enormous; by the 1980s blacks held more than their proportional share of legislative seats, plus dozens of city council and county supervisorial seats throughout the state. Top among them were Willie Brown, Speaker of the Assembly, and Tom Bradley, mayor of the state's largest city and Democratic nominee for governor in 1982 and 1986. Black leaders in California were galvanized by the 1965 Watts riot like no other single event, and their success at the ballot box was their enduring positive legacy. And Brown's speech in Bakersfield put him in the first tier of black leaders in California.


Chapter Twelve—
Mice Milk

According to Mr. Brown, he's going to be the next Speaker of the House, so I'll hand him the gavel now and we won't have to go through the motions of an election.
Carlos Bee
Assembly Speaker Pro Tem
May 1966

As the Legislature reconvened in 1966, Willie Brown was an important but still largely unknown player in California. As a lawmaker, he had met with success in winning approval of moderately ambitious legislation. He had been named "Outstanding Freshman" by the press corps a year earlier. And he was definitely an emerging star in black politics, at least in California. But realistically, Brown was still a long way from political power. He was not even close to becoming an insider, as was made abundantly clear by one fact: he was not invited to join an entrenched Capitol institution, the lunch club.

The clubs operated out of the public eye. Their colorful names, such as "Caboose Club" and "Derby Club," evoked colorful origins. The Caboose Club was composed of legislators who had been old railroaders before they were elected. The Derby was a collection of legislators and lobbyists who wore English bowlers while eating and carousing. Unruh ran his own feast, called the "Tuesday Club," meeting for breakfast on Tuesdays at the same time as the Derby. Another club, more of a drinking clique, was called "Moose Milk" after a concoction served up at all hours at a nearby hotel. Lobbyists were, of course, club members and paid for everything. The clubs were more than just social gatherings; they were important and discreet marketplaces of political power.[1] Lawmakers and lobbyists mingled cutting


deals, telling off-color jokes, and schmoozing well into the afternoon. Legislators were often well pickled by the time they showed up for their late-afternoon committee meetings. The clubs were safe havens where the powerful could trade votes, form friendships, soothe feelings, and promise campaign contributions. The longest-serving state senator in recent times, Democrat Ralph Dills, recalled, "Usually you could find a place to go to have a free meal and a drink—almost any place in town and at almost any time of day. The Senator Hotel was full of such meetings. Sometimes committee meetings were held over there the night before—not too well publicized."[2] The clubs were decidedly male institutions, reflecting the near-total male domination of the Legislature; in fact, a women's restroom was not installed in the Senate until 1976.

The California Derby Club, the only one that survived into the 1990s, was typical of the boozy clubs. Insiders got the joke: the club's initials were the same as those of the liberal and insufferably serious California Democratic Council. The Derby was a bastion of senators and a few select Assembly members. The club was founded and run by Siskiyou County's senator, Randolph Collier.[3] The silver-haired Collier was the senior member of the Senate, having been elected in 1939, when Willie Brown was five years old. Another wheel in the club was the Senate president pro tem, Hugh Burns, who had condemned Willie Brown over the Vietnam telegram incident. The Derby Club was founded on silliness, inspired on a legislative junket to London in the 1950s. On a whim, the California lawmakers purchased derby hats in a London shop, and when they came home they sported their bowlers at lunch. The Derby clubbers thenceforth wore their bowlers at lunch every Tuesday, and they developed a whole series of silly rituals. "We don't usually talk politics. It's mainly just old friends enjoying a visit together," said Senator Alfred Alquist, elected to the Assembly in 1962 and still serving in the Senate three decades later.[4]

The club members ate (and drank) at Posey's Cottage, a shabby meat-and-potatoes joint a block from the Capitol. Once a year, the members donned tuxedos and their derbies and marched intoxicated around the Capitol on their way to a banquet honoring themselves at a downtown restaurant. During one such banquet a drunken Derby member jumped up on the bar at Frank Fat's, which had just reopened after a fire, and urged the boys to burn the place down again. He was restrained. "It's more a tradition than an organization," explained John Foran, who was part of the San Francisco Democratic organization rivaling Brown and the Burton brothers.[5] Foran was invited to join the Derby Club in 1964 as a sophomore assemblyman. Willie Brown and John Burton were never invited to join.

Left out of the established clubs, Willie Brown and John Burton decided to start their own club. At first it did not have a name. They called it simply a "study group," fashioned after the Democratic Study Group in Congress,


which liberals were forging into a power base. The Assembly study group met for breakfast on Wednesday mornings. Its thirteen members had a serious liberal bent; they included freshman Bob Moretti from North Hollywood, liberal Edwin Z'berg, and a handful of powerful committee chairmen, such as Robert Crown, chairman of Ways and Means, George Zenovich, chairman of Finance and Insurance, and Nicholas Petris, chairman of Revenue and Taxation.[6]

Bob Moretti, two years younger than Brown, emerged as the leader of the group. Moretti became close to Willie Brown, and their careers were intertwined until Moretti's death two decades later. Also elected in 1964, Moretti was an Unruh protégé and had a reputation as a tough-talking street fighter. Ideological purity did not interest him. Going for the throat did.[7] Unruh probably did not feel threatened by the study group; Moretti and some of his other cronies who were in the club could keep an eye on things.

Born in Detroit, Moretti was elected to the Assembly from a middle-class, white San Fernando Valley district. Partisan, confrontational, and exceedingly ambitious, Moretti was not in office more than six months before he issued his first press release lambasting the governor of his own party, Pat Brown, for "abdication of state leadership" for his budget proposals.[8] Moretti's friendship with Willie Brown was cemented through their club.

In the spring of 1966, Brown got himself in trouble by bragging too much about his lunch club in an extemporaneous speech to a Saturday convention of the California Federation of Young Democrats.[9] Other, more notable Democrats, including Governor Pat Brown and state controller Alan Cranston, spoke to the convention that Saturday morning. But the young assemblyman upstaged them by asserting that Jesse Unruh was in political trouble in the Assembly because he had to depend on Republican votes to win passage of legislation. Brown suggested that his study group held the balance of power in the Assembly as evidenced by its successful challenge to Unruh over an otherwise routine bill on the state's accounting methods. Taking a swipe at the governor's staff, Brown said his group wanted to grow to thirty members so that it could "program with the governor and offset the band of misfits who apparently are advising him." Though he was saying aloud what many legislators were saying privately about the governor's staff, Brown vastly overstated the importance and cohesiveness of the study group, as events shortly proved.

Brown's remarks received front-page treatment the next day in a story by Richard Rodda in The Sacramento Bee . The headline was explosive: "Demos' Group Challenges Speaker Unruh's Leadership." The story went off like a bomb in the Assembly on Monday morning. Democrats were mortified at Brown's brazenness; Republicans were delighted to embarrass Democrat Brown over the story. Brown's seatmate, Republican Carl Britschgi, stood up and read the Bee news story aloud with emphasis on Brown's use of


the word "misfits" in describing Pat Brown's staff. Democratic majority leader Jerome Waldie tried to have Britschgi ruled out of order, but to no avail. Assemblyman Carlos Bee, who was presiding and still had ambitions of becoming Speaker, let Willie Brown roast. Bee sarcastically told his colleagues, "According to Mr. Brown, he's going to be the next Speaker of the House, so I'll hand him the gavel now and we won't have to go through the motions of an election."[10]

That afternoon Brown received a blistering private letter from Z'berg, who was aghast that Brown had publicly mentioned his name as one of the members of the study group and, in Z'berg's view, misstated the group's purpose. "Everyone emphatically agreed that this was not a group formed for the purpose of challenging Jesse Unruh and that it was merely a group of people who wished to have breakfast together," Z'berg wrote Brown. "I am very much displeased with your categorizing me with any position which you might be advocating without first receiving my permission."[11] To cover himself, Z'berg sent a copy of his letter to Unruh.

Brown had a lot of explaining to do. Despite his obvious political talent, his reputation for boastfulness and overreaching was growing. Brown tried to backtrack with a letter to his colleagues, but he only made things worse by stating that "the main source of leadership in the next session" would be Bob Crown, the current chairman of Ways and Means.[12] Brown then told Jack Welter from the San Francisco Examiner that he meant only that Crown would be the leader if Unruh decided to run for statewide office that year. Brown said his study group was just like Unruh's, glossing over the critical fact that Unruh was the Speaker. "It's just like the Tuesday Club," Brown pleaded. "I never even implied it was anti-Unruh." He did not claim he had been misquoted, but he said that reporters had misinterpreted his remarks. "I don't know of anyone in the group who would vote against Jess."[13] But few, if any, in the Capitol were buying Brown's dodge.

Fortunately for Brown, Unruh was in Hawaii. Brown finally managed to extract himself from his self-made mess by means of his mischievous sense of humor. He and Moretti sent a telegram to Unruh at the Warwick Hotel in Honolulu: "Wish to advise you that speakership vacated on motion of undersigned. Vote 13-0" (the same number of votes as there were members of their club). The two signed their gag telegram: "Speaker Willie Brown" and "Chairman—Ways and Means, Bob Moretti."[14]

After this embarrassment the Wednesday morning study group fell apart. In its place, Brown, Burton, and Moretti formed a lunch club that met on Tuesday, the same day that the insiders' clubs met.[15] As a spoof on the "Moose Milk" drinking club, they named theirs "Mice Milk." It met in the Assembly lounge, and the members brought brown-bag lunches. This time the young liberals were more careful. There was no more chest thumping about taking over the Assembly. Most important, the club forged friendships


that proved crucial in reorganizing the Democrats when they lost control of the Assembly and Unruh finally fell from power. As it turned out, Mice Milk formed the nucleus of the Assembly's future leadership, and it did so quietly and methodically. The joke telegram to Unruh almost had it right: when Mice Milk took over, Brown became chairman of Ways and Means and Moretti became Speaker. Mice Milk had a regular core of members, but its increasing influence could be felt when a legislator who was not a club member showed up. "You could always tell sometimes when a stray came in. He had a bill somewhere he wanted some help on," said John Burton. "It was a good place to sit down and have lunch and bullshit. I mean, that really is a good thing. You talk about anything, or you could talk about a bill coming up. You could talk about last night's movie."[16]

Overshadowing all else in the narrow world of Sacramento in 1966 was a statewide election. Although Pat Brown would be remembered fondly by legislators in later years, his relationship with them in 1966 was at a breaking point. Unruh had patched things up with the governor enough to push through a Democratic legislative agenda, but many Democrats in the Legislature believed that Pat Brown should now retire. Unruh believed he had Pat Brown's word that he would not seek a third term and would let Unruh run for governor. Unruh, in fact, was putting together a gubernatorial campaign.[17]

Despite their divisions there was reason to think that the Democrats could keep the governor's office for another term, and just possibly hang on into the 1970 district reapportionment. To begin with, the potential Republican gubernatorial candidates in 1966 did not appear formidable. Former San Francisco mayor George Christopher was the only seasoned professional seeking the GOP nomination, and he was a plodding campaigner with a checkered past who had failed once before in a statewide race. Another candidate seeking the Republican nomination was a B-movie actor with no political experience, and his most recent job was hosting television's Death Valley Days: Ronald Reagan. He had thrust himself into politics with a speech supporting Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. Reagan's sparkle and optimism made him a hugely attractive candidate, and his opponents were consistently prone to underestimate him.

With such a seemingly weak Republican field, Pat Brown decided to run for a third term. He hoped to face Reagan, believing him to be the weaker opponent. Pat Brown, however, lacked spark, and it showed. He was opposed in the Democratic gubernatorial primary by Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, who repeatedly reminded voters that during the Watts riots the previous summer, Pat Brown had been vacationing in Greece.[18] Although the incumbent governor beat Yorty in the June primary, the image Yorty painted stuck. Pat Brown got his wish: Reagan beat George Christopher. Pat Brown was briefly buoyed at the prospect of facing the movie actor, but in fact his campaign


sank fast. Student unrest at the University of California campus in Berkeley and more riots in the black ghettos contributed to an image of a weary governor who could no longer control events. Reagan preached cracking down on demonstrators and rioters, cutting taxes, and chopping government programs, and he hit a harmonious note with voters.

As the fall political campaigns unfolded, Willie Brown was more involved in the crisis in the black community than with the race for governor. If anything, Pat Brown was fleeing from blacks, and black political leaders were left with little incentive (and no invitation) to help Pat Brown. Traditional black organizations were feeling the strains. The San Francisco branch of the NAACP, which had been Willie Brown's launching pad into politics, was so embroiled with infighting that in 1966 the national leaders of the NAACP made the drastic move of splitting the branch into three branches. The move backfired, so crippling the political effectiveness of the San Francisco NAACP that some black leaders, including Willie Brown, came to the reluctant conclusion that the NAACP had outlived its usefulness. Brown stopped paying his NAACP dues, and by 1967 he was on a list of expired members.[19]

Willie Brown tried to bring peace to the riot-racked ghettos, but his efforts were overwhelmed by events beyond his or anyone's control. Still, he tried.

The breaking point for blacks in San Francisco came in September, when police officers shot and killed a fleeing suspect in the Hunters Point ghetto. John Dearman got another of those telephone calls from his law partner, Willie Brown.[20]

"Let's go," said Brown.

"Where are we going?" Dearman groggily replied.

"We're going out there and seeing what we can do in Hunters Point."

When Brown and Dearman arrived at a community center in the heart of the slum, Mayor Shelley was already there making a speech calling for calm. It was not working. "It became pretty obvious that it was getting too hot, and so they got the mayor out of there. The police were still there surrounding the building, and Willie and I and several other people went into the building," said Dearman. "There were a number of hotheaded young people in the building, and our thing was to calm these people down. And so while we were inside, one of the younger people got a chair, because the door was open, and he threw a chair out the door toward the cops."[21]

The police loudly cocked their guns, but they did not fire. Everyone inside dove to the floor. Brown and Dearman found a stairwell and went down into the basement, crawled through a window, and emerged in a yard surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. "Willie went over the fence and I went over the fence," Dearman recalled. They believed they were safely outside. "Police were all over everywhere, and these kids were horrible. They had turned a police car over. It was burning, and just as we were walking along someone shot out a window on a car. And this is when I realized how


fast Willie was—Willie is plenty swift. When that window shattered, Willie took off."

Chastened and depressed by the failure of their mission, Dearman and Brown made it back to their law office in the Fillmore district. The Hunters Point rioting went on for three days—the worst civil unrest in San Francisco history—and black leaders could do nothing to stop it. "Willie's just always felt that he had to bring peace of some sort. But he's always putting us in dangerous situations. It seems like I'm always with him," said Dearman. The efforts of the young assemblyman and his law partner in the Hunters Point conflagration went unnoticed in public.

Brown went back to the more mundane matters of legislating. He offered up more proposals on regulating auto insurance, which was becoming a favorite issue for him. That fall he proposed that all motorists be required to carry auto insurance, saying that if private companies could not or would not cover everyone, the state should set up its own insurance fund to cover the uninsurable. Brown outlined his ideas for a state Senate committee conducting an interim study in October: "Automobile insurance in California has become virtually a public utility. It is idiotic for anyone to drive on the highways without adequate coverage. There must be a method for everyone who is issued a license plate to be insured."[22] His proposal went nowhere in 1966, but it eventually became the basis for the auto insurance system in California.

Willie Brown faced relatively weak opposition for reelection to a second term in 1966. A private poll commissioned and paid for by Phillip Burton in October suggested that Willie Brown would win 52 percent against 11 percent for his Republican opponent, Julius Kahn, with 34 percent undecided.[23] Brown actually ran slightly ahead of the poll with 55.7 percent of the vote and breezed back to Sacramento for a second term, along with John Burton.[24] But their cohort in antiwar telegram writing, Bill Stanton, was not so lucky and was turned out of office.

The 1966 election was a major turning point in the political history of California. Political life would henceforth be divided into Before and After 1966. Pat Brown was dumped from office, his estimations of his own popularity and that of Ronald Reagan proving woefully wrong. The changes wrought by the 1966 election were deeper than just those of a new governor who had different ideas about the role of government. Unruh's Proposition 1-A was approved by voters, creating a full-time, full-salaried Legislature that would henceforth be more partisan and polarized. Legislators were now paid $16,000 a year.

The election caused a huge turnover in the Legislature, largely the result of the 1965 court-ordered reapportionment. There were thirty-three newcomers in the eighty-member Assembly and twenty-three in the forty-member Senate.[25] Not even the turnover wrought by term limits in 1994 topped


it. Several Assembly members successfully jumped to the Senate, including Democrats Mervyn Dymally and Nicholas Petris and Republican George Deukmejian. The Burton organization made itself felt for the first time in the state Senate, electing George Moscone to a new seat representing San Francisco. The Legislature's complexion changed as well. Dymally was the first black elected to the Senate; an Asian American, Alfred Song, was also elected to the Senate. But there were still no women in the Senate. And black leaders suffered one notable setback at the polls: Byron Rumford lost in his bid for a state Senate seat representing Alameda County by a margin of 801 votes out of 320,727 votes cast.[26]

The Assembly also now had an Asian-American woman, March Fong, but no Latinos. There were now five blacks in the Assembly, including the first black woman, Yvonne Braithwaite. Other black newcomers, all Democrats, were Leon Ralph, Bill Greene, and John Miller. With the elevation of Dymally to the Senate and the exit of Byron Rumford, Willie Brown was now the senior black member of the Assembly. Brown and Dymally now vied to be the most visible black elected official in California.

Other notable members of the Assembly class of 1966 would also have a big impact in California politics in the years ahead: Democrats David Roberti and Kenneth Cory; Republicans Peter Schabarum, Paul Priolo, and John Briggs. San Diego now had four Assembly seats, and one of its newcomers was a young Republican lawyer, Peter B. Wilson, who later went by the more familiar "Pete."

Ronald Reagan was sworn into office as the thirty-third governor of California. In the State Capitol rotunda at fourteen minutes past midnight on January 3, 1967, he raised his right arm and put his left hand on a four-hundred-year-old Bible brought into the state by Father Junípero Serra.[27] In a television address on January 16, the new governor proposed cutting state government across the board by 10 percent and imposing tuition for the first time on University of California students. The Reagan era had arrived.

In the swirl of press conferences and interviews that mark the start of a new legislative session every two years, Willie Brown spelled out his own legislative program for Capitol reporters the same day as Reagan's televised address. Brown termed Reagan's program a "negative approach" and instead offered up bills on the environment, urban housing, and education. "California's problems will not be solved by mindless budget cutting but by constructive action," said Brown.[28] Among his more novel ideas was a one-cent gasoline tax hike to be imposed during the vacationing months of June, July, August, and September. Brown estimated that his tax would generate $35 million, and he proposed spending the money on parks and beaches. That idea, along with several others, stood no chance of passage.

Brown had a problem. He could get the attention of the press, but he did not have any levers to push his program through the Legislature, let alone to obtain a governor's signature. Unruh still did not trust the brash,


unpredictable assemblyman from San Francisco. Not without reason, Unruh mistrusted Willie Brown for his rash statements about his breakfast club and for his rebelliousness in abstaining in the reelection of Unruh in 1965. Unruh probably did not fully forgive Brown for the Vietnam telegram that was not of his making. Most damaging, Unruh caught wind that Brown had attended a not-so-secret meeting of legislators to discuss whether they should support Unruh's reelection as Speaker in 1967. In short, Unruh found Willie Brown too unreliable, too cocky, and unloyal. Brown was going to have to stew.

At the start of the new session, Unruh pointedly did not give Brown a committee chairmanship or even a subcommittee chairmanship. Brown had several reasons to expect something from Unruh. Brown was now in his second term, and the turnover in the Assembly that year had been so great that nearly every Democrat with at least one term was chairing a committee. Moretti was named chairman of the Finance and Insurance Committee, replacing Zenovich, who was now majority leader. Jack Fenton, with whom Brown shared a cramped office their first term, was appointed chairman of the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee. Even a few Republicans from his class were heading committees, such as Craig Biddle, who was the new chairman of the Criminal Procedure Committee. The only other Democratic member of his class without a chairmanship was John Burton.[29]

Brown had another claim that should have counted for something. With the political demise of Byron Rumford, Brown was now the most visible black member of the Legislature. Brown was elected chairman of the Negro caucus, but in late January he could not even get an appointment to talk with Unruh about issues of concern to black legislators. His estrangement from the Speaker was so complete that he had to write him a letter to ask for an appointment, complaining that he was getting the cold shoulder from Unruh's secretary.[30] In Brown's view, it was not just himself who was being snubbed, but by extension all black legislators. Brown did not seem to understand that Unruh's problem was not with black Assembly members, but with Brown.

Compounding his difficulties, the year was not good for Brown and the Burton camp in San Francisco politics. At first, 1967 seemed full of opportunity after the death of San Francisco's long-time state senator Eugene McAteer, who had been planning to run for mayor when he died. His death led to a special election to fill his state Senate seat. John Burton quickly entered the race so that he could join Moscone in the Senate, and it looked as if the Burton camp might own both state Senate seats from San Francisco. But after a tough race, Burton lost to Republican Milton Marks, who abandoned his newly minted judgeship to return to the Legislature.

McAteer's death had another unforeseen result. Attorney Joseph Alioto entered the mayoral race in place of his friend, McAteer. Alioto was a conservative Democrat and a member of the Board of Education who had


never before run for office. Willie Brown detested Alioto from the start, and he let it show. Alioto represented all that Brown hated about San Francisco's established downtown law firms. Brown labeled Alioto's record on the Board of Education "sordid" and said he was no friend of blacks.[31] But Alioto won, beating the Burton-backed candidate, Jack Morrison, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Alioto and Brown never got along.

Brown had problems with other San Francisco politicians, including his old mentor, Terry Francois, who was a member of the Board of Supervisors. Brown's estrangement from Francois burst into the open in 1967. The Western Addition Community Organization, a nebulous grassroots organization in Brown's old neighborhood, voted to recommend the defeat of Francois's election to the Board of Supervisors because of his advocacy of slum clearance. The spokesman for the organization was none other than Willie Brown, who tried to soften the blow by saying that he would personally vote for his old friend but that the Western Addition organizers were within their rights in opposing Francois. But Francois was hardly satisfied with Brown's dodge and blasted his old friend. "If my assessment of human nature is in anywise correct, I believe that participating in this effort to defeat my candidacy will do more harm to Willie politically than it will to me."[32] Despite the ruckus, Francois was elected to a full term on the Board of Supervisors, and Brown was not much harmed by it. But their breach was complete.

There was another, starker reminder that the senior black assemblyman of California held no appreciable power. As Brown plotted an inside power game, the outside pressures from the ghetto crashed through the Assembly doors.[33] On May 2, 1967, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, and a band of leather-jacketed, rifle-toting Black Panthers from Oakland visited the state Capitol. Goaded by news photographers, they went, carrying their guns, to the second floor and then walked through the Assembly's heavy oak doors into the ornate, gilded chambers. Unruh immediately telephoned Brown and asked him to take over the gavel and preside, hoping that would diffuse the situation. "They'll shoot me just as quickly as they would you," Brown replied to Unruh.[34]

The Panthers were actually there on legislative business. They had come to protest a proposed gun control bill that they maintained was racist because it would disarm the poor and disenfranchised. Lost in the subsequent commotion was the irony that the Black Panthers were aligning themselves with Republicans and rural Democrats in opposing the gun control measure. The Panthers milled around for awhile in the Capitol, harming no one, and then departed. They were arrested at a gas station on their way back to Oakland for disrupting a legislative session.

The Panthers' invasion of the Assembly was a publicity stunt, nothing more, and it gave them a level of national notoriety they had previously lacked. But in Sacramento, in the inner world of Capitol politics, it was


seen as armed insurrection and nothing less. The Panthers were the worst nightmare of white politicians and the Reagan administration. Governor Reagan's security squad was beefed up, and henceforth he was protected as if he were president of the United States, although the Panthers had not come anywhere close to the governor's office.

For black legislators the repercussions were subtle and deep. The Panther invasion was a bitter reminder that black legislators held public office but no power. Without such power, it was hard to justify their faith in the democratic system, hard to justify traveling to Sacramento each week to put up with the tedium of committee hearings and the onslaught of lobbyists seeking to influence them on trivial issues. Legislating had little relation to the crisis in the streets. Outside the Capitol, the Panther invasion drove a public wedge between black politicians and the most extreme black militants in the districts they represented. It was a conflict keenly felt by black legislators in Sacramento, but a conflict for which many of their white colleagues had little appreciation or sympathy. The Panther invasion had one result for Willie Brown: it made him more strident in his rhetoric and more desperate to win a degree of power to justify his continued existence in office.

Meanwhile, John Burton was working his way out of Unruh's disfavor. Unruh appointed Burton to the prestigious Assembly Rules Committee, the housekeeping panel of the Assembly that is normally a tool of the Speaker. Burton joined Republicans on the committee in voting against appropriating funds for a new Assembly Higher Education Committee. Burton's vote had nothing to do with the merits of the proposal; he was attempting to use what little leverage he had to strong-arm Unruh. "He was absolutely livid," Burton recalled. "And I said, 'Hey, you screwed Willie. You screw Willie; you screw me. I ain't voting for your shit until you do something.' Jesse got kind of mad."[35] He also got the message.

Unruh grudgingly appointed Brown chairman of the Legislative Representation Committee, which oversaw the ministerial task of registering lobbyists. A file clerk could do the job, and most legislators considered it a meaningless chairmanship, which of course is why Unruh put him there. The committee did not oversee any legislation. It seemed a post where Brown could do no harm. Other black legislators found it offensive that Willie Brown was named to the worst committee chairmanship Unruh could find. Freshman Bill Greene protested to the newspapers that Unruh "definitely took a racist position" by giving Willie Brown the "do nothing" chairmanship, and state Senator Mervyn Dymally said that the appointment was "an insult to one of the ablest legislators in Sacramento."[36]

But where others saw limits, Brown saw possibilities. Delighted to have a committee chairmanship, any chairmanship, Brown found the levers of power and pulled them. "I didn't get up on the floor and make stupid speeches. I went about my business of systematically making myself felt."[37] Brown soon


discovered that the committee had statutory authority to regulate lobbyists, authority no one had ever used. He did not need to pass legislation out of the committee to the full Assembly. He could do it practically by fiat. Brown threatened Unruh's lifeblood relationship with lobbyists with a series of proposals to clamp down on lobbyists. Just as he had done in NAACP branch politics, Brown played rough and played for keeps. He began by proposing limits on how much lobbyists could spend on legislators. He talked about a cap on business income tax deductions for hiring lobbyists and about forcing lobbyists to file detailed public reports on what they spent on legislators. He even went so far as to propose forcing lobbyists inside the Capitol to wear a brightly colored jersey with a number emblazoned on it, like a race horse.[38] "I did every reform I could think of. I required them to start reporting who they had lunch with, what they spent for lunch, and all that business," said Brown. "Unruh went nuts. Lobbyists were going crazy."[39]

Brown also used his chairmanship as a public pulpit to take on the newly formed Reagan administration, accusing it of conflict of interest in asking a computer firm owned by a Reagan official to study government efficiency. Brown threatened to expand the duties of his committee by investigating conflicts of interest throughout the executive branch, a horrifying idea to the Reagan administration. Brown created an issue out of Reagan's private commissions to study every facet of state government for his new administration.[40] Brown adeptly turned Reagan's public relations ploy into a liability by demanding that Reagan release the names of the 173 businessmen he had appointed to the commissions.

Reagan's press secretary, Lyn Nofziger, at first refused to release the list, saying Brown was creating a "fuss" about nothing and that no newspaper would print all the names anyway. Brown's demands forced Reagan to go on the defensive at a June 27 press conference. Reagan maintained that since the study groups were simply advisory he would not release the names.[41] But a day later, an embarrassed Reagan backed down and released the names. Newspapers printed the list.

In short, Brown made an intentional nuisance of himself with the Democratic Assembly Speaker and the Republican governor by using his committee chairmanship. His public agenda was reform; his private agenda was power. Brown's efforts made it difficult for Unruh and Reagan to reach an understanding on governing the state, putting added pressure on Unruh to do something about Brown.

Unruh could not fire Brown without being called a racist again. "Unruh was at the risk of having his playpen fucked with," said Brown, reflecting with glee on the fight years later. "And he started trying to figure out some way to deal with that."[42] Unruh tried to outmaneuver Brown by stacking the committee against him. Unruh appointed loyalist Democrat Carlos Bee, the Speaker pro tem, and Republican leader Bob Monagan to the committee.


Then for good measure, Unruh appointed himself to the committee. Such a solid bunch could rein in the renegade Willie Brown.

Brown outmaneuvered them. "I began to call a meeting every day, so we were at war," said Brown. Unruh and his cronies could not possibly go to Brown's committee meeting every day. "The press was fascinated with this David taking on Goliath—Willie Brown taking on Jesse Unruh. And I was pretty good at my quotes."[43]

Unaccustomed to be being outmaneuvered, Unruh found a way out that satisfied everyone except the Republicans. Brown ended up the beneficiary of a complicated game of musical chairs in the Assembly. Unruh's way out of his fight with Brown coincided with a larger fight with Republicans.

Rashly, the Republicans made a procedural motion to withdraw an antipornography bill from a committee where it was bottled up by the Democrats. Unruh, however, considered the motion a direct challenge to his position as Speaker, and he converted the fight from a vote on the antipornography bill into a vote of confidence on his leadership. He won the vote. Then he retaliated hard, firing all Republicans from committee chairmanships. As far as Unruh was concerned, if they could not support the committee structure of which they were a part, then they did not deserve to chair any committees. It was a precedent Willie Brown followed to the letter years later when he became Speaker.

In the middle of the political bloodletting, John Burton walked into a meeting with Unruh and some of his "Praetorian Guard," who were discussing whom to appoint where. "I don't quite know how I was in the room, because I was just a low sophomore maybe," Burton recalled. "So anyway, they're sitting around and he's pissed and he's going to dump all these committee guys."[44]

Here is how it sorted out: Unruh began by firing Republican Assemblyman Robert Badham, of Orange County, as the chairman of the Public Utilities Committee. That left a hole. Someone suggested asking Democrat Lester McMillan, an affable legislator who was second in seniority in the Assembly, to take over the Public Utilities Committee. According to Burton, when McMillan was summoned to that meeting and told of the plan, he replied, "Why Jess, I think that's one of the finest ideas you've ever had." McMillan was chairman of the Governmental Efficiency and Economy Committee, so his moving to Public Utilities left another hole. "And then they said, 'What are we going to do with G.E.?' And I said, 'How about Willie?' So that took care of that," said Burton.

Years later, Burton made it sound like a casual decision. But appointing Brown to the slot could not have been taken lightly by Unruh. The move solved Unruh's immediate problem, but it had risks. The Assembly Committee on Governmental Efficiency and Economy, like the names of many legislative committees, was a misnomer. The committee was responsible for all legislation regulating business in California. It was a prized chairmanship


because it could be leveraged for hefty campaign contributions from lobbyists and their corporate clients. Legislators called such assignments "juice committees" because of the money that could be squeezed from them. Willie Brown needed to show what he could do with it and become part of the team. The reformer of lobbyists now showed another side to his political character, one that became increasingly more familiar in the years ahead.

Much of what Brown did in his new assignment was out of the public eye. The press showed no interest in the Committee on Governmental Efficiency and Economy. As a chairman, Brown was allowed to hire more staff. Brown hired the former president of the California Young Democrats, Phillip Isenberg, who had just finished law school. Isenberg worked part-time as Brown's administrative assistant and part-time as a lawyer in the Brown and Dearman law office in San Francisco.[45]

In addition to learning politics, Isenberg got an education in practicing law and in the culture of an urban courthouse, with cops, lawyers, pimps, prostitutes, and drug pushers mingling in the hallways and stairwells. Isenberg recalled a day when he accompanied Brown to the San Francisco courthouse to handle nine cases in one hour: "Willie's just roaring up and down the stairs—typical Willie—never stands still."[46]

Brown's legislative staff prepared a series of form letters addressed to "Dear Friend."[47] The letters were categorized into trade groups—grocers, restaurants, bars, liquor stores. Attached to each letter was a list: "The attached list describes all bills affecting your business considered in this session of the Legislature." The list for taverns held seventeen bills; the list for restaurants and grocers held twenty-five bills. Dozens upon dozens of businesses got Brown's letters in September 1967. The letters were a not-so-subtle reminder that if a business wanted to affect any of those proposed laws, it had better see Willie Brown and deal with his committee. No mention was made about campaign contributions. But the message was between the lines: pony up.

Apparently, Unruh liked Brown's technique rather well. The lists were expanded by the Democratic caucus staff to include letters for barbers, veterinarians, pharmacists, television and radio stations, teachers, physicians, auto dealers, and insurance agents. Hundreds of letters were prepared and mailed to businesses in November 1967.[48]

Willie Brown was winning Unruh's grudging respect. The ultimate recognition from Big Daddy came one day in 1967. As Brown finished making a floor speech about a piece of legislation, Unruh ambled over and told him: "It's a good thing you're not white."

"Why's that?" Brown replied.

"Because if you were, you'd own the place."[49]


Chapter Thirteen—

Why hasn't Willie used his political position to stop police brutality and intimidation? ASK HIM.
Black Panther Party leaflet
Fall 1968

Willie Brown was unlike most run-of-the-mill state legislators, for he was making a name for himself in political circles outside his statehouse. If anything, he was becoming more important outside Sacramento than inside. He was a black elected official, a rarity in the United States in 1968. He was energetic, outspoken, willing to take risks, and abundantly ambitious. He was also flamboyant, and like Adam Clayton Powell in Congress, Brown delighted in making outrageous statements that his constituents enjoyed. But unlike Powell, Brown also was working at becoming an insider. Notwithstanding his veneer of black militancy, Willie Brown was by now well connected with the major power brokers of the California Democratic Party. He had taken several qualitative steps toward obtaining genuine political power. He was now somebody , and his endorsements were becoming a valuable commodity for white liberals outside Sacramento.

Willie Brown was the flashiest legislator in Sacramento and was something of a dandy. That spring he wore Nehru jackets and love beads.[1] He paraded his new outfit on the Assembly floor, to the chuckles of his colleagues and reporters. The look did not last long on Brown, but became an endless source of gags and jokes among both his friends and his adversaries.

And jokes were in short supply in 1968.

The year was wrenching for both Willie Brown and the rest of the country. The Vietnam War continued to escalate, the Reverend Martin Luther King


Jr. was assassinated, and soon after, so was Robert F. Kennedy. Following King's murder, blacks in the nation's ghettos burned and looted their own neighborhoods. Politically, President Lyndon Johnson appeared unable to control events, and he announced that he would not seek reelection. Students on the nation's campuses became increasingly militant, especially at the University of California, Berkeley, and at San Francisco State College.

In that tumultuous year Willie Brown endorsed Robert Kennedy for president. His endorsement was one of the most important decisions in his political career, for it catapulted him into political circles far beyond the confines of California's stultifying statehouse. From that moment on—although no one could foresee it at the time—Assemblyman Willie Brown became an increasingly important player in presidential politics. He was the black leader in California to see for any Democrat seriously seeking to become president of the United States. His friend Julian Bond, a black politician from Georgia also on the rise in 1968, noted many years later: "If you thought about California, you had to think about Willie Brown."[2] And all the presidential would-bes came, culminating twenty-four years later when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton sought Brown's endorsement and remarked that he had met "the real Slick Willie."

Brown's distinction as a rising star sparked a series of petty jealousies among his colleagues back in Sacramento, particularly among rival black legislators. Those jealousies simmered and eventually bubbled to the fore and frustrated his early bids for leadership in the Legislature. Brown had several rivals who believed they had at least an equal claim to be the most prominent black elected official in California, chief among them state Senator Mervyn Dymally, who had his own powerful allies and huge ambitions to match. But with Robert Kennedy's tragic campaign for president, Brown leaped ahead of his rivals in California and into national political circles in the East.

Brown's political philosophy matched Robert Kennedy's like that of no other national political leader in his career. The two were both against the Vietnam War, and Kennedy embraced black civil rights like no other white politician in America. Both were also consummately pragmatic professionals. Willie Brown respected Kennedy not just for his idealism but also for being a tough politician. But all the same, Willie Brown's decision to endorse Bobby Kennedy was largely made for him by others. Brown was drawn to Kennedy by the gravitational pull of the two heaviest planets in his universe: Jesse Unruh, the Speaker of the Assembly, and Congressman Phillip Burton, his political mentor and the leader of San Francisco liberals.

Phillip Burton's endorsement of Robert Kennedy was complicated. By now Burton had reached an understanding with Unruh over a rough division


of power in California Democratic politics. Simply put, Unruh controlled the Legislature and Burton controlled the congressional delegation. Coming down on the same side in a presidential primary could only help cement their rapprochement. But it was not that easy for Burton. Eugene McCarthy was also running for president, and he had a claim on Burton's ideological allegiance because of their early mutual opposition to the Vietnam War. The Minnesota senator had made a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary in February, coming in a strong second and embarrassing President Johnson into abandoning the race and retiring from public life. But McCarthy moved too slowly and did not take advantage of his win by courting Burton. The error may have cost McCarthy key organizational support in the winner-take-all California primary.

For Unruh, endorsing Robert Kennedy was a foregone conclusion if only he could convince him to run. Unruh was personally close to the Kennedys even before John F. Kennedy's election to the White House. Unruh's status was enhanced as Camelot's representative on the West Coast during Kennedy's presidency, and Unruh would do anything in his power to regain that mantle.[3] Unruh was coy about his allegiance early in the 1968 presidential campaigning, refusing to endorse Lyndon Johnson's reelection or the antiwar crusade of Eugene McCarthy. In January 1968 Unruh secretly spent three days with Robert Kennedy at Kennedy's Virginia home, Hickory Hill, and urged him to run.[4] Kennedy said he would think about it.

Before he was officially in the presidential race, Robert Kennedy made moves in California that appealed to urban liberals such as Phillip Burton and Willie Brown. On March 10, 1968, Kennedy visited Delano, a small farm community in California's Central Valley where Cesar Chavez was organizing the first successful union of farmworkers. Improving the conditions of farm laborers, long among the most exploited and impoverished people in California, had been one of Phillip Burton's passions when he was in the Legislature.

Chavez had been fasting to win attention for his movement. Kennedy came to see him at the emotionally charged moment that Chavez had chosen to break his fast. Kennedy joined Chavez in a small chapel with a picture of John F. Kennedy on the wall.[5] The two shared Holy Communion, and Chavez broke his fast with the bread at the altar. Kennedy's presence in far-off Delano was extraordinary, and his words that day were nothing less than a clarion call. "The world must know from this time forward," Kennedy told the farmworkers, "that the migrant farmworker, the Mexican-American, is coming into his own rights. You are winning a special kind of citizenship—no one is doing it for you."[6]

In later years support for Chavez and his union (and Robert Kennedy) would be a mantra of both California and national Democratic politics. But in 1968 Kennedy's appearance with Chavez in Delano came when the United Farm Workers Union was fighting for its life and forcing a break between urban and rural Democrats. In praising the union, Kennedy forcefully injected


himself into one of the most contentious and long-running political disputes in California: farm labor. In choosing sides with urban liberals who were campaigning to improve the condition of farmworkers, Kennedy came down against conservative rural Democrats, whose power was diminishing but far from broken. By aligning with Chavez, Kennedy stood with liberals in their power struggle with the old guard of the California Democratic Party. It earned him powerful political enemies in the state, including former governor Pat Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. The two long-time enemies agreed on one issue: Bobby Kennedy.

Many supposedly prolabor Democrats, at both the state and the national level, were careful not to pick sides on the issue. It was easy to be for labor when that meant accepting campaign contributions from George Meany, the gruff prowar president of the AFL-CIO, or from the Central Valley agribusinesses, which were closely connected with congressional Democrats who preserved federal water subsidies. It was not so easy to be for labor if that meant siding with scrappy, poor Mexicans having no campaign contributions to hand out.

Kennedy chose the poor Mexicans.

After Chavez had broken his fast, Kennedy flew to Los Angeles and telephoned Unruh. He told him he had made up his mind to run for president. Three days after his visit to Delano, Kennedy, back in Washington, D.C., summoned Burton off the House floor to meet with him. Burton and Kennedy went for a walk around the U.S. Capitol. At the end of their walk, Burton's endorsement was sealed.[7]

Phillip Burton's endorsement cost him support from the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union in San Francisco, which withdrew its support of his reelection, but the loss was not critical.[8] Robert Kennedy had helped send Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa to prison, so established unions would not help Kennedy. The ILWU had long been an integral part of Burton's election machinery, but the union's snub did not extend to the rest of Burton's San Francisco associates. The union endorsed John Burton and Willie Brown.

Organizing the Kennedy campaign in California proved difficult as gargantuan egos clashed from the start. Unruh was named California state campaign chairman, and Phillip Burton took the lesser title of chairman of the San Francisco campaign. In reality, Unruh ran Southern California while Burton ran Northern California. Willie Brown was named one of five San Francisco cochairmen.[9] He had no real authority, but the Kennedy campaign hoped Brown could attract black voters. Brown indeed worked diligently for Kennedy in the black community, but he also sought and found levers in the Kennedy campaign with which he could further his personal ambitions, ever a part of Brown's agenda.

Willie Brown was on the move within the campaign from the start. The San Francisco Kennedy campaign's inner circle met on March 23, 1968, to plan


the campaign.[10] Besides Brown and Phillip Burton, the circle included Jack Ertola and Roger Boas, two powerful members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Ertola was, in fact, president of the board, second in visibility in San Francisco only to the mayor. Also in the room that day was Morris Bernstein, a local political fixer and fund-raiser. Rounding out the group was Edna Mosk, the wife of Stanley Mosk, a justice on the California Supreme Court and former Democratic state attorney general who still hoped to be elected governor someday.

Brown pushed to include more blacks in leadership positions, namely himself. He soon won a spot as a Kennedy delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. More important, Brown was given a seat on the convention Credentials Committee, the powerful panel that would pass judgment on who could be seated as a delegate and who could not. Challenges by blacks to all-white delegations were expected, and the position would put Brown at the center of the battleground for control of the Democratic Party. One other black legislator from California held a prominent position on the delegation, Assemblywoman Yvonne Braithwaite, who was named to serve on the convention Platform Committee along with Phillip Burton.

Robert Kennedy's 1968 California delegation was a remarkable collection of political talent. It included nearly every California Democrat who would be prominent in the next decade.[11] Besides Brown, Burton, and Unruh, the Kennedy slate included Cesar Chavez; Tom Bradley, a future mayor of Los Angeles; state Senator George Moscone, a future mayor of San Francisco; Assemblyman Bob Moretti, a future Assembly Speaker; and Assemblyman Leo Ryan, who as a member of Congress lost his life ten years later on a South American airstrip while investigating the cult led by the Reverend Jim Jones from San Francisco. Another delegate was actress Shirley MacLaine, who was an activist in Democratic politics.

There were two other slates of delegates on the June 1968 Democratic California presidential primary ballot. Former governor Pat Brown led old-guard Democrats out to stop Kennedy. His slate of delegates was technically unpledged, but it was an open secret that Pat Brown's slate favored the candidacy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who declined to enter the California primary. Besides Pat Brown, the unpledged delegates included the state's Democratic establishment: San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto and Assemblyman John Foran, sworn enemies of the Burton camp in San Francisco; actor Gregory Peck; and state legislators, including Carlos Bee, Jerome Waldie, and state Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Burns. Significantly for Willie Brown, the unpledged list included black Assemblyman Bill Greene from Los Angeles and San Francisco Supervisor Terry Francois, his old mentor turned enemy. Greene's presence foreshadowed later problems for Brown in Assembly politics. Francois's presence on Pat Brown's slate was a further sign of Francois's estrangement from Willie Brown.


Eugene McCarthy's list of delegates was telling as well. Jerry Brown, a young ex-seminarian from Berkeley who was pledged to McCarthy, was pointedly absent from his father Pat's delegation. Also, oddly enough, John Burton was on the McCarthy slate. For John Burton, it was an act of independence from his powerful brother. By now the Vietnam War was practically John Burton's sole issue, and he considered Kennedy a latecomer. Pundits did not see it for what it was—friction between the two brothers—and instead accused Phillip Burton of plotting to control whatever delegation made it to the convention.

In an age of perpetual presidential campaigns, it is hard to remember that Robert Kennedy's campaign—from its promising beginning to its abrupt end—lasted just three months. Presidential campaigns now go on for years, and are thought of like football games, with kickoffs, half-times, quarters, and endgames. But Robert Kennedy's campaign was an intensive drive with no letup. It was all endgame.

Contrary to post-assassination myths, the Kennedy campaign in California was chaotic and disorganized. Unruh and the California politicians clashed with each other and with the East Coast consultants Kennedy sent to the state to straighten things out.[12] Unruh tried to manage every detail, and details began to escape him. Kennedy almost did not get on the California ballot because lawyers dispatched by Unruh to the secretary of state's office barely made it before closing. Meanwhile, the Kennedy staff treated the Californians brusquely, and tensions grew. Well-meaning volunteers were haughtily turned away from the campaign organization. Finally, Kennedy sent campaign aide Steve Smith to California, and he set up an office next to Unruh's. Everything in the campaign from then on had to go through both Unruh and Smith for approval.

Kennedy made one other personnel move that helped untangle the California campaign. His press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, gave up his duties with the national press to become a campaign tactician in California. Mankiewicz knew California. He was an old hand in California Democratic clubs, and his father was a legendary film producer. As a UCLA student, Mankiewicz had battled H.R. Haldeman and John Erlichman in student politics. Most important, Mankiewicz was an old friend of Unruh.

One of the California politicians impressed Mankiewicz: Willie Brown. "Willie is a strong speaker," Mankiewicz said. "I kind of liked the emphasis that it would give to the racial diversity."[13] Four years later, Mankiewicz would come back to California asking Brown to support another presidential candidate, George McGovern.

The Kennedy campaign was a hurricane of activity in California. Political observers added to the pressures inside the campaign by predicting that the presidential nomination would be decided in California. But for the intervention of an assassin's bullet, they probably would have been right. All the politicians in the campaign began to devote their full energies to


Kennedy. On May 18, Willie Brown, Phillip Burton, and Jack Ertola, the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, rang doorbells in the city's Richmond District. A campaign press release noted that they would be accompanied by "colorfully attired Kennedy girls."[14]

Kennedy stumped up and down California talking himself hoarse. Willie Brown was prone in later years to exaggerate his position in the campaign, sometimes referring to himself the "California chairman." But he was not exaggerating his importance to the campaign. Brown kept up a furious pace on behalf of Kennedy. He and his law partner, John Dearman, often accompanied Kennedy into rough neighborhoods.[15] "I put together the private dinners and all that kind of stuff, and we went through the ghetto communities on a swing—motorcades, rallies," Brown recalled.

During one tumultuous appearance in the Hunters Point ghetto of San Francisco, Kennedy rode in an open car along with Brown and Phillip Burton. Dearman vividly recalled what happened next: "Kennedy was out mingling with the people and he was having difficulty getting back to the car. Roosevelt Grier, that big football player, just kind of picked him up like a little baby and held him before the crowd and deposited him in the car. Willie said: 'Man, that is one big brute, man!'"

Willie Brown's value to the campaign rose for the most tragic of reasons. On April 4 the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis.

Reporters in Sacramento who sought out Brown for his reaction found him visibly shaken. In slow, measured tones, Brown attempted to explain that King's death was a loss not just for blacks, but for all Americans. Brown probably could have chosen his words more elegantly, but he laid bare the pain and fear of a black leader groping to understand the enormity of the murder: "I think a little bit of all of us died with him," he said. "He was the symbol of the hope of all black folks and what has been destroyed is that symbol. He's probably a greater loss to the white people of America. As long as that symbol existed, a viable, believable alternative to the most militant, radical element existed. . . . It will be more difficult, if not impossible, to honestly say to the black community that nonviolence and the use of democratic process is still an open avenue for change. . . . Martin Luther King probably represented more anti-riot insurance than any anti-riot weapon and any anti-riot legislation could ever mean."[16]

Black neighborhoods across America erupted in violence. King's murder ignited the rage that had been smoldering for decades. The measured tones of the black leaders did little to quell the flames. Brown's remarks to reporters notwithstanding, he did his best in the ghettos to explain why the democratic process was still an "open avenue for change." Meanwhile, his candidate for president, Robert Kennedy, did more than any other politician in the country to bring calm, venturing into neighborhoods where no other white politicians dared to go. Brown paved the way for Kennedy in California with


hostile black audiences. In so doing, Brown turned himself into a target of abuse in the black community.

Brown attended King's funeral in Atlanta. Also representing the California Assembly were Leon Ralph, a black Democrat from Los Angeles, and William Bagley, a white Republican from Marin County. Blanche Brown accompanied her husband. The delegation rented a car at the Atlanta airport and picked up a black legislator from New York. Bagley was behind the wheel, and Brown had him drive up and down the streets of Atlanta's ghetto.[17] Brown hung out the window waving at black children. The children waved back with amazed looks on their faces.

"What are you doing, Willie?" Bagley finally asked.

"They ain't never seen a white man drive four niggers before," Brown replied, enjoying the shock value of his remark on his white colleague.

The Californians arrived late. They were ushered inside through a side entrance and found themselves unexpectedly in the front row at King's funeral. Bagley was amazed at the fortune of his friend.

Feelings were still high when Kennedy arrived on April 19, 1968, in San Francisco to speak before an angry audience of six thousand at the University of San Francisco, in the heart of the city.[18] Wearing a conservative dark coat and tie, Brown was heckled as he introduced Kennedy, who then tried to spell out what he believed would be the ultimate cost of black rage: "The violent youth of the ghetto is not simply protesting his condition, but making a destructive and self-defeating attempt to assert his worth and dignity as a man—to tell us that though we may scorn his contribution, we must still respect his power. But this is the most destructive and self-defeating of attempts. This is no revolution. The word means to seize power, but the advocates of violence are not going to overthrow the American government. . . . The end is not a better life for black people; it is a devastated America. It is a program for death, not life."[19] Kennedy was repeatedly heckled with shouts of "fascist pig!" and he finally discarded his text and invited questions.

Kennedy continued to stump in California. Toward the end of May, accompanied by astronaut John Glenn, Kennedy embarked on an exhausting whistle-stop train tour of the Central Valley, pausing along the way in Fresno and concluding in Sacramento. Toward the end of the day, Kennedy was driven to Oakland for a meeting with a black audience arranged by Willie Brown. As Kennedy arrived, Brown attempted to calm the crowd but was again heckled. Someone in the crowd yelled that he was a "Technicolor nigger."[20]

Rafer Johnson, a black Olympic decathlon champion, stood up and apologized to Kennedy for the behavior. The crowd began shouting at Johnson that he was an "Uncle Tom" and told him to sit down. During the commotion, Brown, Unruh, and Phillip Burton stood on stage behind Kennedy. A grainy photo taken from behind the stage shows just how


panicked the politicians were that day.[21] While Kennedy is speaking to the audience, Burton is shown shouting, his arm outstretched across Unruh's face. Brown is holding a microphone. His eyes are so wide they can be seen clearly through his thick glasses.

"Look man," a heckler shouted at Kennedy, "I don't want to hear none of your shit. What the goddamned hell are you going to do, boy? . . . You bastards haven't done nothing for us. We wants to know, what are you going to do for us?"[22] Kennedy was unable to say much of anything.

After the confrontation, Kennedy and the politicians drove to San Francisco. The Californians were crestfallen at the treatment of their candidate. But Kennedy told them he wasn't the least bit sorry; blacks, he said, needed an opportunity to vent their anger.[23]

The next morning, Kennedy and his entourage returned to Oakland for a rally. At first there were shouts of "Free Huey" from a crowd of leather-coated Black Panthers in support of Panther leader Huey Newton, who was about to go on trial in Oakland for murder. It looked as if the Kennedy rally would be a tiresome replay of a day earlier. But then the same heckler who had shouted at Kennedy about not "taking any shit"—a man who called himself "Black Jesus"—handed out leaflets admonishing the audience to treat Kennedy with respect. Strangely enough, the Panthers suddenly turned protective and cleared a path through the throng for Kennedy's car to pass. Black Jesus got in front of Kennedy's car and also helped to clear a path. The rally went well; the crowd was on Kennedy's side that day.

A few months later Willie Brown told oral historian Jean Stein about his amazement that day: "The same persons who were raising all the hell and asking all of the very nasty questions and doing all of the loud screaming . . . were the persons who were acting as his guards and . . . clearing the car from the crowds."[24]

Brown often acted as Kennedy's surrogate, appearing, for example, on May 15 at the University of California, Davis, just outside Sacramento. "Kennedy knows that a nation can move only as fast as the head man provides the proper attitude for that development," Brown said.[25]

With only a few days left before the primary election, Kennedy hosted a dinner for wealthy supporters at the Fairmont Hotel, then as now the ornate citadel of San Francisco's moneyed establishment. The only blacks invited were Brown, Dearman, and comic actor Bill Cosby, accompanied by their wives.[26] Dearman showed up wearing a black leather jacket and black turtleneck. With an Afro haircut and a bushy black beard, Dearman looked the image of a Black Panther. Suspicious Kennedy aides would not admit Dearman and began frisking him. "They patted me all over," Dearman recalled. Finally Cosby spotted the commotion at the door and vouched for the lawyer. "Two or three nights later they didn't frisk the right guy," Dearman remarked twenty-five years later as a judge of the San Francisco Superior Court.


Brown's political philosophy took a beating that year. He embraced the cause of a white politician trying to be president, but he was pulled in another direction by angry blacks no longer willing to wait for deliverance from conventional, white-dominated politics. Brown did his best to straddle his two worlds. He did so by never wavering from his deepest belief, born of his youth in segregated Texas, that the two worlds of black and white needed to come together on equal ground. That could only happen, in his view, by empowering blacks, who had never held power. And, in his view, he represented the disenfranchised and was worthy of a piece of political power.

On the eve of the June presidential primary, Willie Brown appeared at a meeting of angry black students at his alma mater, San Francisco State College.[27] He explained his view of the real meaning of "black power." For Brown, the phrase had nothing to do with voguish theories of Marxism and revolution. For Willie Brown, then as later, black power meant only one thing: electing blacks to positions of real political power. Nor could those blacks winning power be black in complexion only. Brown proclaimed that a black politician "must in fact be a black man. And if he happens to be only in color, then we in the family must make him black otherwise."

Some white politicians at the time were scandalized at such pronouncements, seeing no difference between Willie Brown and H. Rap Brown. They had little or no appreciation of the black anger Brown was trying to channel and the pressures he was under in the volatile black community. Willie Brown's ultimate message, couched in the terms of the time, was that blacks must work within the mainstream; the system needed overthrowing, but from within. In Brown's view, Robert Kennedy was among the few white politicians who understood his point.

Robert Kennedy won the California primary. On election night, June 4, Robert Kennedy was in Los Angeles for a victory party at the Ambassador Hotel. A second victory party was held in San Francisco, at California Hall, an old auditorium near City Hall. The stand-in for the candidate was his younger brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Willie Brown was jubilant that night. All of his hard work was paying off. Politics on such a night was the greatest high on earth. Willie Brown's friends remember him standing on stage endlessly hugging Ted Kennedy and shaking hands with everyone in sight. Brown kept telling his friends, over and over: "You know, we might be able to go to the White House! And we won't have to go in the backdoor! We can walk in the front door!"[28] Brown was ready to party all night.

John Dearman left the party shortly after midnight. A beaming Willie Brown gave him a thumbs-up as Dearman departed. Dearman walked to his car a few blocks away. When he turned on the ignition, he heard the news on his car radio: Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles and was in critical condition. Dearman drove home in stunned silence, unable to bring himself to return to California Hall and the pandemonium inside.[29]


Willie Brown was standing with Ted Kennedy when a phone rang and someone told them the news. The two politicians "went to pieces," Brown recalled.[30] Someone kicked over a blackboard on the stage, someone else shouted angrily "This god-damned white racism!"[31] Phillip Burton telephoned the Army base at San Francisco's Presidio and bullied an officer into providing a military jet to take Ted Kennedy to Los Angeles to be at his dying brother's side.[32] A reporter sought out Brown's reaction, and Brown ventured that Kennedy must have been shot as part of a conspiracy.[33] Roughly twenty-four hours later, Kennedy died of wounds inflicted by Sirhan Sirhan.

A quarter-century later, Brown recalled those traumatic events in an interview as he sat in one of his favorite San Francisco restaurants, Le Central. Brown was still incredulous at what happened. The pain returned to his face as he told of that awful night. "I couldn't believe it. There's no way, you know. Five years earlier they'd killed a brother, the other brother. There's no way. How could that be? It didn't make any sense. It did not make any sense. June fourth, 1968. It didn't make any sense at all. Two months after Martin Luther King had been assassinated? No way."[34]

Although Kennedy died two days after winning the California primary, his delegates would still represent the state in Chicago at the national convention. The winner-take-all primary meant that they, and not Pat Brown's cronies, represented the nation's most populous state. But they had no candidate. The delegation, with Unruh serving as chairman, met on June 15 in Los Angeles to talk about their future. Willie Brown advocated joining forces with McCarthy's delegates at the convention to stop Vice President Hubert Humphrey from winning the nomination. But Brown did not endorse McCarthy; he advocated holding out for an unnamed compromise candidate.[35]

But without a candidate, the strategy had no hope of success. Arrangements were made at the meeting to put John Burton, a McCarthy supporter, on the Kennedy delegation so that he could go to the Chicago convention. Some of those on the other slates were added to the delegation as well in a unity move that had been planned by Kennedy before the primary. After the meeting, a heartbroken Willie Brown returned to Sacramento to attend to legislative business.

Back in Sacramento, Brown addressed a "poor people's rally" on the Capitol steps in Sacramento. It was only two weeks after the assassination, and his grief showed in the rashness of his remarks. "Poor folk have got to come to Sacramento and say to the people in Sacramento in the kind of confrontations that you know best, you've literally got to scare the hell out of these people to get them to believe you," he told the crowd. He was angry at politics and angry at his self-centered legislative colleagues. Robert Kennedy was dead, and it was business as usual in the Legislature.


To Brown, it was an otherwise small event—another forgettable speech, another forgettable day. But the speech had important consequences. Although Brown's remarks caught the attention of almost no one in the Capitol, they were noticed by San Diego's starchy Republican assemblyman, Pete Wilson.

Wilson seized on Brown's words with a vengeance. Wilson issued a sharp, three-page press release rebuking his colleague. Wilson's release also went unnoticed by the press—few thought it important enough to write a story. But it was the start of a contentious relationship that carried forward into the 1990s to when Governor Pete Wilson and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown were the chief protagonists for power in California. Wilson's press release is therefore worth quoting at some length:

I think I understand something of the pressures a politician is under to say things his constituents or listeners want to hear. In this regard, special sympathy is due the elected representatives of minority groups who are under intense pressure from "militants" to say and do things which more excite than solve. . . . To those who yield, I cannot pretend that my sympathy is full appreciation of their very difficult position; and perhaps I owe them greater understanding. . . .

My personal disappointment at the conduct of a colleague is of no importance except to me. Of large and lasting importance to all Californians is the threat to our system of government inherent in Mr. Brown's injunction to "the poor." . . .

The ultimate extension of Mr. Brown's injunction to the poor is government by threat. Mr. Brown's statement does far more than "steal the good name" of the legislature. It threatens to replace public confidence in and respect for the law with public contempt for the law. . . .

Lest there be any doubt, I think I can speak for certainly the vast majority of my fellow legislators when I say that we will not be intimidated by threats, and certainly we will not be persuaded by them as a substitute for reasonable argument. . . .

To tolerate rude, disruptive, and threatening behavior is to encourage belief in Mr. Brown's bad advice, to breed contempt for the law and undermine the legislature's very reason for being.[36]

Taken at face value, Wilson's statement was motivated by a belief that democracy was threatened by the apparently demagogic statements of Willie Brown. After all, Brown had embraced the threat of violence as a club against his legislative colleagues. Taken only at face value, Brown's speech to the poor people's rally was outrageous.

But to a black legislator, Wilson's statement had a patronizing tone. If Brown was demagogic, Wilson was preachy and self-important. His was a moralistic lawyer's view of the world. At best, Wilson acknowledged that he had only a limited sympathy for the pressures black legislators were under in their districts. Nowhere did Wilson show any understanding for how little political power blacks held. Nor did Wilson show the slightest


empathy for a colleague who was obviously in grief over the murder of a friend and presidential candidate, Robert Kennedy. Not for the first time, Pete Wilson looked cold and legalistic. More broadly, the episode typified the chronic inability of Pete Wilson and Willie Brown to communicate with each other. The two always managed to talk past each other. That they could not communicate did not matter much in 1968, but it mattered a great deal more than two decades later.

There is no recorded response from Brown, nor did Brown profess to remember it when interviewed for this book.[37] At the time, Brown was busy focusing on the upcoming convention, and he considered Pete Wilson too minor a character to pay him much attention.

Traveling to Chicago in July, Willie Brown took his seat on the Convention Credentials Committee, the panel in charge of deciding who could be seated as a delegate. His seat put him at the center of a bitter battle for the soul of the Democratic Party that would have repercussions far beyond who was to be nominated for president. The Credentials Committee that year considered challenges from fifteen states, an unprecedented number.[38] At stake was whether the Democrats would become the party of racial diversity or continue to defend racial segregation. There could be no doubt which path Willie Brown wanted to take.

Blacks from the South came to Chicago challenging all-white delegations from their home states. Such challenges on racial grounds were virtually without historic precedent. The first challenge was to President Johnson's home state delegation led by Texas Governor John B. Connally. The challenge to Connally was led by maverick Senator Ralph Yarborough, an antiwar senator and a sharp thorn in Johnson's side. Yarborough and his delegation backed McCarthy and sought to eject Connally and his delegates from the convention. For Willie Brown, it was a heaven-sent opportunity.

New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes chaired the hearings and let Willie Brown lead the interrogation of the delegation from Brown's native Texas.[39] Brown exacted a measure of revenge for the segregation of his youth. As the lead inquisitor of Will Davis, the Texas Democratic state party chairman, Brown branded the delegation as nothing but "the alter ego of Governor John Connally," in essence calling Davis a shill for Connally. In response, the Texans invoked the Alamo, Davey Crockett, and Sam Houston. But the wiry black lawyer, who had grown up as "Brookie" on the sandy streets of Mineola, Texas, relentlessly pressed the Texans about reports of ballots burned to keep Latinos and blacks from voting. Brown pressed Davis on whether local Democratic delegate selection conventions had been "managed" to exclude blacks and Latinos.[40] Brown put his party's dirt on the table for the world to see.

The fact that it was Texas, the home state of the incumbent U.S. president in the national convention of his own party, counted for nothing with Willie Brown, but it counted for everything with the Credentials Committee. Al-


though Lyndon Johnson was no longer seeking the presidential nomination, he kept a heavy hand on the course of the convention. The Texas challenge was turned aside, and Connally's delegates were ordered seated. Brown was among those signing a minority report appealing the decision to the convention floor, setting the stage for an even bigger fight.

Next came the challenge to Georgia, the most contentious fight of all at the Credentials Committee.[41] The delegation was led by segregationist governor Lester G. Maddox, a crudely racist politician whose election trademark was an ax handle he had used to threaten blacks at a chain of chicken restaurants he owned. Months earlier Maddox had sat in his statehouse office under heavy armed guard as the funeral procession of Martin Luther King Jr. passed by the Georgia state Capitol. He sat in fear that such a large congregation would somehow turn on him. Maddox became one of the living symbols of the rot in the Democratic Party.

Julian Bond, a black Georgia state legislator, challenged the all-white Maddox delegation and found a ready ally in Brown. "When the Georgia delegation appeared before the Credentials Committee, he was a strong champion. He was outspoken—a real good soldier, a good man to have on your side," Bond remembered.[42] Brown again took the lead inquisitor position on the Credentials Committee, questioning the white Georgians on why they had excluded blacks. "I really had a great time doing that cross examination. We threw Lester Maddox out of the Democratic Convention and we seated Julian Bond's delegation in 1968," Brown recalled years later, his memory flawed about the result.[43] In truth, Willie Brown was no match for Lyndon Johnson in the game of inside politics. The Credentials Committee ended up recommending a solution pleasing no one: seating both Georgia delegations and splitting their votes evenly. Both sides were angry at the recommendation, and both sides appealed their case to the full convention.[44]

More challenges followed against white delegations from Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, and other states. With the party increasingly fractured over the racial composition of the delegations, the ultimate showdown would have to be at the convention itself.

Paralleling the credentials panel, the platform committee was deeply divided over the Vietnam War. That decision, too, would have to be made by the full convention.

When the convention convened August 26, 1968, in Chicago, the platform fight and credential challenges were the political story inside the convention hall. But chaos on the streets outside overwhelmed convention politics. Chicago police officers plunged into crowds of antiwar protesters, beating them bloody as television cameras beamed the grisly scenes into American living rooms. Those caught up in the melee were not just protesters but delegates, campaign workers, and journalists who found themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. The acrid smell of tear gas wafted into the convention hall as the Democratic Party broke apart.


Inside the increasingly unruly convention, the Texas challenge was the first taken up for debate and vote. All but one of the 174 Californians followed Willie Brown's lead and voted to eject Connally from the convention. The one California delegate who went his own way was Eugene Wyman, a politically well-connected Los Angeles attorney who supported Humphrey. Wyman voted against the rest of the California delegates, but he was on the winning side at the convention. The Texas challenge was quashed on a vote of 2,368¼ to 956¾ (some delegates held fractional votes), and Connally's Texas delegation was seated.[45] Next came the knotty Georgia challenge. Again, the California delegation voted 173 to 1 to follow Willie Brown's recommendation to seat Bond's delegation and eject Maddox's. But both Bond's and Maddox's efforts to toss each other from the convention failed. Both delegations were seated, following the split recommendation of the Credentials Committee. As they went down in defeat, the Californians led a chant of "Julian Bond! Julian Bond!" with a fervor that caught on among other delegations who joined in the chant.[46]

Other challenges to all-white delegations were taken up one by one and defeated. At the last minute South Dakota Senator George McGovern, a newcomer to the national stage, made a largely symbolic bid to become Kennedy's inheritor. McGovern asked the Kennedy delegates to vote for him for president, but he stood no chance of success. But helping his future prospects, McGovern supported all of the credential challenges against all-white delegations. Humphrey had opposed all but one of the challenges.[47]

As it turned out, the Kennedy delegates from California each went their own way, voting for whom they pleased, unable to wield their 174 votes—the largest of any state—as a bloc to influence the course of the disastrous convention. On the losing side in nearly every fight at the convention, the California delegates approached the vote for a presidential nominee almost as an afterthought. By then the leader of the delegation, Unruh, did not much care who his delegates voted for. Unruh could not have controlled the delegation at that point even if he had wanted to, and he did not want to. The dispirited Californians split their vote, with fourteen for Humphrey, fifty-one for McGovern, ninety-one for McCarthy, and seventeen for Channing Phillips, a black minister from the District of Columbia, the first black to have his name put forward for president at a major party convention. Phillips's nomination was designed to embarrass Humphrey, but of course it went nowhere. Willie Brown voted for Phillips, although he had scarcely heard of him before arriving in Chicago for the convention. Asked years later why he voted for Phillips, Brown replied, "Just for the hell of it."[48] Unruh, the most powerful Democrat in California, voted for Eugene McCarthy, a candidate he had previously considered a wimp. It was Unruh's ultimate slap at Humphrey.[49]

As Lyndon Johnson's vice president, Humphrey had defended Johnson's failed Vietnam policies. He could never quite free himself of the war, and


his support for it infuriated the New Left activists outside the hall and the Kennedy and McCarthy delegates inside.

The three-day convention was an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats. The televised spectacle of riots outside and political chaos inside was not one to inspire confidence in the Democratic Party's candidates for president and vice president. It came to its foregone conclusion, the nomination of Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic presidential candidate. Humphrey left Chicago politically mauled and heading a deeply fractured party.

In the postconvention gloom, the remnants of Kennedy's California organization drifted apart. The Kennedy leaders had little enthusiasm for Humphrey. Typical was Gerald Hill, president of the California Democratic Council, who argued that local candidates should flee Humphrey because identification with him would only hasten their own defeat.[50]

But notably, Phillip Burton was mentioned in The Washington Post as being among the few prominent California Democrats vigorously supporting Humphrey.[51] The concept of Richard Nixon winning the presidency was truly appalling to the liberal congressman. Burton prevailed on Unruh and San Francisco Mayor Alioto—who both aspired to be governor—to serve as cochairs of the Humphrey campaign in California. Fortunately for the campaign, the two rivals remained four hundred miles apart, Unruh in Los Angeles and Alioto in San Francisco.[52] Unruh remained disengaged for the remainder of the campaign.

Willie Brown came away from the Chicago convention on the losing side of every vote, but he had tasted the national stage and the spectacle of presidential politics. He had been center stage during the greatest upheaval of the Democratic Party in this century. The battle was not over, no matter what the outcome of the November presidential election. Brown fully intended to stay on stage.

There is no evidence that Willie Brown did much, if anything, to advance the presidential candidacy of Hubert Humphrey. What little statewide campaign activity Brown conducted was on behalf of the U.S. Senate candidacy of Democrat Alan Cranston. Brown lent his name to a fund-raising appeal on behalf of Cranston led by Dianne Feinstein but had minimal involvement in statewide campaigns.[53]

With the Legislature adjourned for the year, Brown mostly stuck to his home base in San Francisco. He appeared at black political forums in San Francisco to talk about parochial issues and at a city planning commission meeting to urge that it set aside more open spaces in the urban environment. Brown got in a tiff with Alioto when the mayor suggested that John Dearman use "the back door" if Dearman wanted to see him about the open space idea. "As a black man, I resent that statement," Brown fumed, demanding an apology for his friend and law partner. Alioto curtly refused: "I rejected the assemblyman's request because it was made in bad faith. When I made


the comment I didn't even know Mr. Dearman was black, and Mr. Brown knows full well I meant no racial implications."[54]

In short, Willie Brown went back to being Assemblyman Brown—for the moment. Among his obligations was attending to his own reelection. Brown's Republican opponent that fall, businessman James Walker, stood no chance of beating Brown and was virtually ignored by the San Francisco newspapers. Brown had a far more interesting opponent on the Left: Kathleen Cleaver, the "minister of information" for the Black Panthers and the wife of Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver.[55] Running on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, Kathleen Cleaver pressed Brown for failing to embrace a more militant black agenda. Her campaign leaflets were full of invective against Willie Brown:


Willie Brown has consistently refused to relate to the issues of police harassment, intimidation, murder and the lawless violence directed against Black People and other minorities. Willie Brown's refusal to speak out against the incarceration of the most profound political spokesmen for Black Liberation (Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver & Bobby Seale) helps demonstrate his asperations [sic] within the Democratic Party which have separated him from the needs of his community. Why hasn't Willie used his political position to stop police brutality and intimidation? ASK HIM.[56]

Brown bent as far as he could to speak the language of black militancy without embracing it. But his comments that dreary fall again raised the hackles of his white Assembly colleagues and and would haunt him for decades. The comment most repeated in later years by his critics and enemies was Brown's praise that summer for black Olympic track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos.[57] The two athletes raised clenched fists during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" during their medal award ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics. In one of those instances in which Brown was too clever for his own good, he said of the two athletes, "They will be known forever as two niggers who upset the 1968 Olympic Games. I'd rather have them known for that than as two niggers who win two medals."

But as white politicians were castigating him, Brown was trying to neutralize black militants in his district. In one of the odder events of a hugely strange year, Brown voluntarily subjected himself in October to a "trail" by the Black Panthers to decide whether he was an "Uncle Tom."[58] Teenagers at predominantly black Balboa High School in San Francisco served as the jury, and a pair of Black Panthers "prosecuted" Brown. The San Francisco Chronicle covered the "trial."

Brown subjected himself to the potential humiliation, and in his unique way was offering an olive branch to the Panthers. He reasoned that lending them a measure of legitimacy by engaging them in debate might make it harder for them to preach violence. He was also testing whether he still had


legitimacy in the black community. "It was a good test for me to make sure that I still had the right to go back to the barbershop. And that's important, and I still do that with some regularity, except that I don't go on trial anymore," said Brown.[59] Besides, the attacks of the Panthers could only help Brown in the white community and with white politicians.

Acting as his own defense attorney, Brown emotionally recalled the indignities of his youth. He told the Balboa High teenagers about growing up in Mineola shining shoes and how old white men threw him quarters in a spittoon. It was an experience far different than anything they had known in the city. "When that kind of indignity is dealt one human being by another, you don't forget it soon," he told the "jury." His Black Panther prosecutors asked if he was a "black militant" and he replied, yes, "if that means I'm for change. But not if it means shooting folks. Anytime there have been gun confrontations, the black folks have lost."[60]

Then Brown turned the tables on the Panthers, asserting with no evidence: "White folks control it [the Black Panthers]. White people make most of the decisions." Brown came close to embracing the threat of violence as an avenue of change: "Peaceful changes are possible, but we don't want to rule out revolution and violence because that's the nature of things today. And besides I don't want the white folks to ever think that things might not change that way. They ought to have it held over their heads." That was as close as Brown would ever come to crossing that line. The high school class took two minutes to deliberate and render its verdict. Willie Brown was found innocent of being an "Uncle Tom."

In November the voters of San Francisco rendered their verdict, returning Brown to Sacramento for a third term in the Assembly. But the political landscape was going to be radically different when Brown returned to the Capitol to take his seat. Republican Richard Nixon was the new president, and in California the Republicans had seized a one-vote majority in the Assembly.[61] Big Daddy Jesse Marvin Unruh was out as Speaker, and an era was over in California politics. Another era—Willie Brown's era—was around the corner.


Chapter Fourteen—

Being in politics as a black man, I find it an unrewarding, depressing experience. The only ray of sunshine comes from outsmarting the system.
Willie Brown
April 23, 1969

As the 1960s drew to a weary close, the arithmetic of the California Assembly was inherently unstable. The turmoil was cause for alarm for the old guard in the Capitol, but it also provided an opening for ambitious and opportunistic legislators such as Willie Brown and his growing circle of friends.

The Republicans emerged from the November 1968 election with a narrow 41-39 majority, which barely gave them control of the house.[1] But the control was only theoretical. The Republicans were able to elect their own Speaker, Robert Monagan, and appoint their own committee chairmen, but they were not able to do much else. Their two-vote majority gave the Republicans no margin for the uncertainties of legislative life. And their majority was short-lived: Republican Assemblyman John Veneman resigned in March to accept a position in the newly forming Nixon administration.[2] Veneman's resignation left the Republicans with a 40-39 majority, enough to maintain control of the house but not enough to pass legislation without help from at least one Democrat. A month later, Republican Alan Pattee died in office, and that gave the Assembly a 39-39 deadlock. Republicans stood to win special elections to fill the vacant seats, but that would take months. For all intents and purposes, the only Republican majority in the Assembly in a generation lasted only three months.[3] For the rest of the two-year session, the Assembly


was hamstrung in political guerrilla warfare. The issue of control would have to be decided at the next general election in November 1970.[4]

For Willie Brown, the two-year deadlock contained both opportunity and a measure of frustration. His hard-won chairmanship of the Governmental Efficiency and Economy Committee a year and a half earlier vaporized. He was again without power, standing on the sidelines. His efforts at regaining power failed at first. By midsummer 1969 Brown was describing the session as "a disaster" and a "nightmare."[5] But the next two years marked a crucial transition in his career. Willie Brown went from being principally a black politician to being a figure with a broader following and a wider potential for power. Until 1969 he had worked largely within the arena of black politics, and if the public was aware of him at all, it was as a black politician. But now Willie Brown would be at the center of those plotting to retake control of the Assembly for the Democrats. Most important, Brown did so not as the junior understudy of an older mentor but as an equal partner. The experience forced him to transcend the narrow limits of racial politics, but it was a bumpy transformation with its share of setbacks and self-inflicted wounds.

Brown never completely abandoned his mantle as a black politician: indeed, his rivalry with other black politicians for predominance in black political circles intensified. But Brown was now on a path of building his own political power base, and he could do so only by giving himself a degree of distance from his earlier political patrons, both black and white. The space he needed opened only because the Democrats were no longer in control of the Assembly: the old leaders were cleared away, providing opportunities for a new generation. At the end of his transformation, Brown was no longer chiefly known as a black politician or as a protégé of Phillip Burton, nor even as a maverick liberal. All those labels were still true to a large degree. But at the end of his transformation, Willie Brown's name carried new political weight, and most important, he had deepened and matured both personally and professionally.

As the Legislature convened in January 1969, Jesse Unruh was the minority floor leader, an unaccustomed position that held no glory for him. Unruh planned to make an early exit so that he could run for governor against Ronald Reagan. The position of minority leader had no real power anyway. The minority floor leader could make suggestions to the Speaker about committee assignments and office space, but under the rules of the Assembly, the Speaker held all of the power. When Unruh had been Speaker, his hand-picked majority floor leader had been George Zenovich. Now Zenovich was bumped down a rung to become Unruh's loyal Democratic caucus chairman.

Unruh was now genuinely fond of Willie Brown, having traveled with him through the crucible of the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, the heartbreaking assassination, and the gut-wrenching battle of the Chicago convention. Unruh asked Brown if he would serve as Democratic whip, the


third-ranking position in the minority party. Brown accepted, and he was formally elected by the Democratic caucus as whip on January 30, 1969, becoming the first black to hold a party leadership post in the California Legislature.[6] However, Brown's position was largely honorific. If the minority floor leader held little power, the whip held none at all. The position gave Brown one advantage: it put him in the room when Democrats were plotting election strategy for retaking control. Conceivably, the position could also give Brown a leg up when Unruh stepped aside and the Democrats elected a new minority leader.

Monagan began his Republican speakership on a bipartisan note (having no other choice, given his shaky hold on the house). The Central Valley legislator, who had been a real estate agent before entering politics, viewed himself chiefly as an administrator. Mild-mannered and collegial, Monagan was also a healer in the Assembly after so many years of Unruh's high-handed rule. "Whatever characterized my speakership," he reflected, "I was strongly imbued with making the system work, and making members work and seeing that things were done in an orderly and appropriate manner."[7] Although he was certainly a conservative, he did not have a strong ideological program to advance.[8]

Monagan appointed a few Democrats as committee chairmen or vice chairmen, including John Miller, a black assemblyman from Oakland who had replaced Byron Rumford. Miller was named to chair a subcommittee on welfare reorganization.[9] However, Miller's assignment did not have jurisdiction over the issues of primary concern to black leaders. That panel was the new Assembly Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, and the chairmanship went to moderate Republican Pete Wilson, who was angling to run for mayor of San Diego. Among those appointed to sit on Wilson's committee was Willie Brown.

Outside the Legislature, NAACP officials took care to single out Wilson for special attention. When Wilson attended an NAACP legislative reception in Sacramento on March 5, 1969, NAACP leaders were thrilled about his attendance: "It was encouraging to notice NAACP members communicating freely with him [Wilson] and apparently stating needs as they saw them."[10] The NAACP's lobbyist, Virna Canson, was further delighted to report to her bosses that she had lunch with Wilson on April 25. She found Wilson a willing listener, and sympathetic to her issues.[11] Giving her further encouragement, Wilson's chief aide on the committee, Ward Connerly, was black. Wilson's wooing of Canson paid off. The NAACP ended up supporting six of Wilson's bills, the most for any legislator that year, and twice as many as it was supporting for Willie Brown.[12]

By now Willie Brown and John Burton detested Pete Wilson. As far as they were concerned, Wilson had little knowledge of the issues facing urban blacks and was transparently trying to use his chairmanship to further his own ambitions. "He used to sit there with this big cigar," Burton recalled.


"Fucking Pete didn't know shit and Ward would be telling him what to do. Wilson had some kind of goddamned arrogance."[13] Nor was the NAACP doing itself any favors with Willie Brown by fawning over Wilson. In the long run, the NAACP had made a big mistake.

Brown had his own ideas about urban housing, and he was increasingly outspoken. He proposed spending $300 million to $400 million on low-cost housing outside black ghettos so that blacks could afford to escape to take better-paying jobs.[14] At a convention of urban planners in San Francisco, Brown received a standing ovation for a speech on the subject: "I realize it is difficult to believe poor folk ought to have a stake and a voice in planning for their communities," Brown said. "But I suggest to you that the poor ought to be given a voice about what they want and what they need. I'll tell you now, you'll be taking some orders from some very strange people. And in dealing with the poor you will hear words which will offend your ears and may make you uptight. But they're only trying to tell you like it is."[15]

However, the overriding issue in the Legislature in 1969 was not the plight of the urban poor but student protests on college campuses. The protests, sometimes violent, generally focused on the Vietnam War. But there were other issues as well. Students, particularly black students, demanded greater recognition in the governance of universities and in the curriculum. The student protests struck close to home when, in the fall of 1968, black students barricaded themselves at San Francisco State College, Brown's alma mater. Police then came on campus, and the confrontation escalated. Brown called for clam and a de-escalation, starting with the withdrawal of the police from campus. "Some irresponsible student is going to throw rocks through windows. [Then, some] police officer who's been straining at the leash during the course of the last eight or ten days—and somewhere something human is going to crack—and he's going to crack the kid over the head with a gun and the gun's going to accidentally go off and kill somebody."[16]

Brown also tried to explain the views of radicals to the outside world. He said that the demand of radicals for unlimited minority admissions to San Francisco State was largely symbolic. "They simply mean you should show a willingness to develop some sort of technique to deal with these students who have been disadvantaged since grade one," Brown said.[17]

Meanwhile, San Francisco State's acting president, Samuel I. Hayakawa, increasingly blamed students for the standoff, saying that a strike was a "primitive technique" and calling for legislation to crack down on student militants. Brown met Hayakawa for a debate in February 1969 in front of a convention of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.[18] "When you offer repressive legislation, you are doing a disservice," Brown told Hayakawa. "It's like saying Watts would not have occurred if there had been anti-riot legislation on the books. You and I know that isn't so."


Brown further charged that the school administration was using the disruptions of militants to ignore the "legitimate proposals of nonmilitants." But judging by the applause, S.I. Hayakawa won the debate. The college president accused the strikers of being dishonest, because just as he was ready to give them a black studies program, they invented more demands. "If the Black Students Union had only permitted, we would have a black studies program in operation this month," Hayakawa said. After the debate ended, Brown and Hayakawa continued to exchange words until San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto finally intervened.

The cause of moderation was not helped when George Mason Murray, a graduate student at San Francisco State and the Black Panthers' first "minister of education," advised black students to bring guns to campus. He was fired as a teaching assistant at San Francisco State, and his reinstatement became a demand in the five-month standoff.[19] In the months ahead, an explosion maimed one student, an attempted firebombing failed, and an address by Hayakawa was interrupted when students jumped up on stage and refused to leave.[20]

Black Panther leader David Hilliard viewed the San Francisco State "campus insurrection" as a model to be copied nationwide on other campuses.[21] The efforts of Willie Brown to bring compromise were not welcome among black student militants. Indeed, protests spread elsewhere. At the University of California, Berkeley, 369 students were cited for various breaches of campus rules in a two-year period. Protests at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UCLA together netted a total of more than two hundred arrests. Although New Left historians gave Berkeley top billing, the strongest protests by most measures were at San Francisco State. By the time they were over, 584 arrests had been made at San Francisco State and the bill to San Francisco taxpayers stood at more than $700,000 for policing.[22]

In the Legislature, the prevailing mood was to crack down on student protesters. Speaker Monagan set up a select committee to conduct hearings and report back with proposed legislation. Monagan appointed a cross-section of Assembly members to the task force, including some of the most conservative and some of the most liberal members of the Legislature. Chairing the task force was Republican Victor Veysey, the chairman of the Education Committee, and vice-chairing it was Santa Cruz Republican Frank Murphy Jr., who chaired the Assembly Committee on Criminal Procedure. Also on the panel were Republicans John Stull and Jerry Lewis; Lewis later went to Congress. On the Democratic side Monagan appointed John Vasconcellos, a liberal former aide to Pat Brown who was now representing a San Jose district; Bill Greene, an ambitious black Assembly member from Los Angeles; and Leo Ryan, a trusted Unruh lieutenant who not long after went to Congress. Rounding out the panel were Los Angeles County Republicans Carlos Moorhead and Newton Russell—and Democrat Willie Brown.


The committee interpreted its charge to mean it should come up with recommendations to achieve two objectives: "(1) Minimization of violence and disruption in our educational institutions and (2) correction of the causes of unacceptable behavior."[23] To Willie Brown, however, the committee's approach was too narrow. Brown believed that student protests—especially by black students—stemmed from the students' lack of power on campuses. Laws cracking down on students would do little to alleviate the underlying grievance and, at worst, were an excuse to keep blacks from sharing power. "There must be some black cats giving orders, some black cats making programs," he said, outlining his emerging view in a March speech at American River College in Sacramento.[24] His own first priority, he said, must be to "kill all these silly Reagan bills." Brown ventured to other campuses as well, telling a gathering of black students at University of California, Davis, that they needed to struggle for equality through the political system. Even so, he admitted, "being in politics as a black man, I find it an unrewarding, depressing experience. The only ray of sunshine comes from outsmarting the system."[25] Most of all, Brown argued, the student protests were aimed at the Vietnam War, and until it ended, the protests likely would only become worse.

Veysey was apprehensive at first about having Brown on the committee. "[Willie] tended to be a little wild. Untamed," Veysey later reflected. "He would launch into great rhetoric, a kind of black radical rhetoric." But while Brown railed against the committee's law-and-order stance in public, in private he took a different approach. "He became a very constructive member," Veysey said. "He gave us several good ideas, which we incorporated into the report. He said, 'Don't ever attribute this to me. But this is what we ought to do.'"[26]

The committee took testimony from students, faculty, law enforcement officials, college administrators, and members of the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. After hearing testimony, the committee met behind closed doors to draft its report. One of the legislative consultants who put it together was John Mockler, a friend of Brown's since the 1950s. Mockler himself was a veteran of the Auto Row demonstrations and had been a labor organizer. But now he worked for Veysey as his aide on the Education Committee. His old association with Brown turned out not to count for much. Behind closed doors, Mockler and Tom Carroll, the other consultant to the select committee, took a grilling from committee members, particularly from Brown. "In those days, you went over the report," Mockler recalled, "and they made you justify everything you wrote. It's like taking Ph.D. oral exams or something, so that really all the members understood before they signed the report."[27]

The toughly worded report concluded that "those who engage in violence have no place on campus."[28] The report asserted that campus rules and penal


laws must be strictly and swiftly enforced. It singled out faculty members for encouraging violence, and administrators for being "disdainful of public opinion." Even the majority of students who had taken no part in the disturbances were knocked for "failing to support legitimate policies and by failing to exercise peer restraint on those who create disruptions." As a slight concession to students, the report said that university governing boards needed more effective communications with students and that low-income students needed better preparation for college work. The report then recommended a series of bills cracking down on protesters and making it easier for campus administrators to keep protest leaders off their campuses. Other proposals included yanking scholarships from anyone participating in a campus disturbance and forcing colleges to adopt tougher campus rules.

When the Select Committee on Campus Disturbances finished its report in May 1969, it was signed by every member of the committee except one: Willie Brown. He refused to put his name on the document, and instead filed his own three-page minority report.[29] "The Republicans and the Democrats wanted everyone to sign the report," Mockler said. Even the liberals, Greene, Ryan, and Vasconcellos, signed, although Vasconcellos also wrote a two-page, cryptic letter outlining some of his reservations.[30] Brown's dissent, however, punched through the majority report with a clear, concise, objection to the underlying premise of the committee's work:

The document submitted by the majority is a dangerous exercise in futility. It avoids problems rather than confronting them. It reminds me of a group of well-intentioned men observing a forest fire and blaming the conflagration on the existence of trees, rather than the combination of aridity and a match.

To submit a report on campus problems which virtually ignores the setting in which our campuses exist is absurd. Our campuses are of this world and not outside of it, the conditions which agitate our world likewise shape the world of the students and faculties and they must be recognized.[31]

Brown then ticked off the causes of protest, including the continuance of "a vile, murderous war in Vietnam," the "racist nature" of society and its institutions, and the "calcification of many of our institutions." He castigated higher education as elitist, and he pointed out that student activists were already subject to disciplinary proceedings on their campuses and had fewer procedural rights than in a courtroom. Violence on campus, he declared, was born of the students' sense of powerlessness and would not end until they enjoyed a share of power. His own recommendations included strengthening elementary school education so that more nonwhites were eligible for college, pulling California's public universities out of research for the military, and giving students a measure of power over their institutions. "We must create a situation in which the students share meaningfully and directly in curriculum


decisions, faculty hiring and the making of campus rules," he concluded. "We must give them the power to define their own reality and needs and hope that this will result in the creation of conditions wherein a just society can begin to emerge."

Mockler, who drafted the committee's majority report, found himself privately in awe of Willie Brown's dissenting opinion. "It's one of the better things that was ever written at the time," Mockler recalled. "It talks about what freedom is about, what institutions are, what their responsibilities are. It talks about access. It talks about a lot. It's short but it's passionate and clear. It's one of the better things he's ever written about the nature of freedom."[32]

But Brown's dissent had little effect at the time other than to mark him as an uncompromising liberal, an image that caused some to underestimate his political skill in the years ahead. His reputation as the Legislature's left-most lawmaker was further solidified when he introduced his principal piece of legislation for the year: AB 701, which would legalize all sexual conduct between consenting adults. "My aim is to liberate all of us to engage in any conduct we want, so long as we enjoy it," he said. "The biggest pitch I'm making is to remind my colleagues that some of them do these things on a nightly basis and that I want to legalize their actions."[33] He hastened to add he was talking about their heterosexual adventures in the Capitol. He could have added, but did not, that those adventures included his own.

To conservatives Brown's bill looked as far left as a legislator could go. But for Brown it was good district politics because of the growing gay community in San Francisco. Homosexuality was still illegal in California under an 1872 statute making it a felony to commit a "crime against nature." Gays in San Francisco began earnestly organizing in 1964 with the formation of the Society for Individual Rights, and Willie Brown and John Burton were among the first mainstream politicians to seek its votes two years later.[34] The organization gave Brown and Burton support on the condition that they would move to repeal the 1872 law. Brown followed through with AB 701. Proof that wooing gays was good politics came in 1969 when the organization put its support behind Dianne Feinstein's campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors; Brown was the only elected officeholder to support Feinstein's bid for the seat in 1969.[35] Feinstein, who got her start in electoral politics working in Willie Brown's 1964 campaign, not only won a supervisorial seat but was the top vote-winner citywide, entitling her to the presidency of the board.

But back in Sacramento, Brown held no illusions about the chances of success for his consenting-adults sex bill. "I really don't expect any honest opposition," he said. "I think there will be considerable practical political opposition based on people's feelings toward homosexuals." In midsummer Brown's consenting-adults bill stalled in the Criminal Procedure Committee,


chaired by Murphy, and under the house rules it could not be taken up again until 1970. Brown swore he would introduce the bill year after year until it became law.[36]

Most of Brown's other legislation for the year failed to win passage as well. With the Republicans and Democrats tied for power in the Assembly, little of any consequence won passage. Brown hailed as the single achievement of the session a "Save-the-Bay" bill that restricted the filling in of San Francisco Bay for development.[37] Since the Gold Rush, developers had filled sections of the bay with dirt, rubble, garbage, and even rotting ships to reclaim usable land. The last large bay fill project, Foster City, was built in the mid-1960s on land reclaimed from the bay in the shadow of the San Mateo Bridge south of San Francisco. But even on that issue, Brown was less than a convinced environmentalist. Once during a meeting with Berkeley environmentalists, Brown shocked the room by telling them he did not care whether San Francisco Bay was filled as long as blacks got a fair share of the work filling it.[38] Brown's point was that environmentalists needed to understand the real needs of poor people, and not just the environmental needs of egrets and harbor seals in the bay. Brown and the environmentalists continued to have an uneasy relationship throughout his legislative career.

Brown's rhetoric on race sounded as harsh as ever. To a gathering of the Urban League, one of the oldest and most staid black organizations, Brown urged older blacks to support younger militants, "to appreciate them without condemning them." He said older blacks should stand aside if they could not. "If you are not prepared to throw a brick, get out of the way."[39]

Brown's talk of throwing a brick was for show. "Willie's always been perceived as more of an ideological radical than he ever was," observed Phillip Isenberg, his legislative assistant at the time. "His intensity was always more of style than content. Willie was in some sense a latter-day classic FDR Democrat. The new-style politics was mostly style for him."[40] Brown's view of race relations was, in fact, maturing at the time. He began broadening his view of racial conflict beyond the conflict of black and white. Brown recognized that the interests of blacks, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans were similar but not the same. Most immediately, he was concerned that blacks were advancing their own candidate, Wilson Riles, for state superintendent of schools in the forthcoming 1970 election, while Chicanos were pushing their own candidate. If the two groups continued on that course, the reactionary ultraright incumbent, Max Rafferty, almost certainly would be reelected. But there was a deeper level to Brown's political analysis: a recognition that black political progress was the result of blacks embracing traditional American values. In 1970 he expounded seriously on his views in a collection of essays on race relations:

I suspect that the most distinguishing characteristic in the Black's struggle is that he [sic] has succeeded along the lines of traditional mainstream American


goals. This is very possibly the result of not having a continuing culture to fall back upon. Secondly, statistics in terms of organizational structures such as CORE, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Negro Labor movement and other organizations attest to what appears to be a national cohesiveness which does not exist to the same degree among Indians and Mexican-Americans.[41]

Brown then advanced his prescription for a common political platform:

If Blacks, Indians and Mexican-Americans are to survive in this country and acquire some degree of parity politically, economically and socially, then they must find a common basis for dealing with the maker and the perpetuator of their common problems. Indians and Mexican-Americans have legal claims to land and treaty right in this country. Blacks by virtue of their many years of involuntary servitude have a right to compensation for their labor. These respective claims are not inconsistent with each other and therefore represent a possible point of coalition.

As the 1970 election year began to unfold, Democrats plotted to recapture control of the Assembly. The most important race in 1970 was Ronald Reagan's reelection as governor, and the jostling for that position reached down into the closed world of the state Assembly. Brown wore his ambition on his sleeve, speculating openly one year early that he might be elected majority leader—second only to the Speaker—if Democrats regained control.[42]

The Assembly met in January to elect officers, and it looked like a foregone conclusion that Monagan would be reelected as Speaker for the remainder of the year. The Sacramento Bee , then an afternoon newspaper, even published a story before the vote was taken saying that Monagan had been reelected. However, the partisan game was about to commence. When the roll call was taken, Monagan had only forty votes—one short. One Republican, John "Bud" Collier, who was Willie Brown's seatmate, was absent. The vote was held open, and finally, at around 5:00 P.M., Collier walked in and voted for Monagan. Unruh had arranged the day-long delay, getting his good friend, Collier, to drive to Sacramento from his Pasadena district instead of flying. It was a reminder to Monagan and his associates that Democrats could not be taken for granted.[43]

Meanwhile, Republicans attempted to solidify their narrow hold on the Assembly by purging key Democrats from key committee assignments. Assemblyman Ed Z'berg, a leading environmentalist, was dumped from the Natural Resources Committee, and Assemblyman Alan Sieroty was dumped from the Criminal Procedure Committee. Most critically, Robert Crown,


the Democrats' leading expert on reapportionment, was dumped from the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee just as the once-a-decade redistricting was getting under way. The move by Republicans made the Democrats angry and itching to get even.[44]

The Republicans' committee purge only forced the hand of partisan Democrats who believed it was time to play rough with the Republicans. Among the toughest-talking was Robert Moretti, who held a seat from North Hollywood and was an understudy of Unruh. In a private letter headed "Good morning, Jess," Moretti laid out the feelings of many Democratic Assembly members in early 1970: "I am writing this letter rather than speaking to you in person because . . . it is possible that you might misinterpret some of my remarks and we could get into what I consider a totally unnecessary exchange of emotions."[45] Moretti said that Unruh needed to consult more widely with other Democrats. "I feel deeply that there has not been enough discussion regarding what has happened or is about to happen regarding our relationship with the Republicans." Finally, Moretti got to his real point—it was time for Unruh to move aside: "I think you have got the opportunity this year to really move ahead and take a giant step towards your making a big statewide move." Moretti signed the letter, "Love."

Moretti gave voice to the restiveness of other Democrats. John FitzRandolph, the chief aide to the Democratic caucus, heard much grumbling. "The Democratic caucus was essentially thirty-nine disgruntled people. They didn't like being in the minority, but they didn't have a leader. They had little cliques of power," he noted.[46]

Finally, in February, Jesse Unruh signaled that he would step down as Democratic Assembly leader so that he could devote himself full-time to running against Ronald Reagan. Willie Brown immediately entered the race for Unruh's Assembly leadership post.[47] The importance of becoming Democratic leader, technically the minority leader, was manifest. The Democrats stood a reasonably good chance of regaining the majority in 1970, since the party in power in the White House traditionally lost seats in Congress and state legislatures during midterm election years. Whoever was elected minority leader in the California Legislature in the spring of 1970 therefore had a leg up in becoming Speaker if the Democrats retook control of the Assembly in November.

With so much at stake, Brown could not expect to win the post easily. He was not even the front-runner. The others entering the fray were Assemblymen Joe A. Gonzalves, of Los Angeles County, and Robert Crown, of Alameda. Gonzalves was more in line with the back-slapping good old boys of the Assembly. He had been elected two years before Willie Brown, and he was vice chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, the clubby committee that ran the house. Crown, a dedicated liberal, had once been Unruh's closest political friend, presiding over the 1961 redistricting and meting out favors to incumbents in return for their support for Unruh as Speaker. Unruh


could well have delivered the top spot to Crown—many believed he should have—but the two had a personal falling out, and Crown was left scrambling for votes on his own. "Crown always felt betrayed by Unruh after all he had done," his top aide, Bill Lockyer, recalled.[48]

As full-scale political warfare broke out in the Assembly, Willie Brown was out of the country on a legislative junket to London, accompanied by state senator Mervyn Dymally. The two black legislators—sporadic rivals—visited Parliament and took part in a panel discussion at the U.S. Embassy. Whether Brown's absence made a difference is hard to judge, but he was handicapped in the race to succeed Unruh.[49] The thirty-nine Democrats met behind closed doors on April 1 to elect a new leader. Twenty votes were needed to win. The balloting went into the night, and after six ballots, Gonzalves had fourteen votes, Brown thirteen, and Crown seven. Brown was doing better than expected; the core of his support came from his friends in the Mice Milk lunch club, including Moretti. But finding seven more votes was increasingly problematic as the battle wore on. Those working against him included Leo McCarthy, rival to the Burton camp in San Francisco politics. McCarthy backed Gonzalves. Finally, black leaders outside the Legislature tried to pressure liberals into voting for Brown, accusing them of racism if they did not. The move backfired badly. The Democrats reconvened the next day, and it looked as if Crown would throw his support to Gonzalves.[50] Willie Brown recalled the frustration: "They came back to Sacramento on Monday committed to vote for any other black for minority leader other than Willie Brown."[51]

"We had a problem," John Burton remembered. "It became a race issue."[52] Burton began picking up rumblings that the real problem with Brown was that he was black, and moderate Democrats believed having a black as leader would be a liability going into the 1970 election. Burton began confronting his white colleagues. They told him that was not so, that "they would vote for a black but they wouldn't vote for Willie." With certain defeat for his friend looming, Burton hatched a plan. "I went to Willie and said, 'Why don't we put them to the test?' He goes, 'What?' I says, 'Why don't we run John Miller,' who at that time had been Willie's guy."

John Miller, a cerebral black Democrat from Oakland, had succeeded Byron Rumford in the Assembly. He was soft-spoken, possessed a dry sense of humor, and was methodical in his approach to legislating.[53] John Miller was as inoffensive as Willie Brown was outlandish. Two years older than Willie Brown, Miller had gone to Howard University, in Washington, D.C., the leading black law school in the nation, and had then done graduate work at Boalt Hall, the prestigious law school at the University of California, Berkeley. Miller enjoyed playing chess, and he had served on the Berkeley Board of Education and was a public library trustee.[54] Willie Brown had helped Miller win an Assembly seat in 1966 and considered him an ally. Burton told Brown they should now run Miller for minority leader. Burton


told Willie Brown, "He's our guy, he's your friend, he ain't ever going to be—you know [ambitious]. We'll run him and see what these assholes do. We'll fuck 'em good."[55]

Burton surmised that the only reason any of his colleagues would vote against Miller was that he was black. "They were fucked. They had to go for Miller 'cause Miller was not, quote, abrasive." Miller was approached about running, and readily agreed. He was required, however, to make one crucial agreement with Brown and Burton. "He had to make Moretti the chairman of the campaign committee," said Brown.[56]

Boxed into a corner, Democrats elected the improbable Miller their leader; he won with a bare majority of the caucus—twenty votes to seventeen votes for Gonzalves.[57] Miller became the first black to lead a party caucus in the California Legislature. But in the cleverness of their move, Burton and Brown sowed the seeds of a future humiliating defeat for themselves. Miller, as it turned out, was minority leader in name only. Gonzalves immediately undercut him at a press conference. Worse, he was being used by his own friends. Brown considered having Miller as Democratic leader a "holding action" until the Democrats took control again, but Miller considered it a position of power and prestige.[58] But the real power in the caucus was with Bob Moretti, the tough-talking, street-brawling former Unruh protégé who had helped ease Unruh out of the leadership.

In purging Democrats from committee chairs, Monagan made a critical error in overlooking Moretti. "You could look back and say that was a mistake. But he was one who would help me get the Legislature to do its job," Monagan explained years later.[59] The intensely partisan Moretti was chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, the innocuously named committee that oversaw liquor and horse racing legislation. The committee, then as now, was a "juice committee," and lobbyists showered its chairman with campaign contributions. "Bob Moretti was chairman of G.O., the horse racing committee, so we had access to great campaign resources and campaign funding," Brown explained.[60]

Moretti played a sly game. He made an agreement with Monagan that he would not try to topple him before the next election and would help him in the smooth running of the house. Monagan and Moretti agreed to disagree on issues.[61] However, the understanding between the two preserved Moretti's chairmanship and gave him a power base with which to beat Monagan's Republican incumbents. Using his chairmanship for leverage with campaign contributors, Moretti ran the Democratic Assembly election machinery in 1970, and he ran it flat-out. Moretti did not waste resources on marginal candidates, but put money into races where Democrats stood a reasonable chance of victory.[62] And Moretti also drove himself hard. "I devote all my time to this crazy game we are playing," he told Unruh in a private letter. "I think I like least of all, however, being a spectator."[63]


John FitzRandolph, chief aide to the Democratic caucus, could see that Moretti was now the heir apparent, but at first he could not understand why. "Moretti had no legislative agenda. I heard people liked him, but as an outsider, I couldn't see any particular reason why he should be Speaker. I did learn, as I got closer, why. He was a fund-raiser."[64]

On the surface, Willie Brown attended to legislative business, such as there was. He again tried to win passage of his consenting-adults sex bill. He also renewed his push to set up a government-run auto insurance pool for those who could not otherwise get insurance.[65] Both efforts failed. Seemingly shut out of the legislative leadership, Brown said in July that he might run for mayor of San Francisco, the first time—but not the last—that he was to flirt with running for another office outside the Legislature. He used the opportunity to take a shot at Alioto. "I have been the heavy when they needed someone to speak out against the mayor's racist stands," Brown declared.[66]

But another issue was taking an increasing bite out of Brown's time: the conditions of blacks in California's prisons. He and Dymally jointly issued a report in August 1970 harshly critical of Soledad State Prison, near Salinas, where four inmates and two guards had been killed in that year alone. The report accused guards of urinating in the coffee served to inmates and locking some of them in six-foot-by-ten-foot cells without telling them the reasons. Brown also attended a fund-raiser for the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee to raise money to defend Black Panther leaders, including the charismatic George Jackson, who was incarcerated in Soledad and was later shot to death by guards.[67] Prison officials cried foul against Brown.

By fall the Assembly Democratic election machine had moved into high gear. Brown's reelection was easy, and he was able to devote himself to helping Moretti win seats for Democrats elsewhere in the state. "We put together a blitzing operation," Brown recalled.[68] Moretti's most effective tool was in rounding up campaign contributions for Assembly candidates. Those who won with his financial help, of course, owed him loyalty when they took their Assembly seats. Moretti once said that he "carried a mental book on every member of the house and treated each one according to his own needs." After he had left the Assembly as Speaker, his secretary told him he had had an appointment on the average every seven minutes.[69]

Unruh had also doled out campaign money to Democratic incumbents. That was not new. But Moretti raised the practice to a science. Incumbents with weak or no opposition got nothing. Candidates who got money were told exactly how to spend it. Everything went through Moretti, and that meant it had to get through veteran chief consultant John FitzRandolph, who ran a hard-nosed operation for the Democrats. "When Jesse [Unruh] was running those district elections, he was sending checks and was winning or losing," FitzRandolph explained. "What I was telling the caucus was, 'You can't send money to these people, because they don't know what they're


doing. You've got to centralize your election efforts in the caucus. Don't send money. Send something else. Don't let them spend it on balloons and billboards. You have the strategy and you control the strategy of the election. You don't do it for everybody. You do it for those that have a chance to win.'"[70] FitzRandolph virtually ignored Miller. "He [Miller] decided to let things go as they were and not interfere," said FitzRandolph. "[Miller] was absolutely a titular head, and he didn't want to deal with it."[71]

In November 1970 the Democrats regained control of the Assembly with a slim but workable 43-37 majority.[72] Monagan's two-year Republican speakership was over, and the Democrats stood poised to elect one of their own as Speaker. FitzRandolph maintained that the Republicans were outfoxed by their own overconfidence: "I think if they had really smelled it, they would have been tougher about it. They didn't smell it."[73] Unruh was now gone from the Assembly, having lost his bid for governor against Ronald Reagan. The way was clear for a new Democratic Speaker. Meanwhile, Brown waltzed to an easy victory in his Assembly district with 32,446 votes, more than twice as many as his Republican challenger.[74]

However, all was not completely well for Brown in San Francisco politics. His law partner, John Dearman, was dumped in December from his plush appointment to the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors. The ouster was engineered by none other than Brown's old law partner, Terry Francois, who was now a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The move was clearly aimed not at Dearman but at Brown, for his slights toward Francois. A furious Brown called it a "tremendous political error" by members of the Board of Supervisors.[75] He knew what they did not: Brown was on the verge of holding tremendous political power in Sacramento, and angering him with such a petty move was not smart politics. Privately, Brown was most furious with his friend Dianne Feinstein, who was now president of the board and had wittingly or unwittingly allowed Francois to make his move against Dearman. "Willie got angry, went over to the board; he confronted Dianne and told her off," Dearman remembered.[76]

The setbacks in San Francisco aside, Brown and his allies were in a triumphant mood as the new Assembly convened in Sacramento during the first week of January 1971. Brown and his Mice Milk friends came back to town to elect Moretti as Speaker. The only hitch was that John Miller, who had served as minority leader the year before, believed that he was entitled to election as Speaker. "Miller by now had concluded that he was really talented, that he ought to be the Speaker," Brown said.

Miller genuinely believed that he deserved Willie Brown's allegiance. After all, Brown and Miller were supposedly allies; Brown had helped him become minority leader. Most of all, Miller could have been elected the first black Speaker in California, a historic achievement that, in Miller's eyes, should have commanded Willie Brown's loyalty. But Brown did not see it that way. "We, of course, suggested to him that he should not be the Speaker, that


Moretti had earned the right to be the Speaker because it had been Moretti who led the troops," Brown remembered.[77] Who should be Speaker was not about race, Brown believed, but about who could wield and strengthen the Democratic majority. Presented with a fait accompli, Miller quietly withdrew his name from consideration two weeks after the November election.[78] "Dear old John Miller was consigned to the scrap heap, in Miller's eyes, and he sulked in the corner for three years," Brown said.[79] John Miller would get his revenge on Willie Brown, but for now the victory was sweet for Bob Moretti and Willie Brown.

Assemblyman John Knox, an affable and popular legislator in the old-boy network, also stood for Speaker, but he was no match for Moretti. The Detroit-born, tough-talking Moretti was elected by his peers on January 4, 1971, and he instantly repaid the loyalty shown by his friends and rewarded them richly.[80] He appointed John Burton as chairman of the Rules Committee, the powerful panel that determined the fate of legislation by deciding which committee got which bill. The Rules Committee also assigned office space in the Capitol and presided over the hiring and payroll for legislative assistants. The position made John Burton, the perennial outsider, very powerful indeed.

Willie Brown got the richest plum of all: the chairmanship of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Every bill that proposed spending money, which meant every bill of any importance, had to pass muster in the Ways and Means Committee even after it had won passage in a policy committee. The committee, therefore, had enormous power over the public's business. On top of that, the Ways and Means Committee had jurisdiction over the state budget, the spending blueprint for state government. The assignment made Willie Brown the most powerful member of the California State Assembly next to only the Assembly Speaker himself.


Chapter Fifteen—
Mr. Chairman

From Willie's point of view, there wasn't any reason for him to negotiate about anything because he was in the catbird seat. He had the Speaker with him.
Leo McCarthy
Assemblyman, 1968–1982

State Senator Randolf Collier was known as the "Silver Fox of the Siskyous," and he was the absolute master of pork-barrel politics in the California Legislature. He represented the sparsely populated North Coast, and over the decades he brought to the First Senatorial District hospitals, highways, and anything else he could nail down in the state budget.

He was born to politics. Collier's father had been attorney general of Alabama, and his grandfather had been governor and chief justice.[1] Both his grandfather and his father had owned slaves. Collier was first elected to the California Senate in 1939, and by the 1970s he stood first in seniority, in an institution where seniority still counted for something.[2] Collier had been legislating longer than any state assemblyman; he was already in the Senate when Willie Brown was five years old. The silver-maned senator was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the counterpart to the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly. Collier knew every nook and cranny in the state budget, and he knew how to translate that knowledge into raw political power. "He really was king of the hill around here," one of his fellow state senators, Alfred Alquist, remembered.[3]

Collier was one of the legendary old lions of the Capitol. Beginning with his first major highway bill in 1947, he had guided California's freeway-


building program through the Legislature. If California was forever after known as the land of freeways, Collier was the hidden shepherd who created that image, and he was dubbed in Sacramento the "father of the California freeway."[4] Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who took most of the credit, owed Collier plenty during the freeway-building boom of the early 1960s, and he knew it. "Randy was a great promoter of the freeways. I went along with him," the former governor remembered. "He was the father of the freeway system and he was going to have all the babies he could have."[5] As for anyone who opposed freeway building, Collier "thought they were crazy."

Collier started in politics as a Republican during an era of Republican governors. When Pat Brown was elected governor in 1958 as a Democrat, Collier switched parties and became a Democrat. Collier knew every lobbyist in Sacramento, and he knew them better than the neophyte governor. "The lobbyists, in some cases, were more powerful than the governor," Pat Brown noted. Collier was close to the horse racing industry, and he sat on the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, which presided over gambling and liquor legislation. In fact, all of Collier's assignments were "juice committees." He also sat on the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee, which had jurisdiction over banks, savings and loans, and insurance companies. On the side, he owned title companies, and it was said that no piece of real estate could change hands on the North Coast without Randy Collier making a buck. Collier was an insider's insider; he was the founder of the Derby Club, the longest-running legislative coterie for schmoozing and drinking. He was, as Alquist said, the king.

During business hours, Collier ran his committee with a heavy fist. Collier refused to recognize motions he did not like, he passed or killed bills on voice votes, and if the mood struck him, he refused requests for roll-call votes. He started committee hearings promptly at 9 A.M., and as soon as a quorum of seven out of thirteen senators was in the room, he started taking votes on bills in whatever order he deemed appropriate. The tactic allowed him to kill bills with just one vote—his own—since seven votes were needed for passage and there were not enough senators in the room to muster a majority against him. "I do a lot of political things by instinct, and when you're around politics a long time, you do things that way," he once remarked.[6] Collier detested environmentalists, and he straddled the fence on issues of importance to blacks like open housing.[7] He was anathema to liberals. "He was a bilious old drunk, and a mean-spirited son of a bitch," said one. "Everybody thought that Randy, who was the quintessential redneck asshole, would have Willie Brown for breakfast."[8]

At first Brown's staff fretted about how their new chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee would get along with Senator Collier. But an astonishing relationship developed between Willie Brown and Randy Collier. Soon after he was appointed chairman of the Assembly's fiscal committee, Brown went to pay his respects to the old Senate warhorse in


his Capitol office, and he brought along his top assistant, Phillip Isenberg.[9] They were soon ushered into Collier's expansive suite and shown to the fully equipped wet bar. The senator served his guests drinks in crystal tumblers, and then settled into his leather chair. "Randy was trying to figure out what to say to Willie," Isenberg remembered. "It was clear they did not have a personal relationship."

Trying to cut the tension, Brown pointed to a framed picture on Collier's desk. "Is this your wife?" he politely inquired.

"Yeah, good-looking woman, don't you think?" Collier replied.

"Very handsome," Brown diplomatically agreed.

Then Collier remarked, "You know, she's part Chinese"—suggesting that he was not the bigot Willie Brown imagined him to be.

The comment took the usually quick-witted Brown completely off guard. He paused for a few moments before replying, "She looks kind of Chinese."

Isenberg held his glass to his mouth to hide his smile and keep from laughing.

From their awkward start, Brown and Collier worked out a mutually beneficial relationship. Each helped the other to get what he wanted, and each protected the interests of the other. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Brown was the leading Assembly Democrat in the annual shaping of the state budget. It was work that Speaker Bob Moretti did not particularly like, preferring to spend his time on higher-profile issues. Although drafting a state budget was dull work, it was the basic document setting government policy in California, and it held enormous potential for political power for those who understood how to use it.

"I told him that I represented Bob Moretti in our house," Brown remembered. "We didn't want get into any trouble, but I had a laundry list of people that I needed to take care of, and I'm prepared to take his laundry list of people that he needed to take care of. He said 'Young man, I like the way you do business. These are my items. The rest of the budget is yours. You just tell us what we need to do.'"[10]

The old senator was once asked to explain his relationship with Brown. "It's a strange thing," he replied, "because our backgrounds are so different. My grandfather owned 125 Negro slaves and my father a half dozen. One day I asked Willie whether he knew any Negroes named Collier and he said 'yes.' They probably came from the old Collier plantation."[11]

Each year, the Senate and the Assembly each approved its own version of the budget. Then three representatives from the Assembly and three from the Senate met in secret as a "conference committee" to iron out the differences and come up with a single budget bill—the real budget bill. Deals were cut, pet projects lived or died, debts were paid or owed. The grittiest, most basic politics was practiced in the conference. And young, brash, black Willie Brown joined the club. "These are heavy-duty old-time legislators. I don't think there'd ever been an African American in the conference committee ex-


cept to serve coffee. They were surprised, very surprised," Isenberg remarked. "Willie for many of them was a scary type: black politician, must be like Adam Clayton Powell, can't be any different. They'd never faced an African American politician who's not deferential before."[12]

The budget conference committee usually met in a Senate lounge, out of the public eye and, even more importantly, away from other legislators. Not even staff members were allowed inside except to run errands and answer technical budget questions. As the meetings got under way, senators stretched out on leather sofas. Brown, however, sat upright in a chair, remaining fully alert. The six lawmakers on the conference committee worked their way through the budget, page by page, penciling in a building here, scratching out a park there. Political careers were made and broken. It was a task where mastery of the details resulted in power over the results. Willie Brown was in his element. Brown protected his constituents—welfare mothers, blacks, the elderly—and Collier got his hospitals and highways. Collier and Brown grew to enjoy each other. "Willie managed to get along reasonably well with the old rednecks," Isenberg observed. "He had far greater difficulty getting along with liberals, like George Miller from Contra Costa County."

From the start Willie Brown tried to strike a responsible public pose as the new chairman of Ways and Means. On his first day on the job, he issued a statement that outlined a liberal, but safe, budgetary program: "I expect to present the governor with a balanced budget which will provide adequate funding for our education system, our endangered environment, and with sufficient money for our unemployed and aged or ill residents."[13] It was the last bland statement he made for the next twenty years.

Brown beefed up the committee staff, assembling a bright group of aides led by Isenberg, who later went on to a solid political career as mayor of Sacramento and then as an assemblyman. When Georgia state legislator Julian Bond came to visit Brown, he was amazed: "He had a staff at Ways and Means bigger than the governor of Georgia."[14] The staff, in fact, was one of Brown's greatest political assets, and he knew how to make the most of it. Elisabeth Kersten, who later headed the Senate Office of Research, worked on general government issues. Robert Connelly, a gruff but sharp analytical assistant, analyzed parks, resources, and environmental issues. Connelly stayed with Brown as the chief administrative officer of the Assembly until the end of Brown's speakership in 1995. Another long-time loyalist, John Mockler, joined the committee staff to handle education issues, and he remained Brown's closest adviser on schools long after he had left state service and had become the most important education lobbyist in the state. Possibly the most brilliant and creative member of the Ways and Means staff was Steve Thompson, whose command of policy ranging from the state budget to health and welfare could stop the nimblest of lobbyists in their tracks.

Virtually all his original Ways and Means staff members became life-long advisers. Brown expected candor from them, and he returned it to them in


kind. "When a political decision was made, he didn't try to finesse it with some kind of a program jargon. He just said, 'That's politics,'" Thompson observed.[15] Brown gave his staff members their heads. At first, the staff was wary of the latitude. "One of the first questions we asked is how do we have access to you, how do we get to you?" Connelly remembered.[16] "He said, 'You don't. I hired you all because I think you can do the job. Do the job. If you get off track, I'll tell you.'"

Brown had a bigger vision of what the staff could do than his predecessors.[17] Barely a decade earlier, the fiscal committees had relied almost entirely on the governor's staff for fiscal information, and not surprisingly the committees were captive to the governor. The legislative analyst's office was then established to give legislators an independent source of data, and it proved valuable. It was also a training ground for talented legislative staffers; Connelly himself had came out of the legislative analyst's office. But for the most part, Willie Brown found the analyst's office too plodding and cautious, and he wanted his own unfiltered source of fiscal information.

Brown's staff poured over budget documents and interviewed department directors and lower-ranking bureaucrats. They traveled to state hospitals, prisons, and parks and brought back first-hand details about what was really going on in state government. On one such field trip Connelly fought a brush fire near Oroville alongside a Division of Forestry director. In August 1971 Brown himself inspected San Quentin prison after six inmates had been shot to death by guards, and Brown was fined $50 for contempt of court for missing a court appearance for one of his private law clients.[18] Such first-hand experiences were almost unheard of for legislators and their staffs.

Brown's committee staff launched investigations, most notably into the scandalous spending of state tidelands oil revenues for the refurbishment of the Queen Mary steamship into a tourist attraction in Long Beach Harbor. The issue was complicated, tied up in uncodified law dating from 1911 over the distribution of oil royalties to municipalities. The city of Long Beach purchased the old luxury liner in 1967 for $3.5 million using its share of state oil revenues from drilling in the harbor.[19] Original estimates were that it would cost $8.7 million in state funds to refurbish the Queen Mary , but Brown's committee investigation found that costs to the state had ballooned to $63 million. The committee also highlighted Long Beach's flimsy interpretation of the 1911 law. The city preposterously argued that it could use public oil revenues to develop the tourist attraction because it was building a "maritime museum." The investigation proved embarrassing to some of Brown's legislative colleagues because a number of them, including former Speaker Unruh, had traveled aboard the ship in posh staterooms when it was brought around Cape Horn to Long Beach.

The Queen Mary investigation won Brown laudatory news stories, but in the end little came of it. The city of Long Beach agreed to reimburse the state trust fund $7.5 million—a fraction of what it had taken—but the Queen


Mary project went forward. No one was charged with a crime, and the state Tidelands Oil Trust Fund has never been reformed. "We had a lot of fun with it, but we really didn't bring anybody to justice, and we didn't reform the tideland oil distribution," said Connelly, who conducted the investigation.[20]

Still, no one in the Legislature at the time had ever seen a committee chairman, or his staff, make such waves since Phillip Burton in the 1950s. The Capitol was accustomed to lazy legislators who spent most of their time drinking and carousing. But Brown was explosively energetic and constantly on the move. He was a quick study, calling aides into his office in the morning, telling them the topic of the day, and then ordering them, "Go." By afternoon he got a briefing. Staff work was a key to Brown's power, giving him reach into as many issues as his staff could master and placing him in the middle manipulating everything he could. Connelly remembered briefing his boss in a car on the way to the airport. The subject was an obscure dispute with the Greek government, and Brown was to be interviewed about it for a television program. Brown listened, never taking notes, and then caught his airplane. When Connelly later saw the tape of the program, he was amazed. "Goddamned if he didn't sound like the State Department."[21]

On another occasion Connelly briefed Brown on water issues, some of the most esoteric and technical of all issues in California. To his chagrin, Connelly discovered that Brown knew nothing about water. "Tell me about water in California," Brown said.

"I thought he was kidding me," Connelly recalled.

But Brown was not kidding; he knew nothing about water. So Connelly and Brown sat down to dinner at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, and Connelly began outlining the issue. "It's a long, grubby story, and very complex," Connelly began. Soon, Connelly was drawing a map of California on the tablecloth. "I drew the water plans and gave him a picture of where the major dams were, and the transmission facilities, and what the issues were about—unused surpluses in the Metropolitan Water District, contractual interest in the State Water Project, et cetera." When Connelly was done, Brown finished dinner and went home. The next day, accompanied by Connelly, Brown flew to Los Angeles to meet with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times . "He went in there and sounded like the guy who wrote the Water Code."

Brown's management style was loose. Those who could cut it, Brown trusted and loaded with work. Those who could not, he hectored and bullied and made their life miserable until they left. "He's really not a manager. He tends to hire staff and give them their head, and that's either good or bad," said Thompson. "If you have people who are not self-starters, and need structure, they not only don't thrive, they don't perform well. That's been the pattern that he's had over the years, and that's why you'll see some really good talent in the Willie staff operation, or you'll see some folks that you wonder why they're there."[22]


Brown's staff armed him to the teeth for budget meetings with other legislators, preparing a list of every proposed Department of Motor Vehicles office, every proposed Division of Forestry fire prevention substation, every proposed park acquisition, and every proposed community college building in California. The lists were cross-referenced to every Assembly member and senator in the state. "He wouldn't take them in there with him. He would read them and he would remember them," said Connelly. "And he knew that there was a fucking capital outlay project in a park in Costa Mesa, and he knew whose district that was, too. He could point to that member and tie that member to the issue. He knew where his votes were because he knew how to pluck the string to get these guys to go along with him."[23]

Brown's chairmanship of Ways and Means was a tour de force. By all accounts, from friend and foe alike, Brown was a brilliant chairman, perhaps too brilliant for his own good. He lorded his brainpower over his colleagues, and they soon resented him. "I think from Willie's point of view, there wasn't any reason for him to negotiate about anything because he was in the catbird seat. He had the Speaker with him," said rival San Francisco Democrat Leo McCarthy. "Once Willie became chairman of Ways and Means, he became a power himself. While Phil [Burton] was still acknowledged as the head of the group, Willie's strength grew geometrically over the next several years. He ran a very, very strong Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and wielded considerable power because he was unafraid to be a very strong chair."[24]

The Ways and Means Committee easily had the most crushing weight of bills each session, but Brown became their master. Every week the committee considered 175 to 200 bills, and each committee staff member was responsible for writing an analysis of 25 to 30 bills before the next committee hearing. The analyses had to be finished and put in a shoe box by Tuesday afternoon. Brown took the bulging shoe box home Tuesday night and read the contents.

On Wednesday morning Brown gaveled the Ways and Means Committee to order at 8 A.M. When colleagues stepped forward to explain their bills, Brown often cut them off and succinctly summarized the arguments for and against their bills, sometimes before the authors even got to the microphone. Brown usually knew their legislation better than they did. "He frankly was in command of the detail. It knocked people over," Isenberg recalled.[25] But Brown also chastised colleagues in public, once calling a Los Angeles legislator an "idiot." He called another fellow assemblyman a "500-pound bowl of Jell-O."[26] If anything, Brown took after Collier in his high-handed management of the Assembly's fiscal committee, and that disturbed his Assembly colleagues. He embarrassed them. "It pissed them off," Connelly said. "Willie, sometimes he gets a little carried away. When he's being funny sometimes he goes too far, and he often would go too far with members with their bills."[27]

The staff reports on each bill contained an extra page for Brown's eyes only. The "cheat sheet," as it came to be called, explained whatever dirt and scuttlebutt the staff could find out on the bill—who stood to benefit, who


might be paying off whom, what the political implications for the legislation might be, why it was probably a stupid bill. The more sarcastic the cheat sheet, the more Willie Brown loved it. He was prone, however, to repeating in public hearings the wisecracks that a staffer had written on the private cheat sheet. On a park acquisition bill, for example, he repeated a Connelly line that the particular piece of land in question was so barren that "a crow flying over would have to carry its own provisions" (Connelly had stolen the line from a Civil War general). Brown found it hilarious, but the line rubbed his colleagues the wrong way. "He was perceived to have a staff that was out of control, that was playing games that were not restrained by any grown-up adults, if there are any grown-up adults in here," said Connelly.

In a vain attempt to prevent outbursts of Willie Brown's sarcasm in public, Steve Thompson purchased a strip of Thanksgiving turkey stickers at a stationery store. "Rather than make comments, we just pasted a turkey sticker on the analysis, which of course he also advertised. Willie was never one to keep a secret," Thompson said.[28]

Brown was no easier on his natural allies in the civil rights movement. "You needed to have your stuff together when you went to talk to Willie," said Virna Canson, the western regional lobbyist for the NAACP. "You couldn't go to him and ask him to think through what you should have thought through before you came to him." Brown told her, "I'm the politician, you're the lobbyist, you do your job. Now what is the information, Virna? What do you want?"[29]

Curiously, Brown began to win the respect—even secret admiration—of Republicans. They enjoyed watching him shoot down lard-ladened bills, all the more so since most such bills were carried by Democrats. Brown's growing stature among Republican Assembly members was to have unexpected political benefits for him in the next few years.

Brown gave his staff enormous leeway in dealing with constituents, lobbyists, other state legislators, and even members of Congress. Thompson once wrote U.S. Representative John E. Moss: "If at any time you or other members of the Congress wish to explore ways of making the budget process more meaningful in terms of Congressional power, I and my colleagues in the State Legislature would be more than happy to share our thoughts with you."[30]

Thompson was widely considered the most brilliant, but also the most outrageous, member of Willie Brown's staff. He once wrote a constituent from upscale Tiburon that officials in the Fair Employment Practices Commission were "continuing to play chickenshit with the employees."[31] Thompson wrote snappy memos to Brown about everything. In one, Thompson told Brown that the governor's administration was requiring pregnant women to prove they were pregnant before they were allowed to deliver a baby and claim Medi-Cal benefits. "If the governor would consult with medical experts (or even read Dr. Spock), he would find that pregnancy is an extremely hard condition to fake," Thompson wrote Brown.[32]


Brown asked his staff for unvarnished advice, and he got it. When Governor Reagan appointed crony William P. Clark to the state Supreme Court, liberals complained that he had an undistinguished record. Nonsense, Thompson told Brown: "You don't like Clark because he's going to be a 'bad vote' (a bad vote is one who doesn't share your own opinions). . . . The real problem with Clark—unlike other conservative appointments—is that he is too dumb to change his views."[33]

Brown used his chairmanship to bludgeon both private and public employers into hiring more minorities through affirmative action programs. He sent a flurry of letters in the early 1970s to some of the state's most influential employers. To Charles Hitch, president of the University of California, he lectured that "the University has some distance to go before it approaches a more equitable distribution of minorities and women within its work force, both academic and staff."[34] To black leaders, Brown privately promised to use his full powers as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee if the University of California did not begin full-scale affirmative action hiring programs. He wrote a black employee leader in the University of California system: "The issue of Affirmative Action and the University has been a very sore point between the University and me for some time, and it will continue to be a factor in my consideration of its budget proposals."[35]

Brown was equally concerned that the University of California was not admitting enough black students. At the flagship Berkeley campus, for instance, fewer than 3 percent of the undergraduates were black at the start of the 1970s. "There was census data that showed there were more blacks from Africa enrolled in the University of California than blacks from America," said Mockler. "That kind of stuff troubled us so, we were trying to figure out a way to increase that. So we provided a lot of focus on education."[36] Under pressure from Brown and others, the University of California campus chancellors agreed in 1971 to revamp admissions policy to include considerations of disadvantage in an applicant's background.[37] Minority admissions, however, remained dismal.

Brown also hammered the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for avoiding a meeting with black leaders in San Francisco to discuss hiring practices. When the black leaders, including the Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church, could not get Pacific Gas and Electric executives to meet with them, they asked Brown to write a letter. He did so, and the meeting was arranged.[38]

Brown used his chairmanship as a bully pulpit around the state. He scheduled legislative hearings outside Sacramento on the state budget, an unprecedented practice that at first piqued Senator Collier. "We can obtain all the information on budget items right here where the agency affected can be readily reached," Collier growled.[39] Republicans were also slow to understand the public relations benefit of leaving the state Capitol; Assembly Republican Caucus Chairman John Stull branded it a "travelling road show." But the


hearings proved a hit, were well attended, and most important, did nothing to threaten Collier's and Brown's real grip on the budget process.

Brown and Collier jealously guarded their prerogatives in the budget for each other. One afternoon Brown briskly walked into a budget conference committee meeting late and looking angry. He immediately sat down next to Collier and asked for a "point of personal privilege." Collier granted him the courtesy, and Brown asked to return to an item in the budget to appropriate funds to purchase guns and other equipment for the California highway patrol. Brown then demanded that the funds be deleted from the budget. The trust between the two was so great that Collier asked no questions, immediately complied, and struck the CHP equipment appropriation.[40]

At the end of the meeting, Connelly asked his boss what was going on with the highway patrol. "He was so mad, he wouldn't talk about it." Finally, Brown told Connelly that he had been stopped not once but twice by CHP officers that day on his way to Sacramento from San Francisco along Interstate 80 in his bright red Porsche. Each time, the officers walked over to Brown and said, "Hey, boy, where'd you get this car?"

Connelly quickly found the CHP's lobbyist and told him what had happened. "The guy's eyeballs rolled clear back into his skull. He said, 'We'll fix it.'" By the next morning, the CHP was distributing photographs of Willie Brown to officers along the Interstate 80 corridor between San Francisco and Sacramento with orders to "memorize this face." The CHP got its appropriation back—and more.

Brown championed pay raises for CHP officers by authoring a bill that tied their salaries to a formula based on the salaries of large municipal police forces. The measure gave highway patrol officers a windfall raise, and then an automatic pay raise every time one of the unionized city forces got a new contract. Brown also placed into the budget pay increases for state employees and higher education faculty, prompting Reagan to complain that Brown was "dreaming up new expenses and then passing taxes to pay for them."[41]

At the outset, Brown's relations with the Reagan administration were rocky, partly reflecting Speaker Moretti's poor relations with the Republican governor. Brown took an early shot at Reagan's budget proposals for the 1971–72 fiscal year: "Governor Reagan's fiscal gimmickry has brought this state to the edge of financial disaster—yet he continues to attempt piecemeal solutions. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a major wound."[42] Brown argued that only a tax increase could fill an impending $150 million state budget deficit. Brown also blasted Reagan for a proposed $10 million cut in Medi-Cal services for poor and aged patients.[43]

In private, relations between Brown and Reagan were equally terrible. During a group meeting with legislators, Brown and Reagan got into a shouting match. In anger, Brown thrust his hand into Reagan's legendary jelly bean jar and then declared that he knew that neither Reagan nor his staff would eat the jelly beans because his black hand had been inside.[44]


In truth, little was getting accomplished in Sacramento in the first few months of 1971, and it was reflecting poorly on both Governor Reagan and Speaker Moretti. Finally, Moretti aide Bill Hauck and Reagan aide George Steffes, two of the most enduring political operatives in the Capitol, arranged a meeting in June between the two leaders. They had not met, other than on ceremonial occasions and in large gatherings of legislators. The meeting went well. More meetings followed, and as Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote, "From these meetings emerged a strange, mutual respect between Reagan and Moretti, who are as little alike as any public officials I have known."[45]

Reagan's landmark welfare reform bill, considered one of the chief accomplishments of his gubernatorial tenure, was the first result. The negotiations were tedious. Willie Brown did not play a leading role. Instead, John Burton, who chaired the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Welfare under Brown, took the lead for the Democrats, and Steve Thompson provided the staff work.[46] Burton and Moretti played a good-cop, bad-cop game with Reagan. Burton threw a tantrum over a detail, and Moretti stepped in to be reasonable. Reagan trusted Moretti, and Moretti later said the two had a "grudging respect" for each other.[47] In truth, Moretti enjoyed making deals with Ronald Reagan on high-profile issues. "Bob Moretti thrived on it," said his chief aide, John FitzRandolph.[48]

Brown played a shrewd game by staying to Burton's left on the welfare reform bill and carping about the details. Brown's stance allowed Burton to hold out for a better bill for welfare recipients. The final bill resulted in boosting benefits for a family of three from $172 a month to $235 a month. "That was another way Willie Brown operated—stay on the outside and move the big system," Mockler observed. "He recognized—that crass term—that the extortion activities of legislators could leverage the system to get something he cared about. And he was very successful."[49]

Brown ended up voting against the welfare reform bill after it had been massaged by his committee. Brown conceded it was a "fairly decent piece of legislation," but maintained that, far from saving taxpayers money, it would cost an additional $100 million a year. "All that business about 'savings' is phony—absolutely phony," Brown said.[50] He turned out to be right. The cost-of-living escalator for benefits in the bill became the target for a later generation of Republicans and one of the seeds of bitter battles over the budget in the 1980s and 1990s when Brown became Assembly Speaker.

The thaw between Reagan and Moretti did not stop Brown from continuing his drumbeat against the Republican administration. Brown kept it up right until the end of Reagan's second gubernatorial term. In typical fashion, Brown opened the 1973 budget deliberations with a salvo: "The governor's spending proposals as outlined in the budget now before us, as well as the projected state surplus, are all based on data which no longer has any relationship to reality."[51]


At the start of the 1972 session, Brown applauded only once during Reagan's State of the State address—when Reagan said "a year's accumulation of solid wastes could cover the entire city of Los Angeles with a layer of garbage seventeen inches deep." Brown later explained that his applause was not meant as a slur on Los Angeles, but he considered it "the only accurate thing the governor said." The San Francisco Chronicle described Brown as "the Legislature's most outspoken Reagan-hater."[52]

But all was not as it seemed. Brown's public posturing hid a cordial relationship he was building with Reagan and his aides in private. "He was one who always enjoyed coming down and talking with the governor, and trying to work something out on contentious issues," remembered Edwin Meese, Reagan's gubernatorial chief of staff.[53] Few in the Capitol knew that Ed Meese and Willie Brown went back together to the late 1950s, when Meese had been a deputy district attorney in Alameda County and Brown a defense attorney. Meese prosecuted several of Brown's prostitute and Free Speech Movement protest clients, and the two lawyers got along as fellow denizens of the Oakland criminal courts.

As Reagan's chief aide, Meese learned to ignore Brown's denunciations and wait for him to come to the governor's office to make a deal. Sooner or later both Collier and Brown showed up to talk about the budget or something else they wanted. "Willie has a great sense of humor, and Randy was the same way," said Meese. If it wasn't the budget, it might be judicial appointments. "I remember Willie came back down to discuss those with the governor."[54] A little help for a friend of Brown certainly would not hurt Reagan at budget time.

Moretti left the budget to his Ways and Means chairman, rarely asking for details unless it was on a high-visibility issue. "I think there definitely has been more communication and more agreement with regard to the budget this year than there ever has before. As a matter of fact, Assemblyman Brown and Senator Collier have been in nearly daily contact with regard to the budget," Moretti once remarked.[55] Brown and Collier presented a balanced $7.3 billion state budget for passage by both houses on July 2, 1971, one day past the constitutional deadline for adoption of a state spending plan. Brown's Assembly version was actually $250 million lower than the Senate's version, and reconciliation was a last-minute sticking point between the two houses. When it finally landed on his desk, Reagan used his "blue pencil" line-item veto to cut the 1971–72 budget to $6.8 billion, prompting an angry Willie Brown to threaten that lawmakers might leave town early for the year if the governor was "going to be a dictator and ignore the legislature." Brown never got used to the blue pencils of governors.[56]

Willie Brown was thriving, and as he grew in power, his appetite for clothes, cars, and women grew as well. He told Joan Chatfield-Taylor, the fashion writer from the San Francisco Chronicle , that his hobby was clothes shopping. "When you dress, you dress for yourself, and to show love and


appreciation to other people. It's like cooking a fine dinner."[57] He filled his closets with Brioni and Cardin designer suits at $1,000 each. Brooks Brothers' suits were far too dull, he opined. Brown's fussiness showed; he was careful not to buy the same suits as Congressman Ron Dellums, another noted clotheshorse, since the two black politicians frequently appeared on the same stage together. But, he confessed, he was tired of being questioned about his natty dressing up in Sacramento, where the average legislator wore a plaid jacket off the rack from Sears. "I don't care what my constituents think about my clothes. I care what they think about my honesty, my intelligence and the time I spend on the job."

Brown's love of lavish parties was also becoming legendary. He threw a thirty-eighth birthday party for himself at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel. The entertainment was provided by singer Joe Williams and jazz great Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Among the featured guests was actor Greg Morris of the television show Mission: Impossible .[58]

In September 1971 Brown played model at a fashion show staged at the Fleur de Lys restaurant for San Francisco menswear store Wilkes Bashford.[59] Brown, Wilkes Bashford, and columnist Herb Caen by now were regular Friday luncheon companions, a tradition they have kept up for three decades. That day Brown modeled a brown and white Brioni suit and a suede jacket. Later he showed off a full-length sheepskin coat. And he offered plenty of fashion advice. "Without a groovy suede jacket, you're not what's happening," he said. "All males should look like peacocks—but not in costume." He called his look "bold conservative," and he was accompanied by his wife, Blanche, who wore a skirt and a high-necked white blouse.

But Brown's relationship with Blanche was stormy and falling apart. While he worked hard and played hard, she was rearing their children virtually single-handedly. The two argued frequently. "Every other week or two there were little things that would happen and he would tell me about it," said his friend and law partner, John Dearman.[60] Brown barely concealed his philandering, and Dearman finally told Brown, "My man, you better cool it with this stuff."

The two buddies spent a weekend away from their wives at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and Brown picked up a woman and spent the night in a motel room with her. "This young lady was hanging all over Willie," Dearman said. "About two weeks later, I guess my wife had thought about it a little bit and she said, 'Um, you and Willie did share a place together?' I said 'Yup.'" She told her husband that gossip had it otherwise. "I went back and told Willie. I said, 'Man!'"

Brown was increasingly being seen in public with young women in San Francisco, and the gossip intensified. He went to hear Lou Rawls sing at a local night club, and the waiter gave Brown a table up front. Dearman remembered in amazement, "Lou Rawls says, 'My friend Willie Brown, take a bow Mr. Brown!' And so the spotlight is on Willie with this chick."


Finally, Brown told Dearman he was leaving Blanche.

"You're what?!" Dearman reacted.

"Well, I'm just making it official," Brown told his friend.

"Yeah, 'cause, hell, you been out for a long time," Dearman shot back. Dearman and his wife were fond of Blanche and were heartbroken at the collapse of the marriage.

Brown told Dearman he was finding his own apartment in San Francisco. "That was really tough when that happened," Dearman remembered, placing the date in either 1971 or 1972. "He was around these chicks all the time and stuff, so apparently she had gone out with somebody, and Willie was really rocked. I mean, he was really upset. . . . I'd never seen Willie so depressed. And ever since then I haven't seen him that depressed. . . . He should have known it was going to happen because he would go places with these chicks, man."

Willie and Blanche Brown have never divorced. She has lived in their Masonic Street house in San Francisco, and the two have built a friendship while leading separate personal lives. Brown continued to support her and their children financially, and he took care of things when leaky pipes and plugged toilets needed fixing. Dearman and his wife have speculated over the years that the two will get back together. "My wife says, 'Ah, they're getting back.' She says when Willie reaches the point where these young girls are going to stop looking at him, he'll go back home."


Chapter Sixteen—
Give Me Back My Delegation!

He spoke with such passion and drama, it carried the day.
George McGovern
Democratic nominee for president, 1972

The leading black politicians in the United States quietly gathered in September 1971 inside a hotel conference room in Northlake, Illinois, near Chicago.[1] The Northlake meeting represented the largest gathering of the most powerful black leaders in American history up to that time. "I have never seen a more serious, more together group," one of the participants later said.[2]

The meeting was supposed to be in secret. Guards were posted at the doors and stairwells. Their reason for secrecy was simple: the political stakes were enormous, and the black leaders were deeply divided on the course of action to take in the upcoming 1972 presidential election. That they wanted someone other than Richard Nixon was a given, but they were split over whether to support a white Democrat or to propose one of their own as a presidential candidate.

Those who came included Roy Innis, the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, organizer of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. The black congressional caucus was represented, including Representative Ron Dellums from Berkeley, and the patriarch of black elected officials in California, Representative Augustus Hawkins of Los Angeles. The four men who organized the meeting represented a geographic cross section of black political leaders: Georgia legislator Julian Bond; Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton; Gary, Indiana, Mayor Richard Hatcher; and California Assemblyman Willie Brown.

The 1972 presidential election year marked Willie Brown's debut as a national political figure, casting him as a power broker among black politicians.


His entry into that world had begun with Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign, but he had been forced to stand in the shadows of Jesse Unruh and Phillip Burton. But in 1972 Brown stood in no one's shadow. From that year onward, every Democrat seriously seeking the presidency sought out Willie Brown. Brown's path to national political influence took a major leap with the Northlake meeting.

Chicago newspaper reporters caught wind of the black summit and descended on the hotel, but they could not get inside. Innis gave them the only quote they would get as he ducked into an elevator: "This must be the biggest secret since the atomic bomb."

The black leaders met for two days, and they grew increasingly testy with each other. One camp liked the idea of putting forward a black presidential candidate, but believed that no one stood out as strong enough or organized enough to be taken as a viable contender, so it was better not to try. That camp argued that blacks should forgo advancing a black candidate in 1972 and instead back a white candidate who was sympathetic to the black cause.

The other camp argued that putting forward a black presidential candidate was a historic first step and was therefore worth taking; although the candidate would doubtlessly lose, he would increase respect for blacks. That he had to be a man was taken for granted by all but a few in the room.

In the end, those favoring a black candidate had to concede that no one fit their description. And most of the pragmatists had to concede that none of the white candidates were particularly compelling.

There were many agendas at Northlake—too many. Julian Bond viewed the meeting as a way to break the political grip of northeastern black politicians in the black political movement. "New York politicians would dominate. Southerners like me and westerners, of whom Willie would be one, would resent the hell out of it," he said.[3] Bond believed that the black movement would ultimately fail unless it was broadened.

Bond circulated a paper at Northlake urging blacks to run local "favorite sons or daughters" in presidential primaries so that national party delegate slates would be loaded with blacks. Others believed that Bond's strategy was too cumbersome and that black leaders should unite behind a single black candidate.

U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn put herself forward as the "black candidate." But she stayed away from the meeting, sending a representative instead. She later bitterly complained that the men at the meeting did not take her seriously because she was a woman. Indeed, most of the men at the meeting did not believe that a female should be the first serious black candidate for president. Nor would they swallow her assumption that just because she was running, they should back her.

"There was anger against her," Bond recalled.[4] "She thought that by virtue of announcing her candidacy we would fall in line. I remember enormous


resentment at this idea. Politicians like to be asked. She would put it down to sexism, and there was some of that, but I don't think her gender had as much to do with it as her style."

For Willie Brown, the Northlake meeting represented a chance for national black leaders to organize the way California black leaders had done successfully five years earlier at their Bakersfield meeting. If they could put aside regional jealousies, blacks could become a formidable force in presidential politics. On a personal level, the Northlake meeting thrust Brown into the first tier of black leaders in the country.

The meeting at Northlake ultimately foundered; the leaders had no alternative to Shirley Chisholm. Black politicians ended up split, some angrily so. Ron Dellums, known for taking radical positions, was Chisholm's most important supporter at Northlake, and Brown spent much of the next six months trying to convince Dellums that he was making a mistake.[5] Brown had nothing against Chisholm, but he believed she would embarrass the black cause. "I didn't think Shirley Chisholm had a chance. And I was right—I was especially right, and I thought it was counterproductive," Brown explained two decades later.[6] The Northlake meeting ended in failure, but it foreshadowed by thirteen years the presidential candidacy of Jesse Jackson.

Brown's leadership in organizing the Northlake meeting reflected one other significant fact: by 1972 California blacks were a political force that could no longer be ignored, particularly by the Democrats. At first glance, California was not considered a "black state"—blacks comprised only 7 percent of the population.[7] However, in sheer numbers, California's black population was enormous—1.4 million people—second only to New York's. In terms of voting-age adults, California contained 881,341 black voters, ranking third behind New York and Texas.

By 1972 black politicians in California were among the most successful in the nation, holding 134 elective offices, ranking third behind New York and Michigan. With Wilson Riles as superintendent of public instruction, California was one of only two states with a black holding a statewide elective office (the other state was Michigan). When Democratic presidential aspirants began coming to California, they went out of their way to court the state's black elected officials. It was smart politics.

The presidential campaigning, however, got off to a rocky start in the fall of 1971. U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was considered the front-runner, mostly by virtue of his status as Hubert Humphrey's running mate four years earlier. But Muskie committed one of several gaffes when he said Democrats would lose if they picked a black vice-presidential candidate. Black political leaders in California joined others nationwide in condemning Muskie. "I think the remark could turn out to be a tragic error," Willie Brown said. "A man of his stature should know better than to destroy the dream of people who have nothing else."[8]


Muskie's remarks could not have been more ill-timed, coming two weeks before the Northlake meeting. Muskie, who represented a state with exactly 1,828 black voters, stood no chance of winning the support of black leaders.

But there was one white candidate who set out to try: the bland but solidly antiwar Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. For McGovern, the key to winning black support turned out to be Willie Brown, and the key to winning Willie Brown was their mutual connection to Robert Kennedy.

McGovern, a bomber pilot in World War II, got his start in politics as a Henry Wallace progressive in the 1948 presidential election. As a Democrat, McGovern was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956. Four years later he ran for the Senate, but ran into trouble in his staunchly anti-Catholic state for his support of the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy. McGovern called the national Democratic Party for help, and to his amazement, Robert Kennedy got on a plane and came to South Dakota to lend a hand.[9] McGovern lost, but their friendship was sealed.

President Kennedy appointed McGovern as head of his Food for Peace program, and McGovern used it to investigate and expose rural hunger in the South, particularly among blacks. McGovern ran for the Senate again in 1962. In the middle of the campaign he came down with hepatitis.[10] This time, Ethel Kennedy—Robert's wife—came out to help, and McGovern won the Senate seat.

McGovern was known as one of the "New Frontier senators" for his allegiance and debt to the Kennedys. After John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, McGovern was among those urging Robert Kennedy to run for a Senate seat from New York, which he subsequently did. When President Johnson escalated the Vietnam War, McGovern became an increasingly vocal opponent and an early supporter of Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. After Robert Kennedy's assassination, McGovern tried to pick up the pieces of the slain candidate's campaign. McGovern offered himself as a replacement presidential candidate.[11] But having little time, no money, and no major endorsements, and facing Humphrey's juggernaut, McGovern stood no chance of winning the Democratic nomination.

After the 1968 debacle, McGovern won a major plum: he was named to chair a commission to rewrite the rules for selecting delegates to Democratic presidential nominating conventions. Party leaders did not want a repeat of the Chicago convention fiasco, with riots outside and embarrassing challenges to all-white delegations inside. Officially called the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, it became known as the "McGovern Commission."[12]

McGovern's reform commission radically rewrote the presidential nominating rules, establishing what amounted to quotas for racial minorities, women, and youth on every state delegation. No one knew those rules better than McGovern, and it gave him an advantage no other Democratic presidential contender held going into the 1972 presidential primaries. McGovern


announced for president in January 1971, setting a dubious record as the earliest of any major party candidate to announce in American history.

McGovern set out to rebuild Robert Kennedy's campaign organization the best he could. He enlisted Robert Kennedy's former strategist, Frank Mankiewicz, as his campaign manager. In the fall of 1971, Mankiewicz returned to his native California looking for endorsements for his new candidate. At the time, few pundits rated McGovern as having much of a chance. Party regulars were suspicious of McGovern's connections to the antiwar movement. In California, party regulars were already lined up in droves behind Muskie, misreading how much of an anathema Muskie was to black voters and how attractive McGovern would be to young voters.

When Mankiewicz arrived in Sacramento to call on Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti, he had few endorsements and little money in the bank for McGovern. Moretti told Mankiewicz he was wasting his time: "There's no support here for McGovern." Mankiewicz, who was close to Assemblyman Ken Cory, believed otherwise and bet Moretti $100 that he could get four Assembly members by the end of the day.[13] Mankiewicz did even better, picking up six: Cory from Garden Grove, Ken Meade from Oakland, John Dunlap from Vallejo, John Vasconcellos from San Jose, John Miller from Oakland, and Willie Brown. "And Moretti paid off. He was surprised," said Mankiewicz. More endorsements followed, including black legislators Leon Ralph of Watts and Yvonne Braithwaite Burke of Los Angeles.

For Willie Brown there was really no alternative to McGovern. He had spurned Chisholm as a sure loser. Muskie was now almost entirely unacceptable among black politicians, so he was out. George Wallace of Alabama, whose career symbolized segregation, was hardly an alternative. George McGovern was the only antiwar progressive Democratic presidential candidate left. McGovern's Kennedy pedigree was almost as good as that of a real Kennedy. And Mankiewicz's presence in the campaign was an added bonus. Willie Brown embraced McGovern's candidacy with enthusiasm.

In December McGovern came to California to collect his endorsements, appearing at a press conference at the Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco, the site of Willie Brown's early glories. Putting aside their differences, Brown appeared with Assemblyman John Miller at the press conference. McGovern sat in the middle, with Brown on his right and Miller on his left. Leon Ralph sat on the end next to Miller. "We anticipate that our endorsement will free a considerable amount of money for the campaign," Brown told reporters.[14]

The McGovern campaign already had a lock on the endorsement of one of California's Democratic U.S. senators, Alan Cranston, and it tried to get the endorsement of the other senator, John Tunney, the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney. McGovern wanted Tunney's support, if for no other reason than that he was Ted Kennedy's close friend and former college roommate. One more Kennedy connection could not hurt. But Tunney would not do it.


When Mankiewicz heard that Tunney was about to endorse Muskie, he put in a hasty call to Brown and asked if his father had ever done any boxing.[15]

"Yes," Brown replied, not quite sure of where Mankiewicz was going but playing along.

Mankiewicz, who knew more about boxing than Brown, asked, "Did your father ever win any boxing championship?"

"Yeah," Brown fibbed. "He didn't weigh much."

Mankiewicz asked if Brown's father was a Fleet Champion in the Navy.

"Sure," Brown replied, although his father had been in the Army in El Paso, thousands of miles from any Naval fleets.

"Was he Joe Brown, who was lightweight champ of the world?"

"Yes he was," Brown replied, lying totally.

At a press conference next day, Mankiewicz was asked for his reaction to Tunney's endorsement of Muskie. Mankiewicz replied that McGovern had Willie Brown: "We'd rather have the heavyweight son of a lightweight champion than. . . ." His voice trailed off as reporters laughed.

"Willie was very helpful to set that up," Mankiewicz reflected. "He made it up—that's fine. No one ever bothered to check. Political reporting was a little more relaxed in those days."

Other black leaders nationwide followed the lead of the California black leaders by endorsing McGovern, including Julian Bond in December.[16]

In March 1972 Brown joined ten thousand black men and women at a meeting in Gary, Indiana, billed as the "Black National Convention." It was a spectacular show of black political muscle, but the lack of consensus among leaders at the Northlake meeting ensured that the larger gathering could do little of substance, like endorsing a presidential candidate. Still, Brown believed that the Black National Convention achieved one milestone—it demonstrated to the rest of the nation that black political leaders were legitimate.

"Some whites expected that a considerable amount of time would be devoted to the denunciation of whites," he said. "Separatism was rejected as unreal. The convention was a move into the concerned mainstream of America, and everybody in the black community knows it and is talking about it."[17]

If anyone needed reminding that separatism was self-defeating, Brown said they only needed to look around them at impoverished Gary, Indiana, a largely black city. "There is not one dollar of new construction in Gary," Brown observed. "If the blacks in America asked for separate facilities, Gary, Indiana, is the kind of place that would be given to them."

The presidential campaign season got under way with the unexpected exit of the frontrunner. Embarrassed by his public weeping on a snowy day in New Hampshire, Muskie dropped out. McGovern's principal opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination was former Alabama


Governor George Wallace, who was wounded in a parking lot in Maryland during a campaign speech. Hubert Humphrey then entered the race in a vain attempt to save the nomination for party regulars. The race was close as it entered the California primary, which again looked as if it would determine the outcome of the Democratic presidential nomination. California was still a winner-take-all primary; whoever won a plurality of votes stood to win all of California's 271 delegates to the national convention, the largest voting bloc of any state.

McGovern ran a professional campaign in the California primary, armed with bands of college students, and aided by some of the most sophisticated polling and precinct techniques yet devised. Young pollster Pat Caddell invented a computer sorting system that recorded responses in door-to-door campaigning. The data were used to arm volunteers with lists of McGovern voters to transport to the polls on primary election day. Heading into the final stages of the June 6 primary, McGovern was the front-runner, but he did poorly in a series of televised debates with Humphrey. In the closing days of the campaign, polls showed Humphrey gaining. McGovern stumbled badly in proposing a minimum guaranteed income for all Americans. Humphrey castigated him for it, saying it would be a financial albatross around the necks of taxpayers.

McGovern eked out a plurality in the California primary, winning 41.2 percent of the votes to 38.6 percent for Humphrey. Wallace finished a distant third, with 7.5 percent, and Shirley Chisholm finished fourth, with 4.4 percent.[18] Although McGovern had won fewer than half of the votes, under California law he was entitled to all of California's delegates. Ironically, abolishing the winner-take-all primary had been among the reforms embraced by the McGovern reform commission. But now McGovern needed every California delegate if he was to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Holding onto all of those 271 California delegates became an all-consuming struggle for McGovern.

George McGovern looked increasingly likely as the Democratic presidential nominee, and speculation ran rampant that Willie Brown would be McGovern's choice for U.S. Attorney General.[19] Brown started the rumors himself in January when he told a University of California, Davis, audience, "I do not believe we should settle for less than a black attorney general—I want John Mitchell's job." A day later Brown claimed he was "misunderstood"—that all he was trying to say was, "The job of attorney general is the one I want for black people." He said he was speaking metaphorically, with himself as the metaphor. A few weeks later the rumor started up again, and it kept coming up until the end of the campaign. The rumor served a purpose: it further enhanced Brown's prominence in the McGovern campaign and served notice to other California politicians that they needed to come to Brown if they wanted access to the presidential candidate. Willie Brown very much wanted to play the same role with McGovern that Jesse Unruh had played with Robert Kennedy. And Willie Brown largely succeeded.


On the Saturday following the California primary election, the triumphant California McGovern delegation met in a hotel conference room at the Los Angeles International Airport. In accordance with McGovern's request, the delegates elected three cochairs: Willie Brown, John Burton, and Dolores Huerta, the vice president of the United Farm Workers and confidant of Cesar Chavez. Although the troika officially chaired the 271-strong delegation from June 10, 1972, onward, it was clear from the start that Willie Brown was in command.[20] One young California delegate told a newspaper interviewer, "It was almost like going to summer camp. Willie Brown was like a den mother, telling us to get on the bus, do this, do that."[21]

The delegation included Los Angeles City Councilman Tom Bradley, actress Shirley MacLaine, actor George Takei, of Star Trek fame (Leonard Nimoy won an alternate delegate seat but decided not to go to the convention). There were fifty-one blacks in the McGovern California delegation—the highest number for any state.[22] Almost half of the delegates were women; 18 percent were Mexican American; more than one-third were under the age of twenty-five. Most of the California delegates had never been to a party convention.

The chief business of the day at the Los Angeles meeting was to fill out the delegation with thirty-three slots that had been set aside before the primary for the winning candidate. The idea was that a few seats would be kept open after the primary so that the victor, as a show of party unity, could bring backers of losing candidates into the delegation. But most of the slots went to Willie Brown's friends, including Carlton Goodlett, his long-time patron and newspaper publisher from San Francisco; John Dearman, his law partner; Phillip Isenberg, his chief of staff; state Senator George Moscone; and Speaker Moretti.

The delegation was loaded with college students: at least six were from UCLA alone.[23] Some were combat veterans of the Vietnam War, or hardened veterans of antiwar protests, or both. During the presidential primary campaign some of the students came straight to McGovern headquarters after a day of skirmishing with the Los Angeles Police Department during antiwar protests. Their loyalty to the Democratic Party was minimal, and they were not easily managed. Their interest was in electing McGovern because he was an antiwar candidate. The young delegates were little impressed by the politicians and managers from Sacramento and Washington, and they resented being bossed around.

The McGovern delegates were in no mood to reward their recent opponents. Top among those McGovern wanted on the delegation was California's junior U.S. senator, John Tunney, a Muskie backer who endorsed McGovern only in the week following the California primary.[24] If the delegation had been full of traditional party stalwarts as in previous conventions, putting a U.S. senator on the delegation would have required no thought. But Huerta and Phillip Burton moved to block Tunney


because of his Muskie endorsement and his votes against the interests of the United Farm Workers union. Huerta and Phillip Burton proceeded to create mischief at McGovern's expense.

The students had more respect for Huerta because of her UFW background than they did for the professional politicians. Huerta's revenge on Tunney struck a chord among the young delegates. Many were ready to vote against Tunney anyway because Tunney had beaten U.S. Representative George Brown, an opponent of the war, in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary in 1970. As a gibe at Tunney, a number of the youthful delegates wore "McKay" buttons, props from the movie The Candidate , in which Robert Redford played a vacuous U.S. Senate candidate. The buttons bore a picture of Robert Redford with his jacket slung over his shoulder, striking the same pose as Tunney in his campaign publicity shots.

The situation soon spun out of the control of the McGovern campaign. At McGovern's pleading, Willie Brown and John Burton tried to get Tunney seated, but it was an uphill battle.[25] The fight for Tunney had one positive effect for Brown and Burton: it cemented their relationships with McGovern. The presidential candidate passed over his first choice to permanently chair the delegation, Ken Cory,[26] and instead chose Brown and Burton to head the delegation because they assured him they would get Tunney seated and stave off embarrassment.

On the first ballot, Tunney lost. As the McGovern managers scrambled to find votes, Willie Brown got a phone call from McGovern, who pleaded with him to do something.[27] Brown then made an impassioned speech to the delegation, buying time while John Burton rounded up Tunney supporters. Brown made a back-handed argument about why Tunney had to be seated: "There's got to be room for one heathen and he's McGovern's heathen!"

Brown added that having Tunney on the delegation would be good because then the delegates could "pound some sense" into him.[28]

As Brown finished, Tunney turned to him, remarking, "I'm not sure I like this."

Willie Brown's speech bought time for McGovern's campaign to find more supporters for seating Tunney. Former Congressman George Brown was brought into the room to tell his former supporters to seat his election rival, and his speech won over a number of his youthful admirers. Finally Tunney was seated on the delegation with a 192–93 vote. Phillip Burton biographer John Jacobs wryly noted that Tunney got two-thirds of the vote "only because the ballots were stuffed."[29] The caucus lasted five hours, a portent of the lengthy caucuses to come in Miami Beach at the convention. Tunney bore the snubs politely, going out of his way to introduce himself to as many delegates as would shake his hand, particularly the students. By the end of the convention, they were at least on speaking terms.

As the delegation prepared to depart for Miami and the convention, Hubert Humphrey struck at McGovern's Achilles' heel. In late June Humphrey


challenged California's winner-take-all primary before the convention Credentials Committee, citing the principles of McGovern's convention reform commission. The challenge asserted that McGovern's claim to all of California's delegates was "inconsistent with the entire thrust of the reform movement in the Democratic Party over the last four years which aimed to guarantee a full, meaningful, and timely opportunity for Democrats to participate."[30] This forced McGovern to argue against the principles of his own reforms.

McGovern took it very personally, and he left himself little room to maneuver in the days leading up to the convention. In an interview for Life magazine, McGovern called the challenge a "negative, spiteful movement that subverts the democratic process."[31] McGovern asserted that he had played by the rules and that his opponents were trying to change them because they did not like the result. He further argued that the very people challenging the winner-take-all primary were those who had insisted on preserving the system when it had looked like Muskie would be the sure winner. McGovern declared that the California challenge was nothing more than a cynical attempt to stop him from winning the presidential nomination, which, indeed, it was.

But the challenge was upheld by the convention Credentials Committee, handing McGovern a critical defeat that threatened his nomination. Using McGovern's own reforms as weapons, the party regulars were striking back. The California delegation was split up proportionally between McGovern and his rival candidates. Without all 271 California delegates, McGovern probably did not have enough votes to win the presidential nomination. His campaign began plotting how to overturn the credentials decision on the floor of the full convention.

McGovern's representatives on the Credentials Committee retaliated, challenging Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's Illinois delegation for denying delegate seats to Jesse Jackson and his allies. If Humphrey could exclude McGovern's Californians, then McGovern would exclude the very symbol of the party regulars: Mayor Daley.

Somehow, despite all the planning and reform commissions, the 1972 Democratic Convention seemed to be headed down the same disastrous road as the one four years earlier. In a last-ditch effort to prevent another fiasco, Mankiewicz secretly met with Mayor Daley in the congressional office of Illinois Representative Dan Rostenkowski in Washington, D.C., shortly before the convention. "I tried to make a deal with Daley," Mankiewicz admitted in an interview for this book more than twenty years later.[32]

Hoping not to be noticed, Mankiewicz slipped in through a side door of Rostenkowski's office. Even if everything went right, making a deal with Daley could below up because for many of McGovern's supporters, Daley symbolized all that they were fighting against. But Mankiewicz, a professional pol, acted on suggestions from party regulars that McGovern should allow


Daley to seat his entire Illinois delegation in return for giving McGovern his California delegates. It seemed fair enough, and it would have been simple to make such a deal in the pre–Vietnam protest era of presidential conventions. Mankiewicz and Daley were of the old school, and they resolved to try. But it was a new era and their attempted deal was doomed from the outset.

The secret meeting did not go well. Daley insisted that no matter what, Jesse Jackson could not be on the Illinois delegation; he was anathema to the mayor. On that point the discussion could go no further.

"Make him a delegate from some other state," Daley told Mankiewicz.

"What do you mean?" Mankiewicz asked.

"Just make Jackson a delegate from, you know, Wyoming or somewhere like that," Daley fussed.

"Mr. Mayor, I don't think you can do that anymore. I don't think that works. I don't think the Wyoming people would like that."

Daley left unappeased. No deal.

In the view of McGovern and his closest advisers, no deal was really possible. "The problem was that goddamned challenge by the Humphrey people to the California delegation itself," Mankiewicz said. "We couldn't compromise that; it would have cost us the nomination."

Meanwhile, Willie Brown, John Burton, and Dolores Huerta arrived a week early in Miami Beach to work on their own strategy to win back all 271 McGovern delegates from California—and to make sure that McGovern was not making deals against their interest. The three cochairs met with McGovern's senior advisers on July 8 at the Doral Hotel in Miami Beach. Gary Hart, McGovern's chief strategist, later remembered that the three "were adamant on the question of getting the California delegates back. They rejected any thoughts of deals or trades," especially with Chicago's Daley.

Willie Brown sternly lectured Hart: "People are either for us or against us. There can be no compromise. No trade-offs. The lines are drawn very hard."

Hart tried to calm the Californians with assurances McGovern would battle for their delegation. "We considered this a fight to the death for control of the party, and the other side had left us no room to maneuver even if we had wanted to."[33]

The meeting adjourned.

That afternoon, Hart met again with Brown, Burton, and Huerta. As Hart wrote in his memoir about the McGovern campaign, Right from the Start: "The California leaders, militant as always, wanted us to threaten publicly to burn the barn down unless we got our way. With the decisive issues still in the balance, I thought outright intimidation would drive public sentiment and [Party] Chairman [Lawrence] O'Brien exactly in the opposite direction."[34]

McGovern's managers still tried to keep the lines open for a last-second compromise with Humphrey, Daley, and the party regulars. "Our interests were very practical and very simple. We wanted to keep Mayor Daley and


the reformers in the Convention, in the fall campaign and in the party," said Hart.[35]

But the chance for compromise slipped away as Mankiewicz and Daley talked in Washington. McGovern never offered the one plum he held—allowing the party regulars to pick his running mate—nor did they ask for the right. The hard-line stance over seating the California delegation won McGovern the nomination but sealed his defeat in the fall election against Richard Nixon. One of McGovern's aides, Gordon Weil, later reflected in his campaign memoir: "Most significantly, the California challenge struggle showed us that we were in a total war with all of the other candidates without any hope of a fair compromise and without being certain that we had the troops to beat them."[36]

McGovern's staff set up a "boiler room" headquarters on the sixteenth floor of the Doral Hotel along the Miami Beach strip. The staff began keeping two tallies, updated hourly around the clock, one tracking delegates committed to McGovern's nomination and the other on how each would vote on the California challenge. The operation resembled a war crisis room.

All 271 McGovern delegates from California arrived in Miami, although only 120 could be seated on the first night of the convention for the crucial vote on the California challenge. The California McGovern delegation was housed at the Doral Country Club Hotel, in the suburbs, a one-hour bus trip to the convention hall and the boiler room. The distance eliminated the possibility that the McGovern California delegates could mix with other delegates and persuade them to vote with them. The distance also created a hothouse atmosphere at the hotel among the McGovern California delegates that steamed anew every time a fresh rumor arrived. The hotel was a flurry of activity, with overheated caucuses lasting until 4 A.M. Many of the delegates got no sleep for the next four days.

The first order of business was for the full California delegation to elect leaders. Brown called the delegation meeting at the earliest possible moment—Sunday night—even while California delegates for all the candidates were still arriving. His timing was perfect: he took the Humphrey, Wallace, and Chisholm delegates completely off guard. When they did not show up at the Doral Country Club for the official delegation caucus, a handful of McGovern delegates elected Brown, Burton, and Huerta as their permanent chairs.

Miles away, in Miami Beach, the convention chairman, Larry O'Brien, ruled at a special meeting that the 120 California McGovern delegates who would be allowed inside the convention on the first night could vote on their own challenge. It was a pivotal parliamentary ruling for McGovern, because his 120 delegates could vote to seat the rest of the McGovern delegates. If O'Brien had gone the other way, depriving McGovern of his remaining California delegates for the vote on the California challenge, McGovern might have fallen 120 votes short of winning back the rest of his delegates.


Without all 271 California delegates inside the convention, McGovern might have then lost the nomination.

It really did not matter which 120 of McGovern's Californians got inside the convention hall on the crucial first night so long as they all voted the same way. But a fight broke out within the McGovern California delegation over who could be seated on the first night.

Willie Brown moved fast to put out the fire. He called a caucus for 6 P.M. Sunday night, still before all the delegates had arrived in Florida. Meeting without most of the delegation in the room, he ruled unchallenged for the next few hours. Brown got those in attendance to authorize him, Burton, and Huerta to hand-pick the first twenty who would be seated the first night. Then the delegates split up into their forty-three congressional districts to pick one representative from each district to be seated on the first night. If the delegates from a particular district were not yet in Miami, Brown picked someone to be their representative. The remaining group to be seated the first night were chosen by lottery.[37]

Tempers raged as McGovern delegates arrived at the hotel in a tropical downpour to discover that they were not getting into the convention hall on the first, and most dramatic, night of the convention. Among those left out were U.S. Senator John Tunney and McGovern's campaign manager in California, Bill Lockyer, who was on leave as legislative assistant to Assemblyman Robert Crown, a legislative rival to Moretti and Brown.

Meanwhile, that same night, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel telephoned Gary Hart with a last-ditch suggestion that McGovern agree to split the California and Illinois delegations as a compromise to prevent a divided convention. It was the same deal that had foundered in Rostenkowski's office a few weeks earlier. Hart would not go for it. "Governor," Hart told him, "you give us enough votes to win the California challenge, and we'll do everything we can to resolve the other challenges, including a compromise to seat Mayor Daley."

Hart did not hear from Mandel again.[38]

At 7 P.M. on Monday, July 10, 1972, O'Brien gaveled the convention to order. The seating arrangements in the huge hall were determined by lottery, and California was seated in front just to the right of O'Brien's towering rostrum. Willie Brown placed himself in the front row next to the microphone, and for the next three days he controlled who used it and who did not. Telephones were placed beside every few seats, and the delegates were organized like an army, with every eight serving under a floor captain and each captain reporting to Willie Brown. By now Brown knew the name of every delegate, including the college students.

Just before they took their seats, the California McGovern delegation held one more closed-door caucus.[39] Brown told the delegates it was time to get serious, time to stop all the arguing and bickering that had so far characterized the delegation. He cautioned them to remain in their seats at all times and


to call for an alternate only if they needed to go to the restroom. He asked the delegates to trust him. From here on out, he was going to tell them how to vote, because the parliamentary moves could be fast and complicated and there would not always be enough time to explain things. He then vaguely told the delegates there would be a complex tactic over a challenge to the South Carolina delegation, and that he might tell them to vote against what they believed was in their own interest. But victory required discipline, and the time had come for them to shape up.

Tunney was seated in the press gallery, a humiliating assignment for a sitting United States senator. Even so, Tunney sent a note to Brown offering to do whatever he could. Brown read the note to the delegation, commenting that "it was a nice gesture." Tunney got a round of applause in absentia from the delegation.[40]

McGovern's advisers, principally Hart and Mankiewicz, cobbled together an intricate parliamentary strategy to win back all the California delegates. The move depended on protecting the right of the first 120 California delegates to vote on their own challenge.[41] O'Brien had ruled that they could vote. He had also ruled that challenges to delegations would be decided by a "constitutional majority," that is, by a majority of all those eligible to vote on a challenge, in contrast to an absolute majority of all delegates. The number of votes needed to win would change depending on which delegation was under challenge at any given moment. South Carolina would be one number, California another. All the legalisms added up to this: if O'Brien's rulings remained unchallenged, McGovern could win back his full complement of 271 California delegates by garnering 1,433 convention votes instead of 1,509 convention votes. To do that, the McGovern forces needed to protect O'Brien's rulings during the challenge to the South Carolina delegation—the first challenge scheduled—to set a precedent for the remainder of the challenges.

The challenge against South Carolina was over a complaint that its delegation had only nine women among the thirty-two delegates. The nine women wanted to unseat the twenty-three men on the delegation and replace them with a new group, including more women. They cited the rules adopted by the McGovern reform commission. The South Carolina women rapidly became a major cause célèbre for feminists at the convention.

McGovern's floor leaders told television reporters that they were supporting the South Carolina women. Television commentators soon began casting the challenge as an early test of McGovern's strength on the convention floor. But when the long roll call of each state was about halfway through, something peculiar began to unfold. Delegations that had already voted asked to adjust votes downward and against the South Carolina women. It looked like McGovern was going to lose the South Carolina challenge. Television commentators began intoning that it was an ominous sign for McGovern's ability to win the all-important California challenge.


CBS correspondent Mike Wallace cornered Gary Hart in a live interview. "Mr. Hart, isn't this a serious defeat for the McGovern forces?"

"We do not look on the South Carolina challenge as a test vote on our floor strength," Hart replied.[42]

Mankiewicz was nabbed by television reporters and asked why the supposedly liberal Wisconsin delegation was not supporting McGovern on the South Carolina challenge. "There's a lot of Texas guys in Wisconsin. All those dairy farmers are hard to control," Mankiewicz replied.[43]

From his booth above the convention, Walter Cronkite pronounced McGovern in serious trouble.

But Hart and Mankiewicz were playing a charade with the television correspondents, setting up a smoke screen for their complex strategy. The McGovern forces needed to avoid a South Carolina vote that would set up a challenge to O'Brien's rulings favorable to McGovern winning back his California delegates. McGovern needed to win the South Carolina challenge by more than an absolute majority—1,509 votes—or lose it by less than a constitutional majority—1,497 votes. If the vote fell somewhere within those numbers, then Humphrey, or one on McGovern's own unwitting allies, had grounds to appeal O'Brien's rulings on what constituted a majority. Once South Carolina was settled, then the parliamentary precedent favorable to McGovern was set for the all-important California challenge. The move was tricky, and no one in the media seemed to understand what McGovern's strategists were up to—nor did Humphrey's floor managers ever catch on.

As the voting progressed delegation by delegation, it began looking as if it would be a close vote and would fall within the dreaded window. So McGovern's floor leaders began peeling off votes so that the South Carolina women would lose with fewer than than 1,497 votes. As McGovern's supporters caught on at last, it became clear that McGovern was selling out the South Carolina women. Feminists, including Shirley MacLaine, were furious.

Meanwhile, during the South Carolina voting, San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto, leader of the Humphrey California delegates, tried to cast the Chisholm delegates' votes as well. Brown refused to accept Alioto's representations of how the Chisholm delegates were voting, and sent him fuming back to his seat. "I'm the chairman!" Brown asserted as he glowered at Alioto.[44]

The South Carolina women lost, but the precedent was now set for gaining the lowest possible threshold of a majority for McGovern to win back his full 271 delegates from California. Even with the parliamentary victory, the McGovern boiler-room tally showed that the vote on California was going to be precariously close.

As the battle on the convention floor raged, another battle raged within the McGovern campaign over the final strategy for winning the California


challenge. The McGovern leaders had gone from delegation to delegation making their case to get the California delegates seated. It was nearing time to present their arguments to the entire convention. Who made a speech and what they said was not just important for winning the challenge but could be critically important to McGovern's chances of winning the presidency. Whoever spoke would present McGovern's position to a worldwide live television audience. The matter was so critical that the speeches had to be very good.

It was a speech Willie Brown very much wanted to make. He was the cochair of the embattled California delegation, and it was logical for him to make the speech. He was probably the best speaker among the entire 271-member delegation. But it was a speech that he almost did not get to make to the full convention.

Brown tried out his speech on the black caucus of almost every state that had one.[45] Then as the convention reached its climactic moment, Brown addressed all 450 of the convention's black delegates in an adjoining hall at the convention center. Brown argued, in effect, that blacks should set aside the hard-won principle of "one man, one vote" by seating a delegation that represented only 40 percent of the voters in California. Brown personalized the issue, casting it terms of seating "my" delegation. But when Brown finished, he clearly had left many unswayed. A motion to support seating the full California McGovern delegation was tabled by the black caucus. One black delegate told Shirley Chisholm the process felt "like a bid at a slave auction."[46] Only two out of ten black delegates had ever attended a national nominating convention, and they were not impressed with Willie Brown. His speech to the black caucus flopped.

McGovern and his advisers debated whether allowing Willie Brown to speak to the entire convention might backfire. "I thought at the time it might antagonize some people," said Mankiewicz. But Brown was not the only one in the room personalizing the challenge to the California delegation. McGovern himself saw no room for compromise. "This was a naked power grab by those who had lost the nomination," said McGovern. "We had the truth on our side."[47]

While the campaign strategists argued, Brown worried that McGovern's advisers would look for a safe way out of their dilemma by instead asking Brown to make a speech at a safer time later in the convention and on an issue in the party platform. "They had to find me a significant spot, and they knew I was too smart to accept the job of carrying one of the planks in the platform," Brown said.[48]

The speeches on the California challenge to the convention began, but McGovern's advisers still had not decided whether to let Willie Brown make a speech. Several speakers made the case for McGovern without lighting much of a spark in the convention hall. Time was running out. McGovern summoned John Burton.[49]


"Should Willie speak? What do you think?" McGovern asked. As an alternative, McGovern suggested that John Burton could speak for the Californians.

"Do whatever Willie wants," Burton told McGovern.

McGovern was now boxed in; John Burton would not take the bait. Willie Brown would speak.

Brown addressed the Democratic National Convention for exactly three minutes. It was one of the shortest and most potent speeches at any national party convention in American history.[50]

Brown began speaking slowly, his arms outstretched at an angle, his fingers resting on the wide podium. He turned from side to side as his voice rose to a shout. When he heard his first cheers, Brown began thrusting his right arm up and down like a preacher. As he reached his emotional peak, he thrust his left arm upward punctuating each sentence. His speech was long on passion and short on logic. He took an intensely political issue and made it intensely personal. And it worked perfectly.

On the substance, Brown slyly sidestepped a number of issues. Brown began by saying that the South Carolina vote embarrassed him because he was unable to cast all 271 California delegates' votes in favor of seating the women. Not mentioned by Brown was that the McGovern campaign had deliberately thrown the vote and that he had been a major participant in throwing it. Next, Brown co-opted Shirley Chisholm's California delegates to his cause, saying that eleven of them had voted with his group to uphold the cause of the South Carolina women. He slid past the fact that he was asking the convention to oust those very same Chisholm delegates by seating his entire delegation. But that was his warm-up. He paused to hear the applause, and he briefly glanced at his notes, the only time he looked at them.

Brown then launched a full-throated defense of McGovern's position: McGovern had played by the rules in a winner-take-all primary that was placed into law by the very people who were now trying to change the rules.

"We ran, and we won in fifty of the fifty-eight counties. We didn't try to violate the law—we obeyed the law and we beat them—man for man, woman for woman, child for child."

Brown then got to the bottom line: McGovern's California delegation was the most integrated any convention had ever seen. To lose them would mean losing twenty-nine blacks, twenty-three Chicanos, "half my youth," and seventy-six women.

"That's a tragedy. You should not allow that to occur. For one time in our lives, this convention should hear from grassroots working Democrats."

Then he came to his audacious conclusion: he, a black man, was chairing that delegation and the forces of backwardness were trying take it from him .

"Seat my delegation. I did it for you in Mississippi in '64, in Georgia in '68, and it's now California in '72. I desire no less!"


Now pounding on the platform, he bellowed: "Give me back my delegation! "

As the convention hall erupted, Brown theatrically spun to his right and briskly marched off the platform, not waiting to acknowledge the cheers—and boos.

Delegates jumped to their feet and screamed. Some climbed on chairs. Many began chanting "Willie Brown! Willie Brown!" while Humphrey's California delegates stood shouting "No! No! No!" and frantically gesturing with their thumbs down. The pent-up tensions of the previous few weeks exploded in the hall. The sides were now drawn, not just for and against George McGovern, but for and against Willie Brown.

Brown's three-minute speech did exactly what it was supposed to do, giving an emotional push where logical arguments had failed. "He spoke with such passion and drama, it carried the day," McGovern recalled more than twenty years later. "It was one of those speeches that changed the impressions people had. We had the truth on our side. Willie helped to make that point with passion."

John Burton watched his friend in awe, and then teased McGovern. "After the thing, I gave him some shit," Burton said. "I says, 'For Christ's sake, why didn't you tell me prime time?'"[51]

Brown's speech was the emotional peak of the convention and, in truth, the high-water mark of George McGovern's presidential campaign. McGovern himself in his acceptance speech could not top Brown.

When the votes were tallied, the full California delegation was seated.

More dreary challenges followed to more delegations. Finally, McGovern's advisers began cutting deals to seat delegations so that the convention would not have to spend the rest of the week on credential challenges. Finally, at 5:20 A.M. the exhausted delegates went back to their hotels.

In a unity move, Brown asked that the California delegates on the losing side be admitted to the convention as "honored guests." But those kicked out of the convention snubbed him; most grabbed the first plane out of Miami and went home to California. "They are a different kind of people," sniffed Darlene Mathis, a George Wallace delegate from Redondo Beach, as she left Florida. "We are people with morals who don't go swimming nude in the public parks."[52]

Shirley Chisholm was also bitter. All of McGovern's strategies seemed too clever, and she faulted progressives for behaving like old-fashioned politicians in the pursuit of power. "Women like Shirley MacLaine and blacks like Willie Brown were the targets of accusations that they had sold out to McGovern. It seems to me that 'sold out' is the wrong interpretation; they were not bought. They gave themselves away."[53]

The next day's session was the longest in American political convention history, as delegates sparred over platform planks. It was as if all the fury of Chicago had been pent up for four years and was then uncorked in Miami


Beach. The delegates relished their chance to fight over Vietnam, abortion, welfare, health care, homosexual rights, and a zillion other issues. But to those watching it on television, the Democratic convention appeared full of crazies.

The convention seemed to break down under the weight of the parliamentary maneuvering. At one point Willie Brown cast all 271 California votes to support a convoluted ruling of the convention chair to refuse taking a roll-call vote on a tax platform proposal. The convention was taking roll calls on whether to take roll calls. Fed up, Brown cast the votes without polling the delegation, and he switched off the microphone. No amount of yelling by enraged delegates could change the result or get Brown to give them the microphone. He explained later that he was supporting his friend, Assembly-woman Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, who was presiding over the convention. Not to support Burke would have been a personal embarrassment, Brown said, and he was not going to let that happen.

The delegates went home at 7 A.M., got a little sleep, and then returned to the convention hall a few hours later. It was not going to get any easier.

The day George McGovern won the most worthless Democratic presidential nomination of all time—Wednesday, July 12, 1972—eight hundred antiwar demonstrators were jammed into the ballroom at his Doral Hotel headquarters in Miami Beach. The protesters had heard a rumor that McGovern would change his position against the war. The origin of the rumor was baffling. It was preposterous in the extreme, but they were ready to believe anything about a politician. It appeared as if the McGovern campaign was collapsing at the very moment of its triumph.

Willie Brown was called down to the hotel to try to quiet the chanting demonstrators. He took John Dearman, and the two were again in a tough spot. As Dearman watched Brown's flank, Brown pleaded with the demonstrators: "One of the experiences we're going to have in the new politics—and those in the black community have had it regularly—is that someone is trying to destroy the credibility of your leadership."[54]

Brown was winging it. He had no way of knowing how close to the truth he was. As it turned out, the rumor had been planted by a secret "dirty tricks" squad from Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). But no one would know that until the unfolding of the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought Nixon down.

The demonstrators stayed at McGovern's headquarters into the evening, not leaving until McGovern himself appeared. Meanwhile, the rumor about McGovern flip-flopping on the Vietnam War made its way back to the California delegation at the Doral Country Club Hotel. The exhausted and angry delegates staged a rump caucus without their leader. "What the hell are we going to tell the people when we go back?" said one outraged college student.[55] Huerta quelled the newest uprising, and the delegates boarded buses to nominate McGovern for president.


Brown's unruly group of 271 California delegates finally made it inside the convention hall, and they provided the slim margin of victory that gave McGovern the Democratic nomination. "Willie Brown had his delegation back and George McGovern had the 1972 Democratic Presidential nomination," Hart wrote in his memoir.[56]

But McGovern's chances of winning in November were already doomed.

If McGovern had been more nimble, if he had been as clever as Willie Brown, he might have somehow struck a deal with Mayor Daley and found a way to keep the party regulars from sabotaging his candidacy. Some in the campaign believed that McGovern should have found a way to trade California delegates for Illinois delegates while still preserving his nomination, or given the party regulars something else. Possibly they might not have been so embittered as to desert him in the general election. But McGovern was not that good a politician.

"I think it's nonsense," McGovern responded in an interview for this book.[57] "It would have been foolish of us to give up delegates we had already won. I wouldn't have compromised on that. It was a matter of principle."

But not everyone in McGovern's campaign was so sure that the price of winning the California challenge was worth paying. "In order to get the nomination, we had to defeat the other candidates on the challenge. By winning them over decisively, we made it more unlikely that we could have their support after the convention," wrote aide Gordon Weil in his book on the campaign. "As a result, the high price of fighting the California challenge had to be paid."[58]

The immediate price McGovern paid was staff time that should have been devoted to vetting a vice-presidential running mate. Instead, the staff was consumed for weeks with winning the California challenge. Almost as an afterthought, McGovern chose U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton from Missouri. At first glance, Eagleton seemed a good choice. He was close to labor, and he could help heal the wounds with moderate Democrats. Willie Brown believed he was a terrific choice and boasted to San Francisco reporters after the convention that he and John Burton could take credit for suggesting Eagleton to McGovern.[59] Willie Brown at the time probably overstated his role; years later, neither McGovern nor anyone close to McGovern could remember Brown and Burton suggesting Eagleton. More likely, McGovern cleared the Eagleton nomination with Brown, and Brown gave his nod.

"The only thing we'd ever done with Eagleton was to play poker together," Brown said years later in an interview for this book. "And on that basis he had demonstrated that he was a good guy. And we supported him. We didn't know anything else about him, I'm embarrassed to tell you. Nothing. And we supported Eagleton. I don't remember who suggested his name. But it did come out of our crowd."[60]

Brown had one more important role to play at the convention. Many of his delegates refused to vote for Eagleton for vice president. The California


delegates wanted to vote for a slew of vice-presidential choices, from Ron Dellums to Pete Seeger the folk singer. But as far as Brown was concerned, it was the last straw with his anarchic delegation. To have California delegates voting against Eagleton, especially after fighting so hard to get them inside, was an embarrassment to him. Brown stalked around the delegation and browbeat as many delegates as he could into changing their vice-presidential votes. Eagleton was nominated.

At 3 A.M. on July 14, McGovern finally got to make an acceptance speech. His campaign went downhill from there. A few weeks later, newspapers revealed that Eagleton had received electric shock therapy. McGovern said he supported his running mate "1000 percent," but within days he had forced him off the ticket, replacing him with Sargent Shriver, former director of the Peace Corps, who had married into the Kennedy clan.

Back in California, Brown was firmly in charge of the McGovern campaign. He dumped Bill Lockyer as campaign manager in California, replacing him with his own chief aide, Phillip Isenberg. McGovern's advisers apparently felt guilty and offered Lockyer any other state he wished. Lockyer chose Hawaii, and spent the remainder of the campaign in the islands.[61]

Brown easily won reelection to the Assembly in 1972 against his strangest Republican opponent yet, Joan Irwin, who used a picture of a naked Willie Brown look-alike on posters and T-shirts with the caption, "I Will Expose Willie Brown!" When John Burton bought a T-shirt for $3, she listed him in campaign literature as a contributor. Brown and Burton were also named as honorary chairmen, along with San Francisco Sheriff Richard Hongisto, of the "Yes on Proposition 19" campaign to try to legalize marijuana. The ballot measure failed.[63]

The party was not coming together for George McGovern. The old regulars did nothing to help McGovern, and McGovern's loyalists grew increasingly disillusioned. At one point Willie Brown was asked by a reporter about the accomplishments of Hubert Humphrey, who epitomized the regulars who were doing nothing for McGovern. Brown replied, "He is an elder statesman and should be around to advise us on the history of the movement, and beyond that I don't think very much of him."[62]

McGovern suffered the worst defeat of any Democratic nominee for president in history, and he was vilified as a political bungler. Richard Nixon won reelection by winning every state but Massachusetts, and resigned the presidency two years later in the Watergate scandal. Many, including some close to McGovern, traced McGovern's defeat to the Democratic Convention, and there was a measure of truth to their analysis. But in the sunny days following the Miami convention, McGovern—and Willie Brown—were lauded for having pulled off an improbable victory in winning the Democratic nomination. Richard Rodda, The Sacramento Bee political editor, wrote a column headlined "Willie Brown Emerges": "Although the California delegation was loaded with amateurs, Willie Brown was not one of


them. He has the political know-how which could produce the unity needed for the McGovern ticket in the November election."[64]

The highest praise came from columnist Tom Wicker of The New York Times , who labeled Willie Brown "the impressive young black" leader of California and went on to describe McGovern's and Brown's convention maneuvers as the work of masters: "The new political leaders around McGovern have shown themselves tough, smart and political, as people who manage a presidential nomination always have to be, while the old pros, with few exceptions, have bumbled and fumbled."[65]

Willie Brown, however, was about to prove he was not immune to major blunders.


Chapter Seventeen—

The brothers did me in.
Willie Brown
June 1974

Robert Moretti was rapidly burning out as Speaker of the California Assembly, and he was looking for a way up and out. The tugging and pulling from the job took its toll. "I could stay in that office 24 hours a day and really never catch up on everything that there is to do," he confessed. "It becomes like a prison cell—you become isolated from everybody else, you're locked in your office—you don't see your colleagues as much as you used to. I walk around the halls now and I see people and say, 'Who's that?' and they say, 'That's so and so, he's been working here two years now.'"[1]

Moretti was bored by the budget, and he did not see in it the lever for wielding power the way Willie Brown understood it. Moretti was asked by reporters in June 1973 if the Assembly would vote on the budget the following day. "Well," Moretti replied, "I thought we were until just before I came down here. I was up at Ways and Means. There was some concern being expressed by Assemblyman Brown and Senator Collier. Some problem has cropped up that they're trying to deal with."[2]

A reporter pressed Moretti on what issue was holding things up.

"Whatever Item 19.5 is," Moretti shrugged.

The tedium and detail of the state budget put him to sleep. Moretti liked issues one at a time. "He loved making deals," noted John FitzRandolph, his chief aide. "He loved putting bills together. Some [people] are really caught up in all of that."[3]


Moretti was ready for a move. An opportunity came when Ronald Reagan signaled that he would not run for a third term, and would turn his attention to seeking the presidency in 1976. Moretti and Willie Brown hatched a grand scheme to take power in California. Moretti would become governor, and Brown the Speaker. They would rule state government like no other governor-Speaker team in history.

But over the next year, Moretti and Brown watched as their plan fell apart, and power slipped through their fingers leaving them both outside in the cold.

As the 1973 legislative season wound up in the fall, Moretti had every reason to believe that he and Brown could pull it off. In November Moretti handed Reagan his worst political defeat as governor. Reagan proposed a tax roll-back, and he qualified it for the ballot as Proposition 1. Reagan wanted the ballot measure as his crowning achievement in Sacramento and the touchstone for his emerging 1976 presidential campaign. To keep him from having it, Moretti loaned $65,000 from his lobbyist-fed war chest to the campaign to defeat Proposition 1. The money was supposed to be for Assembly candidates, but Moretti spent it for what he believed was a better end: embarrassing Ronald Reagan.[4] He rounded up others to contribute directly to the defeat of Proposition 1. Reagan went door-to-door campaigning for his ballot measure; Moretti bought television time to disparage it, and Proposition 1 went down to defeat.

"I get the applause," Moretti told contributors in triumph, "and I get the credit because for the first time Ronald Reagan was pulled off his horse. But you did it." Moretti felt he had earned the right to be the Democratic nominee for governor in 1974.

But Moretti was hardly the only Democrat who wanted to be governor. Reagan's pending exit from Sacramento set off a scramble in the Democratic Party for the gubernatorial nomination. State Senator George Moscone, the Democratic majority leader and another Brown friend, wanted the job. So did San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. As the election loomed closer, the field got still more crowded: William Matson Roth, scion of a shipping line fortune and a regent of the University of California; Jerome Waldie, the former Assembly majority leader under Unruh; Baxter Ward, a former Los Angeles television reporter and a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; and finally Jerry Brown, the California secretary of state and the son of former Governor Pat Brown.

Moretti faced the dilemma that all Assembly members faced in running for statewide office: he would have to give up his seat and gamble everything on the Democratic primary. But that apparently did not bother him; running for governor would give him an honorable exit from the Assembly, just as it had for Unruh.


Moretti considered quitting as Speaker early but was talked out of it by FitzRandolph. "The Speakership must not be abandoned — it is still the best forum of any of the candidates if used as one," FitzRandolph wrote in an office memo. FitzRandolph also warned, "Being a legislator and thinking as a legislator is the biggest liability Bob has."[5]

Moretti's fund-raising became focused on his own ambitions, not on reelecting his Democratic colleagues, and that began to pose a problem for him. He raised $200,000 at a $125-a-plate dinner for his thirty-sixth birthday in 1972. Moretti sank nearly all of it into his gubernatorial campaign.[6] But by sinking his money into running for governor, Moretti let his power and influence as Assembly Speaker ebb. Worse still, the press that paid him automatic attention as Speaker gave him little coverage as a gubernatorial candidate, and he languished.[7]

Meanwhile, Moscone's candidacy put Willie Brown in an awkward position. Moscone was a member of Phillip Burton's San Francisco political clique. He had known the Burtons even longer than Brown; Moscone was especially close to John Burton, even closer than Willie Brown.

Faced with a choice, Brown choice loyalty to the Assembly Speaker over loyalty to his political organization and hoped Phillip Burton would understand. Moretti, after all, had made Brown chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.[8] Showing loyalty to the Assembly's top leader was an unspoken requirement among chairmen, especially for a chairman who wanted to be the new top leader.

As Brown calculated it, he could not lose no matter what the outcome. If Moretti became governor, then Brown could slide into the speakership and the two of them could run California. If Moretti lost, and Moscone won, then Moretti was out of the Assembly anyway, and the speakership was open for Brown's plucking. Brown could patch things up with Moscone, and Brown and Moscone could run California. Brown could set it straight with everyone.

"There's no problem. I'm for Moretti," Brown announced in February 1973.

Moscone took it in stride: "I didn't make him Ways and Means Chairman."[9]

As more candidates entered the race, Moscone agonized about whether to stay in the gubernatorial race. He told one confidant, "Sacramento is boring as hell."[10] He decided instead to run for mayor of San Francisco in 1975. Alioto was leaving office; the best political opportunity for Moscone was at home.

Moscone's exit from the gubernatorial sweepstakes cleared up one problem for Willie Brown. But Brown faced several other hurdles before he could become Speaker. The problem was that Willie Brown was the front-runner, and he did not see the hurdles in his path.


Willie Brown's notoriety from the 1972 convention, and his chairmanship of Ways and Means, gave him stature and made him the odds-on favorite of the media to become Assembly Speaker. It also made him overconfident. He made the fatal error of many politicians: he believed his own press. With ten months to go before a vote in the Assembly, Brown told an interviewer from the San Francisco Examiner : "I think I'll win with no trouble at all. I guess the Ways and Means showcase has given me a decided advantage."[11]

But someone else had the same ambition, namely, Leo McCarthy, Brown's long-time rival in San Francisco politics. While Brown boasted to the newspapers, McCarthy began quietly talking with fellow Assembly members, one at a time, about who should be the next Speaker.

McCarthy's headquarters was a booth at the Broiler, a dark, steak-and-potatoes bar and restaurant two blocks from the Capitol on J Street. The red-leather-lined booths with high backs were perfect for politicians to sit and talk with McCarthy without being seen. One by one, Democratic Assembly members ate dinner with McCarthy. He let his colleagues tell of their frustration with Speaker Moretti, and vent their spleen about Chairman Brown. To many of them, the idea of a Moretti-Brown cartel in control of everything was a grim prospect. McCarthy told them what he could do for them. "It was all very quietly done, and over a period of eighteen months I had a succession of those dinners, adding people one by one. I don't think the other side knew what was happening," McCarthy explained.[12]

Leo Tercisius McCarthy . "Leo" was not short for anything, and his middle name came from a sixth-century martyr. He was in the same political party and lived in the same city as Willie Brown. The similarities ended there. The two came from backgrounds a half-world away.[13] McCarthy was born in 1930 in Auckland, New Zealand, and moved to San Francisco when he was four years old, the same year Willie Brown was born in rural Texas. Both of McCarthy's parents were born in Ireland. His father, Dan, who pronounced his name "Mc-Cart-ee," came to San Francisco after his pub in Auckland went broke. By the time his son entered politics, the elder McCarthy operated four bars in the Mission district. Dan McCarthy died the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963.

Leo McCarthy's party affiliation was cultural, not ideological. He was a product of San Francisco Catholic parochial schools. He attended St. James grade school, St. Ignatius High School, and St. Joseph's seminary, and then went on to the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit college. He served a hitch in the Air Force, and then got a law degree from San Francisco Law School, a night school. While still in law school in 1959, McCarthy was hired as an aide to state Senator Gene McAteer, who was Phillip Burton's rival in


San Francisco politics. Their fights were over turf as much as anything. Had McCarthy grown up Protestant in a Republican town, he doubtless would have been a Republican. His rise was a meteoric as Brown's had been rough. McCarthy won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1963, a year before Brown's election to the state Assembly.

McCarthy's battles with the Burton camp were legion, dating back to skirmishes over California Democratic Council endorsements. McCarthy ran the 1962 Assembly campaign of John Foran against a Burton-backed candidate. It was one of the few occasions where a heavily-backed Burton candidate lost, and the Burtons did not forgive and forget easily. Two years later, McCarthy helped John Delury in an Assembly Democratic primary against John Burton. This time the Burtons got their revenge as John Burton was elected and McCarthy's candidate lost. In 1966 McCarthy ran himself in a Democratic primary for a state Senate seat against George Moscone, another Phillip Burton protégé. Moscone won the seat.

Finally, McCarthy reached the Assembly to join his friend Foran in 1968. His relations with Willie Brown and John Burton were coolly correct at best. When Moretti became Speaker, he gave McCarthy a minor chairmanship of the Labor Relations Committee. But there was no doubt where McCarthy stood in the Assembly pecking order in relation to Brown. "There was no comparison between us at that point because I had very limited power," McCarthy remembered.[14]

McCarthy's cool, starchy personality was the polar opposite of Willie Brown's hot flamboyance. Some considered McCarthy stiff and dull, or worse. Writer Leah Cartabruno, profiling McCarthy for California Journal , described him as "cold" to outsiders. "McCarthy, by his own admission, is calculated not to offend. Family-man, McCarthy has a droll and subtle, if ill-known wit, and is humble 'almost like a priest.'"[15]

In fact, McCarthy could be a warm, friendly man, and he cared deeply about those closest to him.[16] But when it came to politics, he weighed every word he uttered, every move he made. McCarthy's Assembly floor seatmate and close friend Democrat Louis Papan once said, "Leo McCarthy is a very calculating person, very political. He has control of himself at all times. Sometimes that's good and sometimes that's not so good."[17]

McCarthy was sharp as a stiletto, and he could count votes better than Brown. "Willie is actually no better off than dead even," McCarthy predicted accurately when asked about Brown's boasts of inevitable victory.[18]

Who would become the next Speaker would hinge not on political ideology but on political rewards. McCarthy offered chairmanships and bigger staffs; Brown avoided committing himself to anyone about anything because, he said, he did not want to dilute the power of the speakership before he had it. That was perhaps a noble motive, but Brown was faced with a difficult dilemma. He was part of Moretti's leadership team, but if he started


promising chairmanships to members who were not chairmen, Brown would inevitably upset Moretti's power structure. Pulling on the strings of the Assembly organization could unravel the relationships that kept Moretti, and by extension Willie Brown, in power. But for McCarthy, with no stake in Moretti's leadership structure, promising the newest members the biggest prizes was easy. He had no power; he had nothing to lose. McCarthy made promises that Brown could not make without the older members feeling double-crossed. McCarthy's promises put Brown in a box.

McCarthy had another advantage pleasing to his colleagues. While Brown spent his considerable energies trying to elect George McGovern president, McCarthy spent the fall of 1972 helping Democrats get elected to the Assembly. McCarthy dispatched his talented young chief aide, Art Agnos, to assist candidates. McCarthy reaped the credit for helping elect at least three, and possibly four, Democrats.[19] That kind of performance in the nitty-gritty of Assembly districts was far more impressive to Capitol insiders than anything Willie Brown could do in presidential politics. Agnos began helping Democratic candidates beginning in the 1972 primaries, so by 1974 McCarthy had a loyal cadre ready to help him become Assembly Speaker. Such Assembly members as Dan Boatwright of Concord and Alister McAlister of San Jose won election or reelection with help from McCarthy via Art Agnos in 1972.

Brown was his own worst enemy. He continued to use his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee as a bludgeon, presiding over the state budget, dishing out defeat or victory to his colleagues bill by bill, and insulting them along them way. "At every level I try to know everything I'm supposed to know. And I try to know everything else everybody else is doing," he said.[20]

Brown and Collier perfected their game of "swap off" in the state budget, sending a new fiscal plan to Reagan's desk in July 1973.[21] The $9.38 billion 1973–74 state budget contained $20 million worth of spending in each of Brown's and Collier's districts, including $6.5 million to purchase Bear Harbor Ranch for a park in Collier's district and $10 million to acquire bayfront property for a park near Candlestick Park stadium and the Hunters Point ghetto in Brown's district. Neither park acquisition was a priority for California Department of Parks and Recreation, but each was at the top of Brown and Collier's list, so they went into the budget and stayed there.

Those expenditures—or "pork" as they were called in the Capitol—were not discussed in public hearings. The governor could have used his line-item veto authority to remove such spending from the budget. But Reagan kept it there; he got something bigger in return. Brown and Collier agreed to $215 million worth of tax rebates proposed by Reagan, giving the Republican governor something like Proposition 1 to boast about in New Hampshire's presidential primary. Brown and Collier also agreed to spend $1.3 million to build a new governor's mansion, although as it would turn out, no governor would ever


live in it. They gave Reagan sole authority to approve architectural drawings for the spectacular home.

To get his mansion and tax rebate, Reagan also agreed to one other thing in the 1973 budget: The near-total rebuilding of the state Capitol building in Sacramento. Although Reagan was dubious of restoring the crumbling building to its former Victorian opulence, it was Collier's most fervent dream. To give Collier political cover, the Capitol restoration bill was authored by Brown, and he and Collier rammed it through the Legislature to the governor's desk. The Capitol restoration was enormously controversial. Some legislators derisively called the restoration a "tabernacle to ourselves."

Brown and Collier proposed not just shoring up the crumbling foundations and flooring but also gutting and rebuilding from the inside out the 104-year-old Capitol to its nineteenth-century gilded grandeur. Craftsmen painstakingly removed deteriorating carvings, tile floors, and other architectural details and then tore out the floors and inner walls. Only the outer shell was left standing. Even the dome was rebuilt from the inside. Working with old photographs as a guide, the details were restored to a pre-1910 look. The Assembly chambers were furnished with green carpeting, massive crystal chandeliers, and gilded columns. Eighty mahogany desks were crafted based on early California antiques. The Senate chamber was equally stunning, trimmed with crimson carpeting and enormous hanging drapes. The senators also got mahogany desks and high-back leather chairs in the rear of the chamber. The final opulent touch was new gold leafing on the globe above the Capitol dome.

Grandest of all were the offices of the Assembly Speaker, on the north wing, and Senate president pro tempore, on the south wing. The suites were filled with Victorian antiques—the real things, not reproductions—and with splendid California paintings from the 1860s and 1870s of ice-capped Mount Shasta, Spanish missions, and clipper ships. Among the paintings placed in the Speaker's private office was an 1884 masterpiece of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate by English painter Raymond Dabb Yelland.[22] Willie Brown fully expected to occupy that office.

With Reagan's acquiescence Brown's bill appropriated $42 million for the project in the first year, a huge sum at the time.[23] Reagan hated the whole project, but he let Brown's restoration bill become law without his signature. By the time it was done, the restoration cost more than $68 million.[24] Temporary, make-shift legislative chambers were built east of the building in Capitol Park for the Assembly and the Senate to use during the six-year restoration.

Many of Brown's and Collier's colleagues were nervous about the Capitol restoration. State Senator Peter Behr, a Republican from upscale Tiburon, complained that the closed-door sessions between Brown, Collier, and Reagan on the project offered "an opportunity for the senior legislators to do a good deal of sincere but secret trading back and forth, wheeling and dealing


if you like, with the opportunity to trade with the administration as well, and often without proper understanding of the rest of us."[25] As it turned out, Behr had pegged things about right. When the work finally went forward, Republican state Senator John Briggs forced a politically embarrassing audit of the project because one of the multimillion-dollar contracts was awarded without competitive bids.[26]

Liberals also found much to complain about. They were incensed with Brown for agreeing to Reagan's tax rebate in return for what they viewed as pork in his district and a frivolous restoration of the Capitol. The liberals wanted the $215 million in tax rebates to go instead for welfare grants to make up for reduced federal benefits to the poor under President Nixon. For Brown, however, the trade was simple political arithmetic. Collier and Reagan got what they wanted, and in return Brown delivered $20 million in parks and other projects to San Francisco and gave his colleagues a Capitol building befitting their stature as the leaders of the nation's largest state. By the time they moved back in, few, if any, legislators were complaining, and the building became one of the prime tourist attractions in Northern California.

But even as he proved himself the master of legislative logrolling, Brown's political problems mounted. He now had powerful enemies, and his most powerful friend, Moretti, could do less and less to help him become Speaker. "He didn't have a baton to pass," said Robert Connelly, one of Brown's chief aides.[27] The grudges against Brown piled up. "It got so people were afraid to bring up bills because they were afraid he would embarrass them," said Connelly.

The lobbyists were also furious with Brown. "The third house was mad at him," Connelly said. "They'd been thwarted, they thought he was an uppity nigger, they resented the fact that he was black and smarter than most of them. They resented the fact that he usually would see through their shabby little thumb-footed schemes. And they went around and bad-mouthed him. McCarthy capitalized on that: 'Us white guys have to stick together.' I know that went on. The liberals should have supported him and didn't."[28]

McCarthy capitalized on Brown's arrogance. "Leo got involved with the members and their hurts and their wants. Willie would hurt a lot of people with his quick wit and barbs," said Agnos, chief of staff to McCarthy.[29]

Brown marked his fortieth birthday with an address to a West Coast Regional NAACP convention on March 20, 1974, in Sacramento. He told the delegates that the key to political power in California lay in the state budget. The subject was not as sexy as civil rights, he told them, but was hugely important for blacks: "If 30 years ago we had addressed our interest to the budget we would now have something to trade."[30] He warned them not to wed themselves to programs that did not work, particularly in education. Brown was purposefully vague, but he was on the road to a complete break


with the NAACP in the next few years over the most divisive racial issue of the decade: busing for school integration. For now, Brown warned the NAACP that it needed to get away from polarizing issues and start playing hardball politics for power. The speech was little noted, but it marked the advice of a mature politician who had learned much since his street-scrapping days in the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP.

With the backdrop of the Watergate scandal in Washington and the political demise of Richard Nixon, the Democrats in 1974 believed they were on the verge of a big electoral victory in California. A large and talented group of candidates took the field to run for the Democratic nomination for California governor, all of them tasting certain victory.

Moretti's campaign for governor briefly caught momentum then sank. His polling showed him overtaking San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto to become Jerry Brown's chief rival for the Democratic nomination. But Jerry Brown garnered television coverage, and his name recognition from California's first political family planted him firmly as the front-runner. Moretti repeatedly tried to goad him into debates, with success only in Fresno in front of a tiny audience.[31] Professional politicians in Sacramento were appalled at the rise of Jerry Brown. He was not one of them, and worse still, he ran on an antipolitician platform pledging to reign in the power of the lobbyists and to force politicians to disclose the sources of their campaign funds.

Moretti finished third behind Alioto and Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary.[32] Jerry Brown, reaching his crest of popularity, then faced Republican Houston Flournoy, a former college professor who was state controller. Although it was a big year for Democrats, and few Californians had ever heard of him, Flournoy rose in the polls. As Californians got to know Jerry Brown, the less they liked him. He hung on from his June popularity to eke out a victory over Flournoy.

The year also marked the comeback of another California politician: Jesse Unruh, who was elected state treasurer. Over the next decade Unruh turned what was an insignificant ministerial post into a major power center in state government. From 1974 onward Unruh was easily reelected as treasurer, holding the job until his death in 1987.

Voters in June 1974 also approved Proposition 9, the Political Reform Act, the first major revision of California election laws in a century. Jerry Brown made it his campaign issue, and it allowed him to paint himself as a political outsider and reformer even though he was the offspring of California's most political family. The new law, the brainchild of Jerry Brown's aides Robert Stern and Daniel Lowenstein, required candidates to accurately disclose the sources of their campaign donations and how they spent their money.[33] The law also required, for the first time, that state and local officeholders disclose all sources of personal income as a preventive against conflicts of interest. The law was enforceable by the five-member Fair Political Practices Commission,


appointed by the governor, the state controller, and the secretary of state. Lowenstein became the agency's first chairman, and Stern its first general counsel.

Willie Brown picked the losing side on that issue. He bitterly opposed the Political Reform Act, reasoning that it would hamper fund-raising by Democrats who lacked the Republicans' corporate donors. Brown also believed that fund-raising restrictions would render the job of Assembly Speaker less powerful by hampering the Speaker in rounding up campaign donations. Publicly, Brown took a different tack: "The proposition would create a commission composed of various appointees who would become the czars of political life in California."[34]

None of Brown's fears about political czars or weakening the Speaker's pull on contributions transpired. And he figured out how to make the Political Reform Act enhance the power of the Speaker. He discovered only later that the Act made it harder for challengers and the minority party, and easier for incumbents in the majority party, to raise money.

After Moretti lost the June 4, 1974, gubernatorial primary, the jostling for Speaker intensified. Moretti's colleagues began pressuring him to step down early so that a new Speaker could be elected to lead Assembly Democrats into the November general election. The issue was forced on June 13 when Assemblyman Edwin Z'berg made a motion to "vacate the chair"—the formal request that the Speaker hold a vote of confidence.[35]

Demoralized by his defeat, Moretti agreed to go if he could set the time, and Z'berg withdrew his motion. In the view of Brown's allies, the timing of Moretti's decision was fatal to Brown's chances of becoming Speaker. They believed that Moretti should have quit earlier while Brown still had the votes, or waited until after the November election, giving Brown time to prove himself by helping incumbents and newcomers in their election campaigns. "Moretti let himself get cornered in the caucus. And he had also been battered by having lost the governor's primary, which he never should have run for," said John Burton.[36]

Moretti put the best face he could on the situation, saying he would resign as Speaker before the end of June. "I guess it will be when Willie has the votes," he said.[37] But Brown's problems compounded daily as Moretti's position crumbled. As they argued in private, Democrats agreed that the leadership issue should be decided in a closed-door meeting of the Democratic caucus just the way Moretti had been chosen Speaker. They agreed that whoever won a majority of the forty-nine Democratic votes would be elected Speaker. After the secret caucus vote, all the members of the majority party would then emerge to vote together in public. The agreement meant that the Speaker could be chosen by as few as twenty-five members in the eighty-member Assembly. That gave a huge advantage to Leo McCarthy.


Conservative and rural Democrats were not likely to vote for a black, urban liberal like Willie Brown. He did not waste his time with them, conceding their votes to McCarthy. But Brown took some other votes for granted. From the moment he began running for Speaker, Brown expected the support of Los Angeles liberals Howard Berman and Henry Waxman and the half-dozen or so votes they could bring with them. Brown's expectation was not unreasonable. Brown had known Berman and Waxman since their Young Democrats days, when the Burton camp in the North and the Berman-Waxman camp in the South worked to undermine Jesse Unruh. Phillip Burton considered Berman almost as a son.[38] Berman, a hard-driving legislator, was at least as liberal as Willie Brown. With Brown in the Speaker's office, Berman and Waxman could forge an ambitious agenda on the issues dearest to them: farm labor, health care, and the environment,

But Berman, still a freshman, felt abused by Brown.[39] He and Waxman had been blocked by Brown and Moretti in their effort to design a safe Assembly district for Berman in the 1971 reapportionment.[40] Instead the district was drawn for a Chicano, and it was won by Richard Alatorre, who became a staunch ally of Brown. Berman won an Assembly seat anyway in another district and joined his friend Waxman in the Assembly in 1972. But Berman's and Waxman's antipathy toward Brown was sealed.

By 1974 opportunities from McCarthy beckoned and, as always, personalities mattered. "Willie took people like me for granted, and Leo spent a lot of time working on us, talking to us, sharing his vision of how the Legislature should work. Willie didn't pay a great deal of attention to us," said Berman. "There were opportunities for newcomers with a guy who is running the insurgent campaign, like Leo, that we would never have had."[41] The opportunities would be chairmanships and leadership posts.

When it came time to vote, Berman and Waxman voted for McCarthy. To them their vote represented a score settled and an opportunity won. Still, Brown felt deeply betrayed by Berman's and Waxman's votes on the speakership, and the wound has never completely healed.

John Burton also took the Berman-Waxman desertion personally. "We had all been friends in the YDs together, going back to Phil Isenberg's campaign to be YD president in '62," Burton remembered. "It was a very, very crushing thing to me because I always thought life was about friendships. Leo had promised Howard he would be the majority leader. That's bullshit. Friends don't do that to people over that. And I said I don't think we ought to worry—if they ain't with us, we ought to get out of the business anyway."[42]

With the speakership slipping from his fingers, Brown scrambled up and down the state looking for votes. He traveled to Bakersfield in a small plane piloted by his aide, Robert Connelly, to attend an NAACP dinner.[43] He had been invited by Democratic Assemblyman Ray Gonzales, who was part of


the Berman-Waxman group. Brown hated flying in small airplanes, but the chance of winning Gonzales's vote in the Speaker fight was important enough to risk the flight. When they landed at the Bakersfield airport, a limousine was waiting for Brown, sent by Gonzales. At the dinner, Brown gave a thundering speech on integration and what it meant in his life. Connelly considered it one of the best speeches he had ever heard his boss give. Gonzales showered Brown with praise and friendship.

Flying home, Connelly asked Brown if he had won Gonzales's vote.

"Nah," Brown replied. "He'll double-cross me."

Indeed, Gonzales stuck with the Berman-Waxman alliance and ended up voting for McCarthy. In return McCarthy appointed Gonzales chairman of the Assembly Education Committee and sacked the current chairman, Leroy Greene, a Brown supporter. However, Gonzales went on to lose reelection, and Greene got his chairmanship back in December.[44]

Brown's most critical problem was with fellow black Assembly members. If he could at least hold the blacks, he might overcome the loss of others. But each black Assembly member had a grudge to settle with Brown or had other allegiances that meant more than electing a black Speaker. Although the press perceived them as a bloc, the blacks did not vote as a bloc. Only Assemblyman Frank Holoman, a relative newcomer and former Unruh aide, stuck with Brown; four other blacks ended up voting for McCarthy, each for his own reason.

John Miller, whom Brown had snubbed for Speaker in 1970, was the easiest to figure out.[45] Miller, not unexpectedly, settled accounts with Brown, considering it deeply ironic that he was being asked to vote for Willie Brown out of racial loyalty to elect the "first black Speaker." Willie Brown had not been swayed by that argument four years earlier when Miller had tried to become Speaker. Now Miller could turn the tables on Brown: "I'm not going to inflict Willie on black people," Miller declared.[46] Miller had felt further snubbed when Moretti passed him over in 1973 in choosing the chairman of the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee.[47] Moretti instead named another black legislator, Julian Dixon, as committee chairman. Miller was so put out that he resigned from the committee. He was soon actively working to elect Leo McCarthy. "The black caucus didn't leave Willie—he left us," Miller fumed. "Willie tried to make this campaign a race thing, and it wasn't."[48]

Two decades later, Brown still believed that Miller was wrong to not help him become the first black Speaker, even if Brown had shown him no such racial loyalty. Brown's defense was that Miller's candidacy did not hold the same symbolic value in 1970 as Brown's held in 1974. "He could have said that," said Brown, in an interview for this book, "except that Miller was not Willie Brown. Miller was not visible. Miller was an intellectual, allegedly. Miller didn't like black people, or didn't appear to like black people, or didn't socialize with black people. Miller played chess full-time. Miller went to the


opera, the symphony. So Miller was not black as such. Willie Brown was street black. Willie Brown was from the wrong side of the tracks. Willie Brown was the symbol of an emerging black consciousness and black awareness and black leadership."[49]

Then there was Bill Greene, a bombastic black assemblyman from Los Angeles with a fearsome temper. Greene's motives were also easy to figure out. Greene was allied with state Senator Mervyn Dymally. Once allies, Dymally and Brown were now rivals for the mantle of top black politician in California. Around Dymally's office it became known as the rivalry for "H.N.I.C," or "Head Nigger in Charge."[50] Dymally, who was running for the symbolically important but politically powerless job of lieutenant governor, had nothing to gain with Brown becoming Assembly Speaker. Bill Greene needed little prodding to vote against Brown; Greene had once called Brown a "traitor" who was being "used by a white person" during a trivial dispute over summer interns.[51] Greene would never vote for Willie Brown under any circumstances.

Julian Dixon, a mild-mannered former aide to Dymally, was perhaps Brown's best chance at winning one more black vote. Although he had worked for Dymally, Dixon was baffled by his former boss and that allegiance held no weight for him in the speakership fight. "With Merv it took a road map and big migraine headache to get to the bottom of what the grievance was. It was 'he said,' 'you said,' 'she said,' 'a dwarf said' and, therefore, that occurring on Wednesday is the reason we have this happening," Dixon recalled, shaking his head.[52] Dixon had a tough choice in the Speaker fight, and he agonized.

When Dixon was elected to the Assembly in 1972, he was assisted by Art Agnos, chief aide to McCarthy.[53] But Dixon was also close to Moretti and respected his advice. "Bob would always talk to me about supporting Willie, and I would say 'I'm not comfortable with it at this point. In time, maybe I would be," Dixon recalled.[54] He wavered up until the end.

Finally, other allegiances were more important to Dixon than giving Brown a "first." Dixon's most important alliance was with the Berman-Waxman circle. "The group had made a commitment that since we were all uncommitted we would sit and discuss this issue and that we would make a decision and vote in the caucus the same way. That was totally independent, on my part, of any of the other blacks," said Dixon. "I had no grudge against Willie, but there were those who felt he had been rather heavy-handed as chairman of Ways and Means, and felt that that kind of heavy-handedness would not do well in the speakership."[55]

The toughest defection to figure out was that of Leon Ralph, a black assemblyman from Los Angeles and a fellow McGovern backer. Ralph was Brown's apartment roommate in Sacramento. Ralph and Brown had gone together to the funerals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.


Both had endorsed McGovern early in the campaign. Ralph backed Brown to be cochair of the delegation, although he had been the first to endorse McGovern.

Ralph had a private score to settle over an episode about which few outsiders were aware. Publicly, Ralph said he was convinced that Brown would not keep a promise to appoint him Rules Committee chairman.[56] But Ralph's grievance extended to national Democratic Party politics. Brown had backed Ralph for a seat on the Democratic National Committee, but in the months following the disastrous 1972 presidential campaign, Ralph heard rumors that Brown was undercutting him at the national committee. Brown apparently did not want Ralph's star to shine brighter than his own in national black political circles. While on vacation in Jamaica with Moretti, Brown had even telephoned instructions to a Washington friend on how to sabotage Ralph at the committee.

"When I returned from Washington, I was so angry with him, I really was ready to have a physical confrontation with him," said Ralph. "I was just horrified, because there was no reason for him to be playing those kinds of games with me; I'd been 110 percent loyal to him. In fact, Ed Salzman, who was a reporter for the Oakland Tribune , had written an article critical of me for my loyalty to Willie and inferring that I was either stupid or blind not to be able to see that Willie was not equally loyal to me."[57]

Ralph decided to confront Brown. "Moretti immediately set up a meeting. He defended Willie immediately, which really didn't carry much weight with me because my information, I felt, was unimpeachable," Ralph recalled. "When we met in Moretti's office, Willie denied it. I told him I didn't believe it. . . . I was so angry I was threatening to physically attack Willie."[58]

Ralph also heard, rightly or wrongly, that Brown was behind a move to keep Dymally's name off of slate cards—official-looking postcards listing candidates—mailed to 300,000 Democrats in the June 1974 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Although Ralph personally disliked Dymally, he considered the move stupid. "I thought the overriding issue was that he was a black who could become lieutenant governor and make history," said Ralph.[59] As far as he was concerned, it was the final straw.

Ralph now had the opportunity to get even by voting against Brown for Speaker. "This is not appeasable, as far as I'm concerned. It's character defect that troubles me," he later explained.[60] When McCarthy offered Ralph the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, overseeing a $20 million budget for Assembly operations, Ralph jumped at the chance. But he did not tell Brown, who believed he had cleared things up with Ralph and that he was squarely in his camp.

Oddly enough, the one black vote besides his own that Brown won belonged to Frank Holoman, a freshman from Los Angeles who had little reason to vote for Brown. Holoman had won his seat despite Brown's active campaigning against him in the 1972 Democratic primary.[61] Holoman, like Brown twenty years earlier, had beaten a supposedly entrenched Democratic


incumbent, David Pierson, to get the nomination for the safely Democratic Assembly seat. In an odd twist, the seat once had been Unruh's.

This time the Democratic establishment was Bob Moretti and Willie Brown, instead of Jesse Unruh. Just like Unruh in 1964, Moretti and Brown tried without success to prop up a white incumbent against a black upstart. Their reasoning was perfectly logical: Pierson had been a crucial vote in the Democratic caucus to elect Moretti as Speaker in 1970.[62] It was the least Moretti and Brown could do to back Pierson two years later in a Democratic primary. Holoman was backed by Dymally in the Assembly primary. He had every reason to vote against Brown. But Holoman, a former Unruh aide, understood that the allegiances of incumbents came first, and now Holoman stood with Brown in the Speaker fight.

As the vote began to tilt toward McCarthy, Brown had a card he considered playing: the Republicans. His relationship with many of them was more solid than his relationships with fellow liberals. The Republicans liked how he ran his committee, and they enjoyed watching him trash Democratic bills. If enough Republicans backed him, Brown could overcome losing the vote in the Democratic caucus.

But to play the Republican vote would violate the agreement to resolve the issue in the Democratic caucus. Brown's key advisers were divided.[63] Representing one camp, Phillip Isenberg, his former top aide turned Sacramento city councilman, said it would be foolish to break the agreement. Steve Thompson, representing the other camp, said that it was worth the risk and that once Brown had the speakership, he could consolidate power. Phillip Burton weighed in, warning his protégé that he would be a weak Speaker if he let Republicans dictate the terms of his holding the job. Brown decided to take his mentor's advice and avoid making promises to Republicans. Meanwhile, when the Republicans took a secret caucus vote, they split 14-14 between Brown and McCarthy. Brown got the conservatives and McCarthy got the moderates.[64] Brown decided to stick with the agreement and take his chances in the private Democratic caucus. Phillip Burton's advice was probably right; Brown would have had a weak speakership because, ironically, the success of the Democrats in the 1974 election unseated several of the Republicans who were willing to vote for Willie Brown as Speaker.

Finally Brown caught on that he was in danger of losing. Brown could no longer remain smug, and he grew desperate. In one of the worst miscalculations of his career, Brown decided to play the race card.

The day before the vote, Brown staged a rally on the Capitol steps featuring black ministers. The move backfired badly.[65] Brown asserted that if he lost, it would cause "irreparable damage . . . to the black community of California"—a claim his black colleagues found preposterous. He admitted he had only twenty-three votes to McCarthy's twenty-six. Stretching credulity to the limit, Brown tried to turn the arguments against him to his advantage: "Willie Brown is abrasive. Willie Brown is arrogant. But there is nobody


who can say Willie Brown doesn't work harder than anyone. You cannot be against Willie Brown on the basis of performance."

As far as many of his colleagues were concerned, his "abrasive" and "arrogant" manner was plenty of reason to vote against him. Moretti's top aide, FitzRandolph, watched powerlessly as his boss's friend destroyed his chances. "It was really a rejection of his arrogance and his style. He can think it is racism, or he can think whatever he wants to think of it, but he just made people mad. You cannot go around making people mad for four years," said FitzRandolph.[66]

Even Brown's moment of national fame—his Democratic Convention speech—was held against him. "To his detractors, I think they thought it was just another demonstration of his arrogance—about 'Give me back delegation!' and all that," said Dixon.[67]

Everything started to unravel. Another Brown move misfired. His friend Senator Collier walked over to the Assembly and, with the best of intentions, lobbied members to vote for Brown.[68] Collier worked especially hard to pick off Democratic Assemblyman Barry Keene, whose North Coast district overlapped Collier's. But Assembly members resented the interference from a leader in the other house. "Many members felt Willie was just too close to Randy," one legislator told the San Francisco Examiner .

It was another way of saying that some believed Brown was too close to big-time lobbyists. Those who made such observations were perfectly willing to accept campaign contributions from lobbyists as long as it was sanitized through a central campaign operation run by the Speaker.

Brown managed to pick off one vote from the Berman-Waxman group: Bill Lockyer, the former aide to Bob Crown who had inherited a seat in a special election after Crown's death a year earlier. Most members assumed Lockyer would go with McCarthy because of his differences with Brown over the McGovern campaign. Indeed, Lockyer had thrown in with the Berman-Waxman group. But like a number of newer members, he felt drawn in opposing directions by the fight. Brown's rallying of black ministers did not help. "It scared people. It made it feel like it was a vote that could get me into trouble," said Lockyer. But he decided to go with Brown because he did not like being dictated to by the Berman-Waxman clique. Lockyer was then summoned to explain himself to the Berman-Waxman group. "They put me on trial in this little group. It was very uncomfortable, they called me a lot of names, the worst kind of despicable political person. That kind of dogged me for a number of years."[69]

The Democratic caucus met on June 18, 1974. Brown went into the caucus believing that he would win a narrow victory. He had worked for months to win back Leon Ralph, and he believed that Ralph would nominate him. But when it came time for nominations, Ralph sat silently. "He never told me he was double-crossing me," Brown said in an interview for this book. "I went into the caucus thinking that I had the


votes, and he was going to nominate me. So when [Kenneth] Cory opened the floor for nominations, and [John] Miller stands up and nominates Leo McCarthy, I know that the next nomination is coming from Leon Ralph. He doesn't move. He does not move . And I look and he just shrugged."[70]

Without Ralph, Brown knew he was finished. When the votes were tallied, Brown got twenty-three votes to McCarthy's twenty-six votes, and McCarthy was destined to be the next Speaker. By spreading promises around the Capitol, McCarthy won nine of thirteen freshmen. Brown had fallen short by the four votes he could have won if the blacks had voted for him. Brown also lost four of the five Latinos in the caucus. Brown was shell-shocked. In his view, the job was his to lose and he lost it.

Miller gloated: "In six months, Willie Brown will either fade into the woodwork, become a model for Wilkes Bashford, or join some big law firm."[71]

When they emerged, all the Democrats, including Brown, agreed to vote for McCarthy on the Assembly floor the following week and elect him Speaker. A month later, California Journal published an analysis of the vote, concluding, "Perhaps the biggest deciding factor was Brown's personality."[72]

Immediately following the caucus vote, Moretti, McCarthy, and Brown walked into a room full of reporters waiting to find out the result. Moretti announced it: the new Speaker would be Leo McCarthy. "It was not a particularly bitter caucus," Moretti said, trying to veil just how bitter it was.

Brown and Moretti stood with McCarthy in a show of Democratic solidarity. The attention, naturally, was on McCarthy. Where would he lead the Assembly? Who would he appoint to chair which powerful legislative committee? No one asked McCarthy how he would get along with Governor Reagan, but Reagan was retiring at the end of the year.

McCarthy sidestepped the questions, and told the reporters he was glad the speakership fight was over. He praised Brown as "extraordinarily talented and energetic and resourceful." He talked of binding up "whatever wounds there must be" and promised to have a "private conversation with the Chairman of Ways and Means."[73]

But the most telling comments for the future came not from McCarthy but from Brown.

"He said both of us are relieved that it is over. I am not so sure that is true," Brown said after offering his congratulations. The reporters laughed, accustomed to Brown's wit.

But Brown kept on: "We play one more day," adding, "There will be other days, and other times, and other arenas."

Catching on at last, reporters pressed him on whether he was continuing the fight. "I've had my run," Brown replied obliquely. "It's clear that at this moment I cannot put together the necessary votes to be Speaker, and I don't see any reason for continuing down that road for the moment."


He hid his anger, and as soon as the press conference was over, he returned to his third-floor office with a few reporters in tow. "It's simple—I just got beat," he explained.[74]

But it was not that simple, as Brown later told Austin Scott, a black reporter from The Washington Post . "The brothers did me in," Brown told him. "I miscalculated their egos. I had begun to wear thin on them. They did me in because they could do better under white leadership."[75]

Brown itched to fight again, and he began plotting immediately. But his "moment" away from power lasted almost the next six years.

Soon after he was elected Speaker, McCarthy began making good on his promises. Berman became majority leader, Dixon caucus chairman. Leon Ralph became chairman of the Rules Committee, John Miller chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Dan Boatwright chairman of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation. All were relatively new, and none had held power under Speaker Moretti.

Willie Brown remained chairman of the Ways and Means Committee just long enough to deliver a balanced budget to the new Speaker and to Ronald Reagan, his last as governor. Then McCarthy sacked Brown and replaced him with his San Francisco law partner, John Foran, another rival to the Burton clique.[76] The demotion was harsh but expected. But unexpectedly a week later, McCarthy bumped Brown off of the Ways and Means Committee entirely, saying that Foran needed "an opportunity to develop his own leadership." McCarthy claimed that he had offered Brown chairmanship of an unspecified committee but that Brown had turned him down.

Furious, Brown summoned newspaper reporters to his office. With the reporters listening, Brown placed a telephone call to McCarthy.[77] To the utter amazement of the reporters, who had never witnessed such a spectacle, Brown accused McCarthy of lying about offering a committee chairmanship.

"You never offered it, Leo," Brown shouted. "You did not offer it. I do not want to be sandbagged!"

The reporters could only guess at what McCarthy was saying on the other end of the line as Brown lost his temper, accusing McCarthy of "mousetrapping" him.

"You make me look like some cat who sits around and mopes in his beer and that is unfair!" Brown yelled. "I told you I thought it was horrible that you were taking me off Ways and Means. You responded by saying, 'I don't want you dominating the committee.' You don't recall that discussion?"

Brown claimed McCarthy had put out feelers about the chairmanship of the Health Committee; McCarthy said he was willing to give him his old committee, Labor Relations. In the end, it did not matter. Following his public outburst, Brown got nothing. McCarthy bounced Brown from his spacious office and gave him the office of Republican Assemblyman Bill Bagley, who had signaled his support for Brown in the speakership fight. Bagley was


bumped to an even smaller office. As Brown moved in, he found a note from Bagley on the desk: "Give me back my location!"—spoofing Brown's 1972 convention speech.[78]

Nearly twenty years later, in an interview for this book, Leo McCarthy reflected on his purge of Brown: "I'd say, looking back, that's probably one of the more serious mistakes that I made in my career. I think I probably should have taken care of him right there."[79] But in the summer of 1974, Willie Brown represented a growing threat to McCarthy.

"A number of the people in my group—maybe five of them—saw him using any kind of strong chairmanship as a fund-raising apparatus that would then be used to make another try at the speakership down the line. It was a judgment call at the time, and I listened to the wrong advice. I should have made him a committee chair," said McCarthy.[80]

By trying to undermine Brown, McCarthy had needlessly created an enemy who had nothing to lose. Worse, McCarthy explained, he did not have Brown's considerable talents helping him at critical junctures in the next few years. McCarthy's summary dismissal of Brown also gave McCarthy a reputation for harshness that he never shook.

That summer, Brown led a walkout of sixteen black delegates to the Democratic Party's Charter Commission, meeting in Kansas City.[81] The walkout was an embarrassment for McCarthy, who was also a delegate and nominally the leader of the California delegation as the highest-ranking Democratic officeholder from California. Brown and the other blacks noisily left the meeting to protest the repeal of the party's quota system, which allotted presidential delegates by race, gender, and age—rules that George McGovern had so skillfully exploited to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and that had brought Brown into national prominence.

"Let's get this walkout in perspective," said Robert Strauss, Democratic Party national chairman. "Willie Brown came here on Friday—remember that—and he told the press then he'd be walking out. He felt he had to do something. He's in political trouble in his state."[82]

Divisions notwithstanding, Democrats picked up seats in the November 1974 election, a watershed year for the party throughout the nation. The Watergate scandal, culminating with Nixon's resignation in August, was chiefly responsible for sweeping Democrats into office. But McCarthy and Brown competed to raise money for Assembly candidates in California, and the result was more money for Democratic candidates. The Democratic majority in the Assembly grew to a phenomenal high of fifty-five, one vote more than a veto-proof fifty-four votes. The Republicans, with twenty-five seats, barely had a beachhead in the house. The Democrats won a firm grip on the Assembly that they would not relinquish for twenty years.

Brown, however, described his own reelection as "curiously joyless."[83] John Burton exited the Assembly and was elected to Congress in a San


Francisco district adjacent to his brother's. Not only was Brown powerless, his best friends, John Burton and Bob Moretti, were no longer in the Legislature, no longer there to share a laugh or the pain.

After the November election, Brown tried once more to line up the votes to become Speaker, although he denied he was doing so.[84] Brown canceled a trip to Russia with George Moscone to make one more attempt. He began by trying to paint McCarthy as a puppet of Governor-elect Jerry-Brown, whom legislators already disliked for his attacks on them during the election campaign. Willie Brown hoped to capitalize on McCarthy's appearance with the new governor on election night.

"I have to be awfully careful," Brown said sarcastically. "I have to make sure Jerry Brown doesn't get involved. Somebody might be impressed with his being governor to such an extent the Legislature becomes a handmaiden to him."[85]

As the Legislature reconvened, the Republicans offered all twenty-five of their votes to Brown, relishing the idea of splitting the Democrats at the very moment of their triumph and fomenting rebellion against the Democratic Speaker who had just led his party to a spectacular victory.[86] But Brown had no chance of dislodging McCarthy. He needed at least sixteen Democrats to go with him and all twenty-five Republicans. When the Democrats met behind closed doors, Brown did not get a single Democratic vote except his own. McCarthy won forty-two votes, and there were twelve abstentions.

McCarthy soon promised retribution even to those who had abstained, dubbed by the press as the Dirty Dozen. "No Democrat with impunity can participate in what constitutes a repudiation of the November 5 election," fumed McCarthy. "The people elected 55 Democrats to the Assembly and the idea one man's ego could completely strip the Assembly Democratic caucus of the responsibility it was given by the state's voters is incredible."[87]

For their role in trying to promote Willie Brown, the Republicans were told that they would get no committee chairmanships. The Democrats, specifically Leo McCarthy's Democrats, would run the Assembly.[88] Berman was again appointed Democratic majority leader, the second-ranking position in the hierarchy just behind McCarthy. Ralph was again rewarded with the chairmanship of the Rules Committee, as promised. Foran kept Ways and Means.

Even Brown's Senate ally, Randolph Collier, fell from power. He was ousted as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in December 1974 by Senate colleagues fed up with his outbursts and manipulation of the rules. The immediate transgression that brought him down was inserting park money—or "parkbarrel" as it was called—in the budget bill without the knowledge of the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus.[89] Collier was grilled in a private caucus, and he agreed to step aside as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He was replaced by Senator Anthony Beilenson,


a Berman-Waxman protégé and an enemy of Willie Brown and the Burton camp. The McCarthy coup was complete.

In the months ahead, Leo McCarthy had his hands full trying to keep the other seventy-nine huge egos of the Assembly in check. The Democratic majority was so large that it needlessly rode roughshod over the Republicans. The Republicans began fighting back any way they could, sometimes just by being disruptive. Once McCarthy impatiently asked Republican John Briggs to stop whistling during a floor session. The ever-combative Briggs took umbrage, and sent a letter to his colleagues denouncing McCarthy as "Captain Queeg," the paranoid captain in The Caine Mutiny . "I could almost hear the little steel balls that Captain Queeg was famous for, clicking, clicking, clicking in the palm of Leo's hand," Briggs jabbed.[90]

McCarthy quickly purchased 160 steel balls, placed two balls in each of eighty velvet bags, and then deposited a bag on every Assembly member's desk. When Brown found his bag, he rose and publicly praised Speaker McCarthy. "I want to thank you for sending me what you took away from me," Brown intoned.[91]

His colleagues doubled over in laughter.

In truth, Brown was miserable. He was young during his first tour in political oblivion, under Unruh, and fighting back was fun. But now he had tasted power, and losing it was awful: "The second tour was worse than the first because by then I had an ego. Oh God, oh boy, it was so painful. It was really painful," he remembered.[92]

In the days and months ahead, Willie Brown often disappeared from the Legislature, holding his seat practically in name only. By his own admission he barely attended to his legislative duties. "That's when I disappeared. Remember when I used to come up here? I'd come up here on Monday morning for the session, I would leave promptly at noon and not return until Thursday for the session and that was it. I didn't know any of these people, didn't want to know any, didn't like any of these people. Considered them all awful human beings."[93]


Chapter Eighteen—
The Edge of Despair

My blood runs cold when I think about what happened in the last few days, but there's no way anyone in his right mind could have projected what would happen.
Willie Brown
Aftermath of Peoples Temple,
November 21, 1978

Willie Brown mostly sat on the sidelines as Leo McCarthy and his allies forged an ambitious liberal legislative record. With Jerry Brown as governor, it was a golden period for Democrats. Environmentalists found themselves appointed to the regulatory boards they had long battled. Cesar Chavez and his underdog United Farm Workers union were suddenly welcome in the halls of power that had spurned them in Sacramento. As McCarthy's chief lieutenant, Howard Berman became Assembly Democratic majority leader and brilliantly put together a political compromise on farm labor with a bill creating the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, giving farmworkers enforceable rights for the first time in the nation's history. The huge majority of fifty-five Democrats in the Assembly ran over the Republicans with votes to spare.

Even Willie Brown, although frozen out of the leadership, shared in some of the glory. One of the biggest legislative triumphs of his career came in the spring of 1975. As he had done in nearly every session since coming to Sacramento, Brown introduced legislation to repeal California's century-old law prohibiting "crimes against nature." This time, with a new governor sympathetic to the civil rights of gays, the newest version, Assembly Bill 489, stood a chance of becoming law. Jerry Brown privately told gay leaders he would sign AB 489 but would not campaign for it because of


persistent questions about his own bachelorhood.[1] The heart of the growing gay community was in the Castro district, once the stronghold of the Irish in the days of Ed Gaffney. However, following the 1971 reapportionment, the neighborhood was no longer in Willie Brown's Assembly district. Even so, he kept his pledge to fight for the repeal of the antihomosexuality law. As an added benefit, the bill gave Moscone in the Senate high visibility back in San Francisco, where he was running for mayor.

Willie Brown's bill easily passed the Assembly in March on a 46-22 vote and headed to the more conservative Senate.[2] There the bill immediately ran into heavy opposition from fundamentalist Christians. "Sodom and Gomorra probably had the same type of leadership as Willie Brown is presenting the Assembly," said the Reverend James Wilkins, pastor of the Landmark Baptist Tabernacle church in Sacramento.[3] A group formed called the Concerned Christians of California, which swore it would qualify a ballot initiative repealing Brown's bill if it passed.

Moscone brilliantly guided Brown's bill through the Senate's committee structure and brought it to the Senate floor. The climactic moment came in the Senate on May 2, 1975. Opponents read from the Bible and denounced Brown's bill for more than an hour.[4] The opposition was led by Republican Senate leader George Deukmejian, who was rapidly becoming the most visible conservative officeholder in the state now that Reagan had departed. After the Senate roll was called at 1 P.M., the vote stood at a 20-20 tie. Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor, as president of the Senate, could cast the deciding vote. Not since 1967 had a lieutenant governor been called upon to break a tie. But at that moment newly elected Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, the highest-ranking black in statewide office, was in Denver. He was immediately summoned home, and he grabbed the first plane he could.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Deukmejian suggested that the bill's opponents should leave so that the Senate would have no quorum and the bill could die. Senate President Pro Tempore Jim Mills quickly locked the doors, holding the remaining thirty-two senators in the Senate chambers. Mills sent the highway patrol to round up those who had already slipped out. During the lock-in, one senator's wife suggested that her husband should immediately resign from the Senate rather than see the bill pass.

Dymally's airplane touched down in San Francisco, and he quickly boarded a highway patrol helicopter that rushed him to Sacramento. Dymally arrived in the Senate chambers at 7:47 P.M. "The president of the Senate votes aye!" he announced in his native Jamaican accent.

Brown hovered in the Senate chambers waiting for the vote, and then embraced Dymally at the Senate podium once victory was ensured. Dymally's vote sent the bill back to the Assembly for approval of minor changes. A week later the Assembly passed the final version of AB 489 by a 45-26 vote and sent it to Jerry Brown's desk.[5]


The victory was bittersweet for Willie Brown. He had pushed the legislation for a decade, and now it was poised to become law. But Brown was out of power, and it was the doing of others, especially Moscone and Dymally, that finally brought the bill to victory.

Brown's frustration showed. As AB 489 sat on Jerry Brown's desk, Willie Brown attacked the new governor and defended his old nemesis, Dymally.[6] Brown criticized Jerry Brown for not making his black lieutenant governor, Dymally, "part of the official family" and for not consulting black leaders when appointing blacks to government posts. Willie Brown's words seemed oddly timed given the success of his bill. On one level, he was repaying Dymally for the decisive vote by lobbing a verbal grenade into Jerry Brown's office reminding him that the votes of black politicians had made possible the homosexual legalization bill. But on another level, his criticism was a measure of Willie Brown's frustration at being locked out of power. A white Speaker and a white governor ran Sacramento, and no matter how well-meaning they were, blacks still needed to court them to win rights for the outcasts of society, including themselves.

"It's always harder to work with liberals than conservative white folks," Brown said on May 10 in a revealing interview on KQED, the public television station in San Francisco. "The liberals think they know about your community, whereas with a man like Ronald Reagan, you can embarrass him more easily. And whereas a Ronald Reagan recognizes and respects the blacks' own power structure, Jerry Brown is the type who reaches in and pushes his own man."

Two days later Jerry Brown signed AB 489 with no comment. The law, which took effect on January 1, 1976, eliminated criminal penalties for adultery, oral sex, and sodomy between consenting adults over the age of eighteen. The Coalition of Christian Citizens immediately announced the formation of a referendum campaign to repeal the new law. "It's put the state on record that we approve of homosexuality," said Republican state Senator H. L. Richardson of Arcadia.[7]

A month later the Legislature sent to Governor Brown Senate Bill 95, authored by Senator Moscone, to reduce the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a maximum fine of $100. Willie Brown was the floor manager for Moscone's bill in the Assembly, which approved it 42-34, turning aside Republican efforts to delay the vote. During the debate Brown held up what looked like a marijuana cigarette. "It's time the criminal justice system stops assuming you are a big drug pusher if you possess one, two, or three joints," he declared.[8] Later, Brown said his stage prop contained ordinary tobacco. Brown, for his part, said he smoked neither marijuana or tobacco.

One of the marijuana bill opponents, Republican Assemblyman Robert Cline of Van Nuys, argued that those who supported the bill were "the Pied Pipers of permissiveness." Republican Assemblyman Briggs declared that the Democrat's platform in 1976 would be "Grass, Gays, and Godlessness."


However, the Assembly gallery burst into cheers when the vote was announced. Jerry Brown signed the bill.

By midsummer Willie Brown was praising the governor, saying, "Jerry Brown has the opportunity to make the best governor the state of California has ever had."[9] By the end of the year, Willie Brown and Leo McCarthy were trying to patch things up as part of a wider political truce between the two political camps that had warred so long in San Francisco. Brown and McCarthy shared lunch together at Mae's Oyster House in San Francisco, and a month later Brown moved into a slightly larger office in the Capitol. The Phillip Burton and Leo McCarthy camps in San Francisco politics reached a détente in 1975, allowing Moscone to run for mayor of San Francisco, John Foran to take his place in the state Senate, and Art Agnos to run for Foran's Assembly seat.

Willie Brown remained hugely frustrated with politics. He increasingly spent his time attending to his private law practice, and his outlet for his considerable nervous energy was in living the high life of a San Francisco sophisticate. His taste for fast cars, women, and nightclubs seemed insatiable. He ate lunch every Friday with Herb Caen, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle , and Wilkes Bashford, who ran an expensive men's clothing store catering to San Francisco's elite. The trio often donned tuxedos after dark and set forth into San Francisco's dazzling discos, bars, and restaurants. Brown did Bashford a favor by appearing with George Moscone in a newspaper advertisement in which he was shown leaning against an upscale bar holding a cocktail glass and wearing a hip outfit.[10] The caption read, "We also serve fashion, quality and exciting ideas to some very special people." Brown got rid of his Sacramento apartment "when the bacon rotted in the refrigerator."[11] He ate out almost every meal, calling Restaurant Robert in San Francisco his "second kitchen."

It was widely noticed when Brown put his jet-black Porsche Carrera up for sale. The car, which could clock 145 miles per hour, was not fast enough for him. He posed with the car for pictures in the newspapers and put ads in The Wall Street Journal , all the while keeping an eye on purchasing a $30,000 turbocharged Carrera that could go 220 miles per hour.[12] Taking a jab at Jerry Brown's fabled clunker, Willie Brown quipped, "My body would reject a Plymouth."[13]

To pay for his increasingly conspicuous consumption, Brown and his law partner, John Dearman, began taking on higher-profile, and higher-paying, law clients. Brown's most sensational client was Oakland Raider halfback George Atkinson, who was accused of embezzlement and larceny stemming from a sordid liaison with a bank teller. Brown elicited testimony from the leading prosecution witness, the bank teller, that she had had sex with five Raider football players while Atkinson watched. Atkinson was found innocent. Brown also represented Atkinson in a slander lawsuit against


Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who asserted that Atkinson was part of "a criminal element in the NFL."[14] Noll beat the lawsuit.

Brown defended San Francisco bail bondsman John Ballestrasse in federal court on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about alleged payoffs to state and city narcotics officers. The Federal Organized Crime Strike Force prosecuted Ballestrasse.[15]

Outside California, Brown became a high-priced political hired gun, most notably for promoters of a 1976 ballot proposal in New Jersey to legalize gambling in Atlantic City. Brown was paid $10,000 plus $2,034 in expenses, considered a handsome sum at the time, to make speeches to black audiences to convince them that casino gambling was a good deal. Brown spent three or four days a week in New Jersey during the casino campaign.[16] His critics at home viewed him as cynical and mercenary. Even his admirers believed that Brown had reached the depths by selling to the highest bidder his status with the black community. The Sacramento Bee scolded him in an editorial. "We can't help thinking it's a dent in his image, a departure from the mark he has made in California and national Democratic politics as a champion of liberal causes," the editorial lectured. "Admittedly, he never got where he is today by doing the accepted or expected thing."[17]

None of his clients, however, embarrassed him the way Samuel J. Conti embarrassed him.[18] Conti was known in San Francisco as the "Prince of Nudity and Neon," and he was the biggest purveyor of sleaze in the city. He had been arrested for serving liquor after hours, and his House of Ecstasy had generated seventy complaints to the police department in a short time span. Despite his troubles with the police, Conti applied for new liquor licenses and hired Brown to help him get them. In gratitude Conti sent him a $2,500 six-foot wide-screen television, but Brown did not list it on his annual Statement of Economic Interest for 1976, the public disclosure form required of him as a state official under Proposition 9. Brown first claimed, "[Conti] has never given me anything—period." Five months later Brown acknowledged receiving the TV from Conti, but by then state Attorney General Evelle Younger had opened an investigation.[19]

As it turned out, the television was delivered after the annual reporting period closed, so Brown was legally in the clear. The flap, however, was politically damaging—and avoidable. To add insult to injury, the TV did not work right after one of Brown's children smeared their fingerprints on the delicate cloth screen. Brown tried unsuccessfully to send the TV back to the manufacturer, but it would not take the set back. Conti still owed Brown money, and Brown finally accepted the TV in lieu of fees.

As the Conti case made clear, Brown needed a higher class of clientele. He complained to Republican Assemblyman Bill Bagley that while white lawyer-legislators bagged corporate clients to supplement their meager legislative salaries, all he could get were pornographers and whores.[20] No one criticized


white legislators for representing large corporate clients, but he was slammed for taking a television set that did not work from Sam Conti. In Brown's view, the press and his colleagues practiced a double standard.

Bagley, who was also a lawyer, could do little to help his friend other than to agree he was right. The simple fact was that Brown could not win clients in Sacramento; whether it was his skin color or the political baggage he carried, the end result was the same. He would have to get better clients somehow in San Francisco, and doing so became the focus of his considerable energies. He quietly began building his practice with developers and corporations who wanted not his courtroom skills but his political skills in San Francisco. In the span of three years, Brown took his law firm from a two-bit operation defending pimps to an influential firm with blue-chip clients.[21] In 1975 the firm, Brown, Dearman and Smith, was reportedly worth less than $100,000 and had only nine clients paying fees of $1,000 or more. Three years later Brown's law firm had fifty clients paying $1,000 or more, and the firm was top-heavy with well-heeled clients, including department store operators Carter, Hawley, Hale, developers of a Neiman-Marcus store in San Francisco's posh Union Square; Joseph Seagrams & Sons; Le Club Metro; and the California State Package Store & Tavern Owners Association. All had business in City Hall and paid Brown dearly to open doors for them. Assemblyman Brown became City Hall Lobbyist Brown.

Brown, who had run for the Assembly in 1964 as the darling of preservationists for his opposition to a freeway, was now the nemesis of preservationists. As the lawyer for Neiman-Marcus, Brown presented the case in City Hall for tearing down one of the city's landmarks, the beloved City of Paris store on Union Square.[22] Preservationists tried to stop the demolition, but it went forward. Brown also lobbied for the construction of a forty-eight-story high-rise at 101 California Street, making it the second tallest building in the city. Preservationists again found themselves powerless in City Hall when battling Willie Brown, lobbyist.

In the next few years Brown's client list grew to include Olympia & York of Toronto, the largest commercial developer in the world, which had ambitious plans to build Yerba Buena Center, a $1.5 billion hotel, condominium, and shopping center on eighty-seven acres on the edge of downtown San Francisco.[23] After Dianne Feinstein became mayor in 1978, downtown development rocketed, and Brown was among the most successful lawyers representing developers. Brown arranged a meeting between Feinstein and Albert Reichmann, the billionaire cofounder of Olympia & York, during the bidding to develop the Yerba Buena Center.[24] No other developer met with the mayor, and Olympia & York won the plum.

In the next few years, before becoming Speaker of the Assembly, Brown used his new wealth to invest in at least four oil and gas drilling ventures, an Oakland radio station, a professional women's basketball team, a phar-


maceutical company, real estate partnerships, and his estranged wife's dance studio.[25] For the first time in his life, Willie Brown was a very rich man.

Brown dated women in droves, and he enjoyed being seen in public with beautiful young women. Brown's relationship with his wife settled into a mutually beneficial friendship. They never divorced, and friends said they seemed happier together living apart. She reared their children and continued to live a private life in their home on Masonic Avenue while he lived in a series of apartments. Brown came over when something needed fixing, and the two occasionally went out together. Blanche became something of a sounding board. Although she hated politics, she was among the few who could, and would, tell Willie Brown when he was too full of himself.

Brown shared his wealth with his immediate family and with his relatives back in Texas. He paid their airfare to bring them to San Francisco for annual Thanksgiving fetes, and he treated his mother, Minnie, to a grand tour of Europe. The former maid enjoyed the fruits of her son's work, and she shopped in stores never dreamed of by the white families of Mineola for whom she had cleaned and cooked decades earlier. "A declaration of poverty is not a prerequisite to being a good public servant," he said, a refrain he was to repeat year after year. "It has added to what my daughter calls 'star quality.' I'm conscious that folks look at me to see what I'm wearing."[26]

Many in Sacramento assumed Brown had lost his taste for politics and that it was only a matter of time before he left the Assembly to devote full time to his law firm. However, politics was more than just his first love; it was also his meal ticket to building a lucrative legal practice. There was little other reason why a multinational corporation would seek his services when it had the pick of the best white corporate law firms in downtown San Francisco. Brown's star status in Democratic Party circles gave him something like equality with the downtown law firms, the firms that never recognized him as a legitimate lawyer.

But holding political office and having political power were two different things. Brown was acutely aware of his lack of power. Brown's frustration was obvious during the maneuvering for the 1976 Democratic nomination for president. To the gall of nearly everyone in Sacramento, Jerry Brown, with barely a year as governor under his belt, was already flying around the country running for president.

The governor worked overtime for Willie Brown's endorsement, which was still worth something. As with casino gambling in Atlantic City, Jerry Brown hoped that Willie Brown would help him win the support of blacks outside California. The governor won his endorsement in May, along with endorsements from several other prominent black Californians. Asked why he supported the governor, Willie Brown replied, "Because I think Jerry Brown can win."[27]

On the surface the endorsement looked logical—sort of. Jerry Brown was the Democratic governor of California, and endorsing him could only


help win the governor's signatures on legislation. Few professional politicians believed Jerry Brown was destined for the White House, so what could be the harm? But Willie Brown's endorsement of Jerry Brown was puzzling. Willie Brown was one of the governor's loudest critics; he declared that Jerry Brown had "1930 ideas" about poor people. "I'm not sure there's room for a Willie Brown in a Jerry Brown operation," he asserted in March. "Whether I endorse the governor will depend on whether he's a serious candidate for President, rather than just playing games, and whether he is willing to modify some of his 1930 ideas."[28]

Willie Brown even predicted, correctly, in March 1976 that Jimmy Carter would be the party's presidential nominee, and he suggested he wanted to be one of Carter's convention delegates.[29] Carter's campaign began working hard at winning his endorsement and had every reason to believe that Carter would get it. In early May Carter met privately with Brown in Charlotte, North Carolina.[30] A few days later, however, Willie Brown endorsed Jerry Brown.

Unseen even in political circles was the extent to which Jerry Brown's aides worked to get Willie Brown's endorsement. It cost the governor a judgeship for Willie Brown's law partner, John Dearman. "Someone told Jerry's lieutenants that the way to get Willie was through me," Dearman remembered. "They came to chat with me about the judgeship."[31] The conversation was circular, but everyone in the room knew what they were talking about. "I didn't want to put Willie into a position where he had to compromise his positions, and if the judgeship was being offered because they wanted Willie's support, well then I wouldn't accept it," said Dearman. "They assured me, of course, that it didn't. But, you know, during the conversation it was pretty obvious that they wanted me to talk to Willie to see if he would support Jerry for president."

After they left, Dearman called his law partner in Sacramento. "I told Willie what was going on and I said, 'You know, if you have to compromise any of your positions, hell, I don't need a judgeship.'"

"Fuck 'em," Brown replied. "Take the judgeship. I'm going to do what I want to do anyway."

Dearman was appointed to the San Francisco Municipal Court bench, and a few years later, to the Superior Court, where he has remained.

"Later on," Dearman said, "one of the [Jerry] Brown people said to me, 'You know, I'll tell you something: Willie, he really cares a lot about his relationship with you. That's all he talked about when we went and talked to him about his support.'"

Willie Brown endorsed Jerry Brown's presidential campaign in May 1976, but the marriage was not happy. The governor's staff kept Brown at a distance, and the candidate showed little interest in the black assemblyman once he had won his endorsement. Unlike four years earlier, when Willie Brown was in McGovern's inner circle, he now stood on the outside. He


arrived late for the Democratic National Convention in New York in July, and he left early. Jerry Brown ignored him throughout.

"I've told the governor and his staff that I'd help him in any way I can," he complained to reporters in New York. "They haven't been interested enough to ask me to do one thing. That might explain why I arrived late and why I might leave early. This has been a $1,000 waste for me." Asked if he knew whether the California governor would attend the evening's convention session, Willie Brown answered, "We'll know when we see three puffs of smoke and a halo over Madison Square Garden."[32] Willie Brown left the convention early, but not out of pique. One of his aides, Charles Turner, suddenly died in San Francisco, and Brown immediately returned home from what had been a foul convention.[33]

In Sacramento the political winds were shifting away from Leo McCarthy. Despite his legislative successes, McCarthy's grip on power began to loosen. He had promised too much for too many of his colleagues. He liked to view himself as the collegial professor tutoring his charges. But in fact McCarthy tried to keep power by exercising it more sternly, and his manner began to wear thin. Political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, whose first-hand observations of the Legislature made her one its most astute analysts, said one legislator told her that McCarthy was "perhaps the toughest Speaker that I have ever seen operate from the standpoint of open, bare-knuckled interaction with his members."[34] McCarthy was elected Speaker largely because his colleagues believed that he would not be an autocrat like Willie Brown. But an autocrat was what they got.

The newer members were especially tired of McCarthy's tutoring. "I had felt school-marmed by Leo so many times that I just developed a resentment," said Bill Lockyer, a Democrat who represented Alameda and the lower half of the East Bay. "It felt liked he always zeroed in on every bill I had, and micromanaged my committee, and just did things that were overly intrusive. I would characterize it as a thousand razor nicks of humiliation."[35]

Frank Vicencia, among the most experienced and pragmatic Democrats, complained similarly: "It got to the point where some of us were calling him 'professor.' It was like being in school and having a teacher over our heads when here we were all equally elected public officials."[36] It was especially galling for Vicencia, who had come to Sacramento first as a lobbyist before standing for election in a white working-class Southern California district.

McCarthy increasingly lost touch with his members. He drove home to San Francisco ninety miles each night for dinner. It gave him a family life, but it kept him away from the watering holes where his members hung out, swapped gossip, and picked up women. When John Foran warned him that a challenge was brewing, McCarthy did not believe him.[37]

McCarthy's troubles in Sacramento came just as a truce finally developed in San Francisco politics between the two warring camps of Democrats represented by McCarthy and Phillip Burton. McCarthy needed the thaw to


help him shore his position in the Assembly. Among other things, the truce brought Brown in from the political cold. Some journalists surmised that the peace pact between the McCarthy and the Burton camps came about as an explicit deal.[38] However, it was less a deal than a mutual opportunity to divide the spoils of San Francisco politics. The truce did not take place over a single lunch or with one phone call, but came about gradually as wary politicians moved one step at a time, seeing just how far they could trust each other. The agreement put George Moscone in City Hall as mayor; John Foran in the state Senate to succeed Moscone; Art Agnos in the Assembly to succeed Foran; and Willie Brown back in a committee chairmanship, although one not as powerful as Ways and Means.

Foran's departure for the state Senate had the additional benefit of vacating the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. McCarthy promoted his loyal ally, Assemblyman Dan Boatwright, who was chairman of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation. As the peace developed, McCarthy used intermediaries to test whether Brown would take the chairmanship of the Revenue and Taxation Committee. The most obvious intermediary was John Burton, although he was now in Congress.[39]

"I'm thinking of offering him Rev. and Tax, but I don't want to be turned down," McCarthy said.

"Well, fuck, let me call Willie," Burton answered.

Burton called his friend, and Brown said he would be willing to take the job. Burton phoned McCarthy back.

"He'll be happy to talk to you."

When the appointment was announced in February 1976, skeptical reporters asked Brown if he would make another move on the speakership. Burned by his experience in 1974, Brown said no.

"Nobody else has the numbers, nobody," Brown replied, acknowledging he did not have the votes. "I think he can trust me not to deliberately fuck him. If I were going to do something awful I'd let him know in advance."[40]

Giving Brown the chairmanship of the Committee on Revenue and Taxation was not a casual move. McCarthy was never known for doing anything casually. Putting Brown in the slot did more for McCarthy than just cement the peace in San Francisco politics. McCarthy needed all the help he could get on what was turning into the most politically explosive issue in California in the late 1970s: property taxes. McCarthy needed help diffusing the issue, and if the solution failed, he could always blame Brown.

In the late 1970s Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, a pair of gadflies with the power of an idea, shook California government to the bone. Jarvis, who lobbied for apartment owners, had labored for nearly two decades to reduce property taxes, with no success. "Most people either ignored us or called us a bunch of kooks," Jarvis remembered in his memoir, I'm Mad As Hell .[41] But in the 1970s, an era of high inflation, home values skyrocketed, and with them, so did property taxes. Higher home values gave the elderly, who may have


owned their homes for decades, a huge windfall once they sold them. But the rising values also brought property tax bills that threatened those living on a fixed income, like the elderly. "All of these factors added together raised the very serious point which the politicians weren't smart enough to recognize," Jarvis said. "More and more of the residential property was in the hands of people in their fifties and older. Most of these people's incomes are going down."[42]

And most of them voted. But Democratic leaders fiddled, unsure which way to turn on property tax relief. Although no one could yet see it, the stage was set for McCarthy's downfall, and in the end, Willie Brown's triumph.

At first, Jarvis and Gann were rivals pushing similar tax-cutting proposals.[43] But neither could obtain enough signatures to get a proposition on the ballot. Jarvis fell short by 1,400 signatures in an effort that collapsed in May 1977. They joined forces, and the combined Jarvis-Gann organizations gathered a million and a half signatures to qualify Proposition 13 for the June 1978 ballot.

Proposition 13 would set a baseline above which property taxes could not rise, essentially freezing property taxes where they stood. The ballot measure would also restructure local taxes to such an extent that, by some estimates, local government lost 60 percent of its revenues. More broadly, Proposition 13 ignited an antitax fervor that rolled eastward and overtook the nation. President Jimmy Carter called it a "shock wave through the consciousness of every public servant—presidents, governors, mayors, state legislators, members of Congress."[44]

Proposition 13 had built-in inequities, but it took more than a decade for those inequities to become clear, and by then Proposition 13 was so enshrined in California politics that it became politically untenable to suggest changes. The frozen property tax rate meant that those who had purchased their home before 1978 paid relatively small property taxes even when the value of their property doubled and doubled again. Their neighbors buying later were socked with a huge property tax bill.

As the tax crusaders gained steam in 1978, Democrats in the Legislature grew increasingly restive about their leaders. The tax issue appealed to Republicans; it was an issue that could only bite Democrats. As taxes continued to rise, Governor Jerry Brown presided over a government sitting on a $1 billion reserve, and millions more were held in reserve accounts by local governments. The reserves looked obscene as taxes continued to shoot higher.

As chairman of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, Willie Brown put together a property tax relief measure backed by McCarthy. It was a tough sell. After lengthy hearings, with a blizzard of statistics on assessed valuations, tax distributions, and capitalized earnings, Brown's committee offered up a complex bill that offered $712 million in property tax rollbacks and renter rebates. The bill was loaded to give more relief to those at the


lower end of the economic scale, benefiting an estimated 85 percent of the state's households. Brown also amended his bill to index state income taxes so that wage earners' increasing wages would not eat up a disproportionate share of their income. The provision foresaw an issue that Ronald Reagan would use two years later in his march to the White House. Willie Brown was among the few in his party who understood the political implications of reforming income tax indexing. Unfortunately for the Democrats, few others got it. Brown's bill would have dissolved most of the unseemly reserves while giving tax relief to those who needed it most.

A two-thirds majority was needed in each house—fifty-four votes in the Assembly and twenty-seven votes in the Senate—to pass any tax bill. With a fifty-seven-vote majority in the Assembly, and a Democrat in the governor's office, the Democrats were in the driver's seat. They could pass any bill they wanted and could ignore the Republicans.[45] However, the Democrats dithered. Jerry Brown supported a modest measure offering about $610 million in tax relief and hoarding a larger piece of the state reserve funds. Senate Democrats, led by Senator Nicholas Petris, proposed their own version offering $1.3 billion in tax relief, partially financed by raising income taxes on the wealthy to support property tax relief for the neediest. Republican Senator Peter Behr offered his own proposal, and managed to get a bill over to the Assembly before lobbyists for real estate brokers began nicking it to pieces in Brown's Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee. Behr later called it a "death by a thousand cuts" but managed to get his bill out of the committee and onto the Assembly floor.[46] The only reason for his success was the power of Speaker McCarthy. "Leo was a brick," Behr said, in forcing passage of his Senate Bill 1.

None of the legislative proposals, however, could compete with Proposition 13's apparent simplicity, or its visceral get-back-at-government vengefulness. Behr and other legislators finally suspected that Jarvis and Gann really did not want any legislative solution and were going out of their way to derail all of the bills, Republicans' and Democrats' alike.[47] The promoters of Proposition 13 wanted victory at the ballot box regardless of cost.

The state reserves continued to grow. Brown changed his bill, and when it passed the Assembly in June 1977, it looked more like Petris's bill. Brown's bill now had $1.1 billion in tax relief, benefiting an estimated 60 percent of the state's homeowners, and it raised income taxes for the wealthiest taxpayers. The average homeowner rebate would be about $283 a year, with income tax reductions for couples earning below $60,000. Brown's and Petris's bills headed off to a conference committee with members of both houses to work out the differences.[48] The trouble was that the legislation was too little, too late.

By the time the legislation was moving, the newest revenue estimates projected that the state of California would have a $2.7 billion surplus because inflation was pushing property taxes ever higher. Proposition 13 was


unstoppable, and it easily passed at the polls in June 1978 despite the nearly united opposition of the state's political leaders. The Democratic majority in the Legislature and the Democratic governor waited too long—and by doing so they sowed the seeds of a conservative political movement that would soon overtake them with a vengeance.

Willie Brown did not acquit himself well in the campaign against Proposition 13. Many who were otherwise against the proposal believed that Brown overstepped the bounds when he suggested that cities voting for the proposition should be the first to be inflicted with subsidy cuts from Sacramento. Editorial writers were quick to condemn Brown's stance.[49]

As it turned out, however, Willie Brown did not pay much of a political price for his efforts to stop Proposition 13. The Assembly Speaker was Leo McCarthy, and the public associated him most closely with the legislative dithering. So did his legislative colleagues. McCarthy could not escape the blame for the Legislature's failure to craft a credible answer to Proposition 13. The Democratic governor escaped the blame. Within days after the June election, Jerry Brown appeared at a joint session of the Legislature and declared himself a "born again" tax cutter although he had opposed Proposition 13. His Republican opponent in the fall election, Attorney General Evelle Younger, was vacationing in Hawaii and failed to identify himself with the popular ballot initiative at that crucial juncture. Jerry Brown went on to easily win reelection.

Meanwhile, Willie Brown's on-again, off-again relationship with Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally took yet another odd twist in 1978. Five days before the November 1978 election, Dymally's Republican opponent, Mike Curb, declared to reporters at a campaign stop in Redlands that he was certain Dymally was a "criminal."[50] Curb had no evidence, only rumors brought to him by reporters. "I'm certain that he has been guilty of criminal offenses while in public office," Curb declared. Dymally hired Brown as his lawyer for a slander suit. Brown put on a show for reporters, standing on the steps of San Francisco City Hall with Mayor George Moscone to defend Dymally. But it was too late for Dymally to undo the smear.

Other than Jerry Brown's reelection, the November 1978 election was a disaster for the Democrats. Dymally was thrown out of office by Curb, who had never before run for office. Curb was a record producer for Pat Boone and an advertising jingle writer. He had boyish good looks and had connections to Reagan's wealthy California supporters.

The Democrats in the Assembly lost seven seats. Their majority now stood at fifty votes, four short of the two-thirds vote needed to approve fiscal bills without help from Republicans. There were now thirty Assembly Republicans, and sixteen of them had been elected that year, enough by one vote to control the Republican caucus. The new crop of Republicans who came to Sacramento in the conservative wave were an entirely new breed. They became known as the "Proposition 13 babies," and they were intensely


ideological and were contemptuous of the older Republican leadership that had held the fort for so long.[51] The new Republicans were so conservative that the Democrats soon insulted them by dubbing them the "Cavemen." The new conservatives relished the title and adopted it as their own.

Although Democrats were chagrined about there being so many new Republicans, the election cleared away many of Willie Brown's problems. The four blacks who had voted against him in 1974—Julian Dixon, John Miller, Bill Greene, and Leon Ralph—were gone. New potential allies arrived on the scene, including Michael Roos, a Tennessee-born white liberal elected in a 1977 special election from Los Angeles, and Maxine Waters, a former Watts teacher, elected to the Assembly in 1976, whose fiery oratory was nearly the match of Willie Brown's. She had met Brown ten years earlier at the Bakersfield conference of black state leaders, and she considered him then a prima donna. But once in the Assembly, she became one of his most unwavering supporters, and he never forgot it. Joining them in November 1978 were black Democrats Elihu Harris, from Oakland, and Gwen Moore, from Los Angeles. Willie Brown quickly turned them into allies.

While the election presented Willie Brown with opportunities for the future, terrible blows awaited him in San Francisco. A week after the election, the world awoke to grisly news of murder and suicide in a South American jungle by a cultish group from San Francisco known as the "Peoples Temple."[52] Details were sketchy at first, and for most Americans, indeed most Californians, it was the first time they had ever heard of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple. But for San Francisco politicians—particularly Willie Brown—Jones was sickeningly all too familiar.

A charismatic self-styled minister, Jones had built a big congregation in San Francisco by appealing to the poor, youths, and blacks. He cultivated the powerful, particularly George Moscone and Willie Brown. He was white but said that he wished he had been born black. Jones embraced liberal causes, and he produced volunteers for politicians. "If you were having a rally for a presidential candidate, you needed to fill up the crowd, you could always get busloads from Jim Jones's church," recalled Agnos.[53] Jones helped Moscone in his election for mayor in 1975 and then fostered the false notion that his busloads provided Moscone with his margin of victory.

Jones shamelessly used the San Francisco politicians, demanding and getting favors from them, particularly from Willie Brown. Tim Reiterman and John Jacobs detailed Brown's favors for Jones in Raven , their penetrating 1982 biography of Jim Jones. They noted that it was Brown "who provided the bridge to the Establishment power structure" for Jones.[54] He asked Brown to give an interview for a "documentary" on the Temple. Brown


dutifully went along and praised the Temple for its good works as he would have for any constituent group that asked for a testimonial. Jones spliced Brown's comments into the middle of a film on his "miracles," making it look like Willie Brown was giving personal testimony about Jones' healing powers.[55]

Brown seemed oblivious to Jones's hucksterism and demagoguery. At a testimonial dinner for Jones in September 1976, Brown played master of ceremonies to an adoring crowd of the rich and powerful in San Francisco.[56] As one politician after another sang Jones's praises, Brown offered the final accolade: "Let me present to you a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein . . . Chairman Mao. . . ." The room burst into thunderous applause as Jones soaked it up.

Jones repaid the politicians with contempt. He invited them to address his congregation, and ridiculed them when they weren't looking. Even as Brown did more and more for him, Jones detested Brown for his sports cars and clothes and women. Once, while Brown was addressing the congregation, Jones sat behind him and flipped his middle finger into the air.[57]

Reiterman and Jacobs observed that the San Francisco politicians failed to understand that Jones's following was not as large as it seemed. Jones could turn out hundreds of volunteers at will, but he really was not producing many votes. As it turned out, only several dozen of Jones's followers were registered to vote out of the 913 who later died in Jonestown.[58] Still, the perception of power translated into power, and Moscone appointed Jones to chair the city's Housing Authority.

As journalists began to expose Jones's abuse of his followers, including beatings and stealing from their bank accounts, Brown continued to stand by him. The more Jones was attacked, the more Brown defended him. At a July 31, 1977, rally on Geary Street, Brown proclaimed, "When somebody like Jim Jones comes on the scene, that absolutely scares the hell out of most everybody occupying positions of power in the system."[59]

Moscone began to feel duped by Jones, but Brown continued to help him even as Jones began moving his followers to his "Jonestown" compound in a Guyana jungle. Magazines and newspapers, particularly New West and the San Francisco Examiner , continued writing exposés, and family members of his followers began looking for anyone who could help them. Finally, Congressman Leo Ryan announced he would lead journalists and family members on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown after the November 1978 election. But even as events began to spin tragically out of control, Brown went forward with plans to host a fund-raiser for the Temple on December 2, 1978.

Ryan's mission was catastrophic. The visit began tensely, and a Jones follower tried to stab Ryan. Several of Jones's followers asked to leave with Ryan. As they boarded a small airplane to leave, a truckload of Jones's followers came out of the jungle and opened fire on Ryan, his staff, and the journalists following him. Ryan and four others were killed, and others, including his aide, Jackie Speier, were seriously wounded. As Speier, who lay


bleeding on an anthill, and the other survivors hid in the jungle, Jones led 913 followers, including 200 children, to their deaths.

Brown was not alone among San Francisco politicians taken in by Jones and the Peoples Temple. But Brown was one of the last to catch on to the monster that was Jim Jones. Even as the bloated bodies of the dead were removed from the jungle and the wounded were airlifted by the U.S. Air Force to hospitals in the United States, Brown said he had "no regrets" over his association with Jones.

"If we knew then he was mad, clearly we wouldn't have appeared with him," he told Jerry Burns of the San Francisco Chronicle . Setting aside the warning signs that had been building for months, Brown declared, "My blood runs cold when I think about what happened in the last few days, but there's no way anyone in his right mind could have projected what would happen. It's like saying I wouldn't have voted for Richard Nixon in 1960, which I didn't do, if I knew what he was going to do later at Watergate."[61]

Other politicians stumbled over themselves to distance their past association from Jones; Moscone said he had been "taken in." But Brown told Burns he would not try to disassociate himself; to do so was dishonest. "They all like to say, 'Forgive me, I was wrong,' but that's bullshit. It doesn't mean a thing now, it just isn't relevant."

In the aftermath federal investigators found a hit list Jones kept of those he wanted murdered in the event he was ever arrested or killed.[62] On that list were George Moscone and Willie Brown.

Why Willie Brown stuck with Jones, even as the Peoples Temple began to unravel, is hard to fathom nearly two decades after the tragedy. Other politicians sensed trouble, including his friend Moscone, but Brown continued to praise Jones. Brown interpreted attacks on Jones as attacks on the black community who comprised his followers. Brown considered it the honorable course to stand by Jones when others ran for cover. On a deeper level, Brown's show of loyalty possibly was his way of compensating for the perception of his own arrogance and disloyalty that cost him the speakership in 1974. Perhaps, still feeling the sting from those events, Brown needed to show that friends do not flee from friends for political expediency.

In the view of some of his associates, it was the flip side of Brown's greatest strength. He always helped a friend in need when he could, even when it was in his best interest to hide. There were other times ahead when Brown's unflinching loyalty would reach up to bite him. In the 1990s Brown refused to distance himself from Mark Nathanson, a friend he had appointed to the Coastal Commission who was sent off to prison for taking bribes.[63]

"What Willie Brown has is a loyalty," said Art Agnos, who himself became mayor of San Francisco in 1987 with Brown's help. "Sometimes it can be a flaw. If Willie is your friend, you never have to think twice about it."[64] Agnos was the beneficiary of that. When Agnos lost reelection after serving one term, Brown immediately appointed him to a safe sinecure on an obscure


state board. Brown was accused of cronyism, but to Agnos, Brown had thrown him a life preserver when he needed it most. "Willie never flinched, and I was down, I had been defeated. He didn't blink."[65] Agnos saw in Willie Brown the same loyalty he gave Jim Jones even when it hurt.

Leo Ryan's aide, Jackie Speier, barely survived her Jonestown wounds. Eight years later she won a seat in the California Assembly. Brown opposed her in a Democratic primary, but once she was elected, he went out of his way to help her through new personal travails, including the death of her husband. Speier became one of his firmest political defenders.

Nine days after the Guyana massacre, San Francisco was jolted again. For Willie Brown, it was one of the biggest blows of his life. George Moscone was assassinated in his City Hall office.

Dan White, a former police officer and a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had resigned from the board because of money worries. When friends offered financial help, White pleaded with Moscone for his job back. The mayor at first agreed but then reversed himself after being persuaded that he could replace White with a liberal and start getting his agenda passed by the Board of Supervisors. To Moscone it was nothing personal, just politics. White saw it otherwise.

On the morning of November 27, 1978, White slipped through a basement window at City Hall with a loaded .38 caliber revolver and headed for Moscone's office.[66] Meanwhile, Moscone and Brown, two old friends from law school and countless political wars, sat in the mayor's private sitting room adjoining his large ceremonial office. They chatted for fifteen minutes, swapping gossip and talking over the White situation. Brown and Moscone made plans to go Christmas shopping in a few days at the Wolf's Den, a lingerie shop where women modeled silk and satin for men. Plans set, Brown hurried to leave for a court date with a law client.

Moscone's secretary ushered White into his office. As Moscone started to fix him a drink, White pulled out the gun and shot him twice. He then walked over to Moscone's slumping body and shot him twice more in the brain. White slipped out a side door. He then saw Harvey Milk, the city's first openly gay supervisor, and beckoned him into a small office, where he shot him five times.

Board President Dianne Feinstein was the first to find Milk's body. As she felt for a pulse, her finger slipped into a bullet hole on his wrist. She rushed to the mayor's office, and aides told her Moscone was dead as well. Minutes later, an ashen Feinstein was on the steps of City Hall announcing that Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk were dead.

Brown heard the news from a bailiff in court, and rushed back to the mayor's office. That night, Brown was one of the first to comfort Gina Moscone, the slain mayor's wife. She had heard the horrible news on her car radio as she was leaving her cousin's funeral seventy miles away, and collapsed when she got home.


In Washington, D.C., John Burton took the news very hard. He was abusing cocaine, and his second marriage was falling apart. There was constant friction with his brother, Phillip, who treated him as a junior partner of the family firm. John's behavior was erratic; his floor speeches in the House of Representatives became babbling rants. John Burton was deeply troubled, and he was devastated by Moscone's death.[67]

Brown dealt with his grief the only way he knew how, by throwing himself into the politics of the situation. In the next few hours he helped Feinstein sort through the city charter and determine the line of succession. Feinstein needed six votes from her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to become mayor. Brown quickly endorsed her and over the next few days helped Feinstein nail down the liberals on the board.[68] Feinstein, who had got her start in politics walking a picket line for Willie Brown at a whites-only housing development, won 6-2 and became mayor.

In the days ahead Brown gave a eulogy for his slain friend at Glide Memorial Methodist Church. He sounded upbeat, and he won loud applause. "San Francisco stands before the nation as the only city in the world where there is a chance for democracy to work," he declared. "Because democracy works here, we've got to be prepared to tolerate and understand philosophies and persons who are undemocratic. . . . San Francisco is the most tolerant city in the world. Harvey Milk and George Moscone gave their lives for that idea."[69]

His most moving eulogy for Moscone was the one he gave on the floor of the Assembly, the setting most fitting for such a tribute.[70] He told of how he and Moscone had "pushed brooms together" as janitors at Hastings law school, and of how much his friend enjoyed life. He recalled his final conversation with Moscone: "On that day, he was really, genuinely enjoying himself."

But the most emotional tribute that day came from Assembly Republican leader Paul Priolo, who recalled taking a trip to Rome with his friend. Choking back tears, Priolo declared: "If the people of San Francisco have any sense, they'd elect Willie Brown mayor tomorrow and let him carry on the work of George Moscone."[71]

Brown's flurry of politicking and eulogizing hid one of the most anguished episodes of his life. Years later he recalled his feelings. "I was turned off by the mayor's job then."[72] He had toyed with running for mayor over the years, but now he wanted no part of it.


Chapter Nineteen—
The Play for Power

Now the little black kid can count.
Willie Brown
December 10, 1980

In his gloom, Willie Brown retreated to the familiar surroundings of Sacramento, where the game was not necessarily a matter of life and death. Politics in the state Capitol was churning and was about to turn the Democratic Party inside out. But at least it was one arena that Brown understood, and not the politics of cults and insanity. Despite his being at a low ebb, or because of it, Brown was about to go from the very bottom of his career to the very pinnacle of power in California. Brown's instincts as a gambler came into full play, and he was about to beat the odds. How he did it remains one of the most extraordinary stories in modern American politics.

Even before Moscone's death, Brown was visibly a chastened man, and it showed in how he treated people. He was a committee chairman again, but this time he was the epitome of decorum and fairness. This time he listened to his colleagues, letting them explain their bills, and he did not cut them off at their knees when they tried. He showed that he had listened to his colleagues when they rejected him for Speaker in 1974. Most importantly, Brown went out of his way to treat the new conservative Republicans with respect. His behavior with Republicans was not generally noticed, but it was noticed by an important few. Brown was possibly the only Democrat on the planet who understood that the conservative Proposition 13 Babies were politicians like any others, and that they would make a deal for power. He began instinctively searching for how.

"One of the reasons that we liked Willie was the way he had treated the Prop 13 Babies," said Robert Naylor, a Republican elected in 1978 from


the Silicon Valley who was serving as the party's whip, the second-ranking position. "He was chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, and I served on that committee in my first term. And he involved us. He was procedurally very, very fair."[1]

A half-dozen of the Proposition 13 Babies met for lunch once a week (calling themselves the "Dirty Half-Dozen"). During one such lunch, Dennis Brown—considered the most doctrinaire of the conservatives—startled his colleagues with an observation about the Democrat who chaired the Revenue and Taxation Committee: "You guys won't believe this but I think the best chairman that I serve under is Willie Brown," he told them. "He's fair and he's honest and he gives me a chance to speak. He listens to my points and actually agrees with me sometimes. I always get a fair opportunity to say what I think."[2]

Dennis Brown's assessment of Willie Brown shocked the other Republicans. Another member of the lunch group, Patrick Nolan of Glendale, later observed: "I came here thinking that there were two agents of the devil on earth: Jess Unruh and Willie Brown."[3] In the next few months the hard-right conservatives, including Nolan, began to soften their view of the black liberal from San Francisco. "Over time, we all had bills before the Revenue and Taxation Committee. And we always were treated fairly. The analysis was always fair. And if there ever were a mistake in the analysis, he fell all over himself to correct it and to make it clear that it was a mistake," said Nolan.

Leo McCarthy, however, was baffled by the new Republicans, and he said so openly: "In the freshmen class in the Assembly that came up last year there are some people who seem to be in a permanent state of belligerency. . . . I think we have a 'who can be the greater hawk' contest going on."[4]

Before the end of their first term, the Proposition 13 Babies put together the votes to dump veteran Assembly Republican leader Paul Priolo, a moderate from the Westside of Los Angeles. The new Republicans were not content to sit back as a minority; they wanted nothing less than a majority and control of the house. They replaced Priolo with Carol Hallett, a forty-one-year-old former legal secretary from a rural San Luis Obispo County district who was only in her second term.

Some of the older men in her caucus did not take Carol Hallett seriously. Trying to win them, she declared, "I am not a feminist, period." She won the respect of the Proposition 13 Babies because she treated them with respect and because she put the interests of winning a Republican majority first. "She was an activist and was willing to harness the energy and enthusiasm of this new group of legislators and lead us as opposed to trying to squelch us," said Nolan.[5] Conservatives relished in the fact that they, and not liberals, were the first in California to elect a woman as the leader of a legislative party caucus. But her election also generated hard feelings among the old guard within the caucus. An unnamed former Republican legislator fumed to California Journal : "Hallett has to realize that the so-called children of [Proposition] 13 owe their allegiance to


being children of [Proposition] 13 first, not Carol. Carol has to fit, in some measure, their idea of what carrying out the mandate of 13 is."[6]

Hallett got the job in a three-way race in the Republican caucus. Many later credited the new Republican lieutenant governor, Mike Curb, for secretly convincing key allies in the caucus to back Hallett, providing her with the winning margin.[7] Curb had never before held office, but he had backing from Ronald Reagan's biggest financial supporters, who saw him as a young conservative who could carry Reagan's legacy into the next generation. Although he had been lieutenant governor only a few months, Curb was already angling to run for governor in four years, but with Democrat Jerry Brown still holding the office, Curb had no power and little work to do. Some of his meddling was well publicized, and it eventually blew up in his face when he appointed judges to the bench when Jerry Brown left the state to campaign to be president. Curb's help for Hallett was barely noticed, but it would turn out to be among the few significant actions of his brief political career. Nor would it be the last time Curb played politics in the Assembly.

With so many new, ideologically driven Republicans filling the Assembly chamber, the Democrats were already near panic when McCarthy committed the largest blunder of his career. McCarthy made it clear that he wanted to use the Speaker's chair as a platform to run for statewide office, possibly for governor or U.S. senator. The last straw for many Democrats came when McCarthy hosted a political fund-raiser at the Los Angeles Convention Center with Ted Kennedy and devoted the $500,000 he raised to his own election coffers. McCarthy added to the insult by introducing his Assembly Democratic colleagues not by name but by having them stand as a group. Within hours many were meeting to talk about replacing him. A small group, including Walter Ingalls, an acerbic Democrat from Riverside in Southern California, dubbed themselves the "Gang of Four" and urged Berman to topple McCarthy.[8] Each had his own reason. Ingalls, for example, wanted to become Speaker pro tempore, the person who presides from day to day over floor sessions in the Assembly.

Close friends, including John Foran, warned McCarthy that a challenge was in the wind. But McCarthy paid no attention. More warnings came, and still McCarthy did not catch on. In November 1979 California Journal hit him over the head by running a picture of Howard Berman, the Democratic majority leader, on the cover with the caption "Speaker McCarthy's successor? Bet on Berman."[9] The article boldly predicted, "There is near-unanimous agreement in the Assembly that the next speaker will be Howard Berman. . . . It appears Berman's support may be so solid that he can withstand challenges of other candidates."


California Journal speculated that Berman's chief rival from the Democratic ranks would be Dan Boatwright, from Contra Costa County, who boasted he could get the votes if he wanted the job. As for Willie Brown, California Journal dismissed his chances: "Brown has been devoting an increasing amount of time to his law practice in San Francisco—an indication of waning interest in the speakership contest."

The breaking point came late in the afternoon of December 10, when Howard Berman, whose vote and those of his liberal Los Angeles friends had made McCarthy Speaker five years earlier, marched into McCarthy's office and told McCarthy to resign.[10] Berman came armed with a note he legalistically called his "bill of particulars." He bluntly told McCarthy that he wanted McCarthy to step aside and let Berman become Speaker.

McCarthy was furious. The encounter raged for eleven hours, and the Speaker was eventually joined by allies Art Agnos and Louis Papan. When Berman left the room he was no longer majority leader, but McCarthy was still Speaker. The lines were drawn.

A day later Berman held a press conference to make his declaration of war public. His grievance with McCarthy had to do not with policy disagreements but with how McCarthy was allocating campaign contributions: "What I and many of my Democratic colleagues find especially disturbing, and what we refuse to accept, is the Speaker's decision to create this devastating drain on our political resources," Berman said, citing McCarthy's intention to use the $500,000 he had raised for his own bid for higher office rather than for reelecting Democrats to the Assembly to preserve its majority.[11] "I am now actively exploring my own prospects for the speakership. I would relish the opportunity to help give my colleagues the full-time support and guidance they now lack."

McCarthy had choice words of his own for Berman: "Ambition has overtaken Howard's normally high standards of decency and loyalty."[12] McCarthy took pains to point out that he kept up a heavy schedule of fund-raising for Democratic Assembly candidates.

Years later McCarthy still felt anger toward Howard Berman. In his view Berman should have waited for McCarthy to signal when he would leave so that he could hand off the speakership gracefully. To hear McCarthy tell it, Berman's behavior was unforgivably rude. "I guess I should have seen it coming, but when it happened, it really did come as a great shock," McCarthy remembered. "When Howard walked in that day, I was really taken aback because I liked Howard Berman very much. So it hurt from a personal point of view. And the manner in which it was done, too: he had been going around trying to collect votes for a few days, particularly over that weekend, without ever having talked to me."[13]

But Berman felt there was no time to wait. The 1980 election was fast approaching, and the Republicans were better organized and were raising money. With Ronald Reagan likely to be on the ballot running for president


and the triumph of Proposition 13 still very much alive with the voters, the year could shape up as one of the worst for Democrats unless they got to work fast. McCarthy needed to get out of the way or there would be no speakership to hand off.

"I didn't want to be minority leader," Berman explained. "We were on the road to losing our Democratic majority, so that the notion of being the person to succeed wouldn't be worth too much. I really thought we really headed in a very downward spiral in terms of Democratic control."[14]

In hindsight, Berman said, he should not have met with McCarthy; he should have lined up the votes secretly and struck fast to dump McCarthy, just the way the new Republicans had dumped Paul Priolo. "I let him know I was going to do it—that was probably my mistake," said Berman.

Berman calculated that he could give the Democrats a quick advantage if he could become Speaker in December 1979. Berman had raised $85,000 for his colleagues in the 1978 races, and as Speaker he could raise even more. Well connected to the Los Angeles Westside liberal Jewish community, he could easily get a few dozen benefactors to bankroll Assembly candidates.[15] The Democrats would not have to cut deals with public employee unions, trial lawyers, and others with business in the Legislature. His brother, Michael Berman, was a master campaign strategist and was skilled in the technicalities of redistricting. With reapportionment fast approaching, the Berman organization was in a good position to protect, even expand, the Democratic hold on the Legislature and the congressional delegation.

In the days that followed, McCarthy took the pulse of his Democratic colleagues. Democratic Assemblyman Bill Lockyer, from Hayward, told him "not to get nasty," and McCarthy took it as a sign of support, although Lockyer ended up supporting Berman.[16] McCarthy soon turned to the sharpest politician he knew in the Assembly for help: Willie Brown.

McCarthy asked Brown to be his new majority leader. The caucus post that had eluded Brown a decade earlier was now his for the asking. But the decision to accept was not easy for Brown. Recalling how Berman had doubled-crossed him and how McCarthy had beat him in the 1974 Speaker fight, Brown told reporters, "I had only two choices: Vote for the Speaker who defeated me or the majority leader who stabbed me in the back."[17]

Brown talked with Berman for five hours before deciding what to do. Reapportionment arithmetic played a part in Brown's decision. At least with the speakership in the hands of McCarthy, a fellow Democrat from San Francisco, Brown could be assured of playing a central role in redistricting. Willie Brown was not about to let political power slip to Southern California. In the end, however, Brown said he made up his mind based on a belief that Berman was essentially untrustworthy. "He traded my Speakership for his majority leader's job as a freshman. I classify that as a knifing," said Brown.[18]

Berman also took the pulse of his colleagues, and a few days after Christmas he picked up two key Hispanic votes: Art Torres and Richard


Alatorre. Both were close to Cesar Chavez, the head of the United Farm Workers union, and Chavez was close to Berman particularly because of his work on the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.[19] Fashioned after the National Labor Relations Act of the 1930s, the law gave farmworkers the same rights as industrial workers to organize and seek injunctions against growers who did not follow the law. The act was an immense step forward for Chavez and his union, and Berman was largely responsible for moving it through the Legislature. Chavez had become a key player in his own right in Sacramento, and he often worked through Torres and Alatorre. The two had been key supporters for McCarthy, and their defection to Berman boded ill for McCarthy's chances of political survival.

Chavez, however, made a major mistake in picking sides in an internal power struggle in the Assembly. Chavez was not the only outsider to make the mistake. The governor would, too.

When the Assembly convened in January 1980, Berman's side tried to "vacate the chair" and oust McCarthy. Berman mustered twenty-six votes in the Democratic caucus to McCarthy's twenty-four votes. However, it took forty-one votes to be elected Speaker, a majority of the full house. Berman demanded that his colleagues hold to the "tradition" that the Democrats unify behind whoever had a majority within the caucus. The tradition was only as old as the previous speakership fight, six years earlier, but memories were short. McCarthy's loyalists, many with longer memories of the Unruh era, refused to knuckle under.

The balance of power was held by the Republicans, and they stayed neutral. There was nothing Berman could do. Without forty-one votes in the Assembly to dump him, McCarthy stayed Speaker, although severely wounded and no longer the leader of his own caucus.[20] The Berman and McCarthy forces would fight it out on the ballot, targeting each other for defeat in Democratic primaries. In reality, the California Assembly now had three political parties: Republicans, McCarthyites, and Bermanites.

The Republicans looked on with glee as the Democrats chewed themselves up. "As much as we hated McCarthy, we thought Berman would be worse, and there was a political advantage to keeping that war going between the Democrats," said Naylor. The war between the Democrats lasted a year. Each side took casualties. Friendships were broken. Most unforgivably for Willie Brown, the Bermanites defeated Jack Fenton, an old friend of Brown's, in the June primary and replaced him with Matthew Martinez. No one had ever fought a speakership battle by targeting members of their own party for election defeat. The ambitions of the few at the top seemed to have overtaken the interests of the Democratic Party as a whole. The animosity between the two camps spilled over into the regular course of legislating in Sacramento. Each side killed the other's bills, and nothing of substance got done.

"It was a terrible year," McCarthy reflected in an interview for this book.[21] "It was a year that all sides should look back on and say how foolish that was,


how harmful it was to the legislative process. No one came away from all of that with any honor, and anybody who really wants the legislative process to work should feel very badly about that whole episode."

By spring political reporters were writing about the demise of what had been considered the second most powerful job in California. The job had turned from one of making policy and guiding legislation to an increasingly political one consumed with guiding election campaigns. "The speakership as it exists today is a shattered remnant of what it was just a year ago," wrote Vic Pollard in the May 1980 issue of California Journal .[22]

The Republicans' glee at their rivals' division turned to alarm as the Democrats sharpened their election skills on each other and raised mounds of campaign cash, far more money than they could possibly have raised otherwise. Public campaign finance records revealed that Berman raised $209,181 in the first four months of 1980. Those who checked the records might have noticed something else significant. The legislator raising the second highest amount of cash was not Speaker McCarthy but Willie Brown, who raised $169,323 in the same period.[23] The 1980 primaries marked the first time that Brown entered the political money-raising game in a big way. Legislative power had shifted to those who could raise the most in campaign contributions. The tip-off that Willie Brown was emerging as the Assembly's new leader lay in the contribution numbers, but no one then yet realized it. Raising campaign money had always been an element in the power game; now it was essential. Other Brown friends amassed large campaign chests as well, particularly Michael Roos, with $108,577. By contrast, the Republicans did poorly; Hallett was the only Republican breaking into six figures—and just barely—with $100,863.

Brown played the loyal lieutenant, going flat out to help elect Assembly members loyal to McCarthy. For the first time since 1968, Brown played a low-key role in presidential politics. By midsummer Brown was predicting, accurately, that President Carter would lose big. Brown served as a delegate pledged to Ted Kennedy at the national convention, but that was the extent of his presidential politicking. He had far more at stake in state politics than ever before.

In truth, the Democrats defeated in the primaries would have been ripe for the Republicans' picking in the general election. The Democrats replacing them on the November ballot were tougher and presented harder targets for the Republicans. Once the primaries were out of the way, the McCarthy and Berman forces began competing to see who could inflict the most damage on Republican candidates. The Republicans now discovered that they faced two opposing political parties. "They each turned their attention to electing their particular nominees," said Naylor. "So we ended up fighting what amounted to a two-front war. Each campaign was the Speakership for them."[24]

The prospect of having Howard Berman as Speaker terrified the Republican leaders. He was too partisan, and his election skills were formidable. "It was an anybody-but-Berman game," said Ed Rollins, Hallett's chief of


staff.[25] The Republicans quietly turned to Willie Brown as their candidate for Speaker, believing he would be less dangerous than Berman. Their collaboration with Brown came into the open in November, and it came as a stunning development in an already tumultuous political year.

Even fifteen years later few in the Capitol knew just how long Brown had been talking with the Republicans about making him Speaker. Not even his Democratic friends knew what Brown and the Republicans were plotting or how long they had been at it. Willie Brown had begun talking secretly to the Republican leaders in August 1980, well before the course of the election was certain.[26] By the time they came into the open in late November, the deal was done.

The talks began casually enough. Republican leader Carol Hallett and her second in command, Robert Naylor, jokingly asked Brown if he still harbored ambitions of being Speaker. That would depend, he laughed.

"I kept kidding Willie: 'Just let me know when you want the votes, we've got them,'" Hallett recalled. "Every once in awhile I would pop off again and say: 'Hey Willie, you ready for the votes yet?'"

The Republicans' probe was no joke. "It was very quiet," said Naylor. "It was just filed away pending the election."

Brown asked one thing that summer of the Republicans—that they stay neutral until November and things sorted out. "Keep your powder dry," he put it.[27] Their neutrality ensured that McCarthy could stay Speaker until after the election. Without them, Berman could not get to forty-one votes.

The flirtation between Brown and the Republicans found its way into an August 28 column by Sacramento Bee political editor Martin Smith, who wrote that the jesting hid a very real interest that Republicans had in Brown's becoming Speaker. "If [Willie Brown] decides that McCarthy's cause is doomed, he might make another run for the post himself, with or without the present Speaker's blessing," Smith wrote. Smith cited an unnamed Republican source, who in fact was Hallett's chief of staff, Ed Rollins, saying, "Willie makes deals, and he is a man of his word."[28]

Smith's column sounded far-fetched, and few paid much attention to it. However, his speculations were more accurate than he realized. To make sure that Brown got the point, Rollins circled the column and sent it to Brown. When he received it, Brown immediately telephoned Rollins:

"When do we meet?"

Brown drove up to Sacramento from San Francisco, and was in Rollins's office in a little more than an hour. Brown asked how many chairmanships the Republicans wanted. Rollins replied that they wanted none—a chairmanship without a majority of votes on the committee was meaningless. The Republicans wanted vice chairmanships with the staffs to go with them. Most importantly, they wanted an equal share of the resources to draw up redistricting plans in 1981. As it evolved, Republicans wanted more than that, including chairmanships, and negotiations proved difficult and protracted.


The talks remained secret, and no one in the press—or the Berman camp—picked up on the hint offered by Smith's August column. Even Smith speculated that the most likely compromise candidate was the affable Frank Vicencia from Southern California.

The election campaign ground to its conclusion, and the Democrats won forty-seven seats to thirty-three for the Republicans—a gain of three seats for the Republicans. On election night, November 4, 1980, it appeared Berman had won twenty-five seats, a handful more than McCarthy. That evening Art Torres appeared with Berman on stage at a victory party and addressed him as "Mister Speaker," underscoring that McCarthy's speakership was over.[29] It looked to the Democrats and the press as though Berman could now safely claim the speakership and take over the ornate northwest-corner suite in the soon-to-be-opened Capitol, with its lovely antique furniture and paintings of clipper ships and the Golden Gate.

Two days after the election, the twenty-one Assembly members loyal to Leo McCarthy met in a conference room at San Francisco Airport.[30] McCarthy grimly opened the meeting by announcing that he would step aside as Speaker. The group immediately agreed that they could not support Berman as Speaker under any circumstances, and they began discussing finding an alternative candidate. Just as Maxine Waters arrived, someone floated the idea of Vicencia.

"I said 'no way, no way,'" Waters recalled. "I stormed into the room and I took on that idea and said that he didn't have what it takes, he's not strong enough—I mean, I said things that probably I felt bad about later on."

The bickering continued. Finally Assemblyman Tom Hannigan, a lanky ex-Marine who represented a Bay Area district, told them he was completely disgusted with the whole mess.[31]

"Look," Hannigan told them. "I've been the good soldier all year long. I believed in Leo's abilities and thought he should retain the speakership and did everything I could to help, and I don't take a backseat to anybody here, but I've had it. I mean, this is as much as I can take. I'm leaving this meeting today, and I'm going home and I don't want to hear from any of you. I'll come up to Sacramento and get sworn in early December, but I've been listening as we go around the room and I suspect there are some other agendas here and I don't want any part of it."

Hannigan then left the meeting.

The meeting broke up after those still there decided to dispatch a delegation led by Brown to feel out Berman on what they could expect if he became Speaker. Despite Waters's protests, the group also authorized Vicencia to negotiate with the Republicans to see if they would support him as Speaker. Brown went along with the Vicencia plan, not tipping his hand that the Republicans were ready to support Brown and no one else. Not even his closest allies, including Maxine Waters, knew of the cards he secretly held.


The talks with Berman predictably went badly. The McCarthy group felt insulted. "Howard was patronizing, showed disdain and turned off our people," complained Agnos. "He tried to stiff-arm us."[32]

Meanwhile Vicencia talked with the Republicans about supporting him as Speaker. Vicencia, not knowing about the secret summer talks, was accompanied on his mission by none other than Willie Brown. As Vicencia later told an oral historian, he could not stomach the Republicans' demands, particularly their insistence that the new Speaker fire Assemblyman Louis Papan as chairman of the Rules Committee. Known as "the Enforcer" or "Sweet Lou," Papan was an ex-FBI agent with a volcanic temper. He once decked Assemblyman Ken Meade in his office with a single punch to the eye over an obscure dispute on a transportation bill.[33] Republicans detested Papan, as did most Democrats, though they were so intimidated by Papan that they expressed their disdain in private. Getting rid of Papan was something Vicencia would not do, either out of fear or friendship:

Then when Willie and I left the meeting, we went back to his office and I said to him, "Willie, look, I'm not going to go for that crap. If you want to go for it, you've got my support."

He said, "No man, I don't want it. I really don't want it. I'd rather you do it. I've got my law practice. I really don't have time." I said, "Look, I've got my business, too. But if I go for it, I think maybe I'd crumble the whole thing because I'm not kicking Lou Papan off."

He said, "Oh, that's no big deal." I said, "Yes, it is. I think it's a big deal." We had a disagreement over that. He knew at that point that I really was serious about it. I think from that point on, he really thought that he was going to have to make the move himself if he really wanted it, and I thought he did.[34]

Vicencia did not know it, but Brown was already talking with the Republicans. Vicencia was the one moderate Democrat who might have made a deal with the Republicans, but the idea of sacking Papan stood in the way. When Vicencia admitted that, Brown knew that a major threat to his becoming Speaker had been eliminated.

Maxine Waters and others urged Brown to run for Speaker. "I joined with Roos and Elihu Harris and talked Willie Brown into being our candidate for Speaker and started to put it together," said Waters.[35] Brown was now in the best possible position he could be, with his friends believing they were talking him into running for the post he had always coveted. He could now run as a compromise candidate, as the man others were turning to in a crisis. Willie Brown's ego would no longer be the issue in the speakership fight.

The final talks with the Republicans were held in hideaway offices in the Capitol, at out-of-the-way restaurants along the Sacramento River, and at Hallett's home. She began including Ross Johnson, considered the leader of the most conservative faction and one of the smartest members of the Republican caucus. Brown hedged, giving concessions sparingly, "tap


dancing" as Johnson indelicately put it.[36] More than once Hallett was tempted to give up on the game. "In my heart," Johnson said, "I believe that the turning of the tide was a shouting match in Carol Hallett's office where Ed Rollins and I were pounding the table and saying, 'Goddammit, we can do this.'"[37]

Word leaked to the newspapers that Brown was now a candidate for Speaker.[38] At first Berman did not believe it, making the same mistake Brown had made in 1974 when Brown dismissed Leo McCarthy's chances. Berman said any speculation that Brown was going to be Speaker was "hogwash."

Berman tried to open talks with Hallett, but she told him flatly that she was not interested. Berman then turned to Republican Assemblyman Charles Imbrecht, who began working on other Republicans. To the outside world the machinations in the Assembly looked complicated, with at least three candidates for Speaker and a fourth who held the office and would not step down. But to the insiders the situation sorted itself out fairly simply. Brown was rallying the McCarthy forces, and Berman was trying to find a way to win Republicans. Berman's last-ditch effort to find Republicans came through Democratic Assemblyman Rick Lehman of Fresno, who roomed with Imbrecht in Sacramento. Lehman in reality was a Berman supporter, but he began floating the idea of himself as a compromise candidate. However, the Republican leadership was well aware of the relationship and considered Lehman not a real candidate but a stalking horse for Berman. Ross Johnson recalled that the Republican leaders would not talk about their negotiations with Brown in any detail when fellow Republican Imbrecht was in the room. "The assumption always was that we had to be somewhat circumspect if it was something we really didn't want Berman to know," Johnson recalled.[39]

The deal between Brown and the Republicans came together even as Berman scoffed at the idea that it was possible. "Willie was the only one who was willing to really negotiate in good faith," said Hallett. That the Republicans were well satisfied with their deal was since clouded by the heat and smoke of political battles that came later.

Eventually, when Republican leaders, like Ross Johnson, had to explain their role in creating Willie Brown's record fourteen-year speakership, they insisted that Brown had broken his promises. But did he? Ascertaining the truth of such claims is difficult nearly two decades later because the deal was never put to paper. Years later, during an interview in her public relations office in Washington, D.C., Hallett pointed to a yellowed Sacramento Bee editorial hanging on her wall.[40] The clipping was the only written evidence she could produce containing the details of her deal with Willie Brown.

The outline of the deal, said The Bee and other news accounts, was that Brown agreed to give the Republicans five chairmanships, and vice chairmanships on those committees chaired by Democrats. "It's already clear that the biggest winners will be Carol Hallett's Republicans," the editorial concluded.


Republicans also got representation on each committee proportional to their overall strength in the Assembly. Brown further agreed to grant authority to the Rules Committee to assign bills to policy committees, a power previously held exclusively by the Speaker. Hallett was granted authority to virtually assign Republican members to committees, a power never before granted to a minority leader. Brown also promised the Republicans money from the Assembly budget to work on reapportionment. Finally, Hallett agreed to give Brown two years of breathing space to solidify his hold on the speakership. Brown interpreted the last point to mean that the entire deal would be of only two years' duration, a point that was subject to much misinterpretation, but a point which Hallett said was correct.

There was no mention of firing Lou Papan in The Bee 's editorial or in any other news story. Invariably, however, Republican claims that Brown reneged on his deal come down to one point—whether he agreed to fire Papan, a point that to the outside world was petty but to those inside the Legislature was an issue of no small importance. Hallett and Johnson claim that Brown indeed agreed to dump Papan. "That's the only thing where Willie reneged. In everything else he was true to his word," said Hallett.[41] More graphic in his description, Johnson claims that Papan heard he was going to be fired and confronted Brown. "Papan, as he's wont to do, went ballistic and went charging in." Johnson asserted that Brown was completely intimidated by the overbearing Papan, and Brown backed off from firing him.[42]

However, Brown maintained that he never promised to fire Papan, although he said Papan was "fucking nuts." But Brown said he would not have made such a promise precisely because Republicans were asking for it. "I don't give a shit about him—Lou Papan mistreats everybody," Brown said when asked about Johnson's view. "I concluded that the day that I sacrifice one of my own, for my own personal ambition, was the day that I build the potential for my own defeat. So I went back and told Rollins, 'You can't make demands because then you will be controlling the Speakership. It has to be a deal where I am the Speaker free of any control by you because if that happens, I'm dead.' And he agreed. So I said 'I will control Lou Papan, but I won't necessarily dump him. If I decide to dump him it will be because I conclude that he ought to be dumped, not because it's a condition of me becoming Speaker.' And he agreed with that—to his credit."[43]

In a 1993 interview for this book, Rollins backed Willie Brown's version over that of his fellow Republicans. "He never agreed [to fire Papan]," said Rollins. "There's not anybody in the Legislature who can tell you Willie Brown breaks his word."[44]

Republicans should not have been surprised that Brown would keep Papan as chairman of the Rules Committee. A week before the Speaker vote, he told reporters he would probably keep Papan at Rules and give John Vasconcellos the chairmanship of Ways and Means.[45] When Brown became Speaker, that is exactly what he did.


Brown's speakership was characterized by frequent conflict with the Republicans. So why did they cut a deal with him and elect him?

"We really believed that Willie would self-destruct," said Hallett. "We really felt that Willie's flamboyant approach would get him into so much trouble with his own caucus that he wouldn't last. And we were certainly wrong on that one."[46]

At the time Republicans believed Brown would be less partisan than Berman. They feared Berman's formidable election machine, which had played a big role in electing Tom Bradley as mayor of Los Angeles, defeating conservative Mayor Sam Yorty. In comparison, Brown did not have much of a political organization outside of San Francisco. Further, Brown had been out of power for most of the last six years, and the Proposition 13 Babies had no memory of Brown's heavy-handedness as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Ironically, Brown's time away from Sacramento enhanced his fortunes because both the Republicans and the Berman forces underestimated his political skills. Their memories of 1974 were short-lived or nonexistent.

There was one other large but unspoken reason Republicans supported Brown: he was black. Republicans strategists believed they could set up Brown as a black bogeyman and scare white suburbanites. Berman, with his boyish looks and blond curly hair, could never give Republicans such an opportunity. "Willie would always be a very visible target. Berman would never have his head up. But we could run against Willie," one the strategists close to Hallett later admitted.[47] They planned to make Brown into the worst political nightmare ever seen in the San Fernando Valley and everywhere else race could be used against Democrats. They believed that Willie Brown sitting in the Speaker's chair would generate more campaign contributions for Republicans than any other villain they could find or create.

However, before their plan could be set in motion, the Republican rank and file needed convincing that they should cast their votes for a black liberal from San Francisco. And that meant convincing the Proposition 13 Babies. Voting for Willie Brown was a hard swallow, even if he had been fair to them as a committee chairman. Brown's only legislative goal the entire year was in pushing a bill to legalize cultivating marijuana, hardly a popular issue with hard-right conservatives.

Willie Brown had another secret card to play: Jesse Unruh.

The former Speaker had been elected state treasurer in 1974, a post that kept him in Sacramento, where he commanded a booth nightly at Frank Fat's, a popular watering hole with legislators a few blocks from the Capitol.[48]

"Jess held court every night and didn't care if it was a Republican or a Democrat," said Hallett. "He just was very, very at ease. He would share views and ideas. He would make recommendations whether they wanted to hear it or not." Unruh had instant credibility with the newer Republicans because of his antipathy toward Berman and McCarthy. "Jess Unruh could


not could not stand Leo McCarthy," Hallett added. "Whether it's true or not, Jess told me he voted for me for lieutenant governor," referring to her campaign against McCarthy for lieutenant governor in 1982.[49] Unruh felt slighted that the Speaker had never consulted him about anything.

Unruh had his reasons for hating Berman as well. In 1973 Unruh had run for mayor of Los Angeles, but was beaten by Berman's candidate, Tom Bradley. "Seven years later, Jess has a good memory," Berman later reflected.[50]

Unruh reassured the Republicans. He told them that Willie Brown would be a good Speaker, that he would keep his word. Willie Brown, whose first vote in the Assembly had been cast against Unruh a quarter of a century earlier, showed respect to the former Speaker. And doubtless Unruh delighted in the roll of kingmaker. Back in the 1960s Brown had been a rebellious young legislator bucking the system Unruh had built. But Unruh had grown to respect Brown. The two had become friends, and frequented the same bars in Sacramento and enjoyed swapping jokes. Brown still remembered that Unruh had once told him: "It's a good thing you're not white. . . . Because if you were, you'd own the place."[51]

The audacity and the intrigue of Brown's move must also have appealed to Unruh. The former Speaker complained to California Journal in April 1980 that legislators lacked passion.[52] "There's so very little risk-taking now," he said. "You know, the most personalized thing in politics now, today, is the computerized letter." It was a comment he would not have made about Willie Brown, who was taking the biggest gamble of his life.

Brown had help from yet another unexpected quarter: Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb, who remained close to Hallett. She and Unruh prevailed upon Curb to help with the Proposition 13 Babies.[53] The strategy worked.

Still, Brown did not entirely trust the Republicans to follow through on their promises to vote for him. Nor did the Republican leaders entirely trust their followers. Johnson and Rollins devised an ingenious method for cementing the deal. Rather than having the caucus sign a form letter, as was the usual custom, Johnson and Rollins got each Republican to send a telegram to Willie Brown pledging support.[54] Most were short and to the point, although Phillip Wyman, who represented the Mojave Desert community of Lancaster, felt compelled to write a lengthy treatise justifying his vote. The stack of telegrams proved a powerful stage prop for Brown when he walked into the Democratic caucus for the final showdown vote.

Brown and the Republicans had their deal, and both parties were satisfied.

Meanwhile Brown began looking for Democratic supporters. He had only the seventeen or so McCarthy supporters, at best. Many of them felt uncomfortable making a deal with Republicans. Brown needed to give them cover by denying Berman the claim that he commanded a majority of the Democrats and was therefore the caucus's real leader. Berman was pushing for a rule change to provide that the leader in the majority caucus was also


the Speaker of the Assembly. Jerry Brown declared his support for such a rule change, and his words were widely seen as a public endorsement of Berman— and interference in the speakership battle.[55] The congressional delegation also weighed in, supporting a rule giving the majority caucus power to elect the Speaker. Berman even minted campaign buttons featuring his face and the caption "Support Majority Rule" (leaving aside the fact that real majority rule was forty-one votes of the Assembly). So far, McCarthy as Speaker had squelched efforts at adopting the rule. But to make the rule issue moot, and deny Berman his moral ground as the legitimate Democratic leader, Willie Brown needed to work for at least a tie vote in the Democratic caucus.

To succeed, Brown focused on picking off at least a handful of Berman's votes. Brown started calling in old chits. Assemblyman Curtis Tucker, a black legislator from Los Angeles, was first. Tucker felt slighted by Leo McCarthy and was supporting Berman. What Berman did not know was that Tucker had been urging Brown to make a deal with Republicans since the 1974 Speaker fight.[56] After a long lunch with Brown, Tucker announced he was supporting Brown. "I had a beef with Leo, but not with Willie," Tucker explained. "Willie has attended every one of my [fund-raising] functions in Los Angeles."[57] In East Texas, where Brown grew up, there was a slang word for such favors: "kadus." With them Brown put together his votes.

The two most critical Democratic votes turned out to be those of Assemblymen Richard Alatorre and Art Torres of Los Angeles, both of whom went back decades with Brown. They had already switched once, deserting McCarthy. They were about to switch for a second time in the Speaker war. The two Latinos were close to Cesar Chavez, and the labor leader vehemently supported Berman. In fact, Berman had promised Torres he would be majority leader—number 2—if Berman became Speaker. Chavez invested $300,000 of his union's money backing Assembly candidates loyal to Berman.

Alatorre's switch was the easier to figure out. Brown had helped him win his seat in 1972, and he had been one of Brown's staunchest allies in the 1974 speakership fight. The two had grown personally close, so when Brown asked for his vote, Alatorre did not hesitate.

But Torres was harder to read. He was not particularly close to Brown, and he stood to lose more in the Assembly by backing Brown. "I told him I would support him on one condition: That I didn't want anything in return," said Torres.[58] He supported Brown, he said, because he saw Brown as the only leader who could get the Assembly out of its morass. But Torres, who had got his start as a lawyer for the UFW, irreparably damaged his relationship with Chavez. "He was furious that I had disobeyed him," Torres remembered. Chavez told his former protégé that "men like him did not belong in the Assembly."[59] Chavez briefly considered mounting a recall against Torres. Chavez never spoke to Torres again for the rest of his life.

A week before the vote, Berman got a hint that Democratic votes were peeling off. "I was going along, doing pretty well, and Richard [Alatorre]


said something like 'What about Willie?' I should have paid more attention to that comment. What Richard was doing was signaling to me: 'I'm with you if you're against Leo, but if Willie is getting into this, this is my way of telling you, you've got a problem.'"[60]

Brown needed one more Democratic vote to get his tie. Tom Hannigan presented the best opportunity. Widely seen as a squeaky-clean good-government advocate, Hannigan was pledged to McCarthy, but after he walked out of the Democrats' airport meeting no one knew where he stood. Hannigan was sick of the whole fight, and had all but quit taking phone calls. Finally Brown reached him while Hannigan was up on a ladder painting his house. Brown asked if he could come visit, and Hannigan replied he was holding public office hours later in the week at Benicia City Hall, and Brown was welcome to drop by.

"Fine," Brown replied. Then puzzled, he asked, "Where's Benicia?"

The two met in Benicia, about an hour's drive from Sacramento. Brown explained how he had the support of the Republicans. Hannigan told him that he did not like it, that he wanted a Democratic Speaker to be free of the opposition party. "He didn't push it," said Hannigan. "He just let it go. So I didn't hear from him anymore. I started hearing then from Art Agnos and Mike Roos."[61]

Berman began to scramble, but too late. He told reporters that there was something insidious about cutting deals with the Republicans, although he was trying to make such a deal himself. He said if Brown got the job with Republican support it would mean "chaos, total lack of progress, a betrayal of the voters' mandate."[62]

As it became clear that Brown was working a deal with Republicans, Berman called in his chits with the congressional delegation. Eighteen of the twenty-two Democratic House members from California signed a letter November 21 declaring that a deal with Republicans would be a political catastrophe: "We believe that a coalition speakership of this type would be a disaster for the interests of the Democratic Party . . . . It would seriously endanger the critical district reapportionment you are about to undertake."[63] Those who did not sign were Augustus Hawkins, the senior black member of the delegation; black congressman Ron Dellums, from Berkeley; and Phillip and John Burton. Still, Phillip Burton had his misgivings.

"Phil questioned whether or not it was a good idea for me to make a coalition with Republicans to become Speaker," Brown recalled. "He seriously questioned. I'm not even sure he wanted to do it, or he wanted me to do it. But he was wise enough to let Johnny Burton and Willie Brown do whatever they needed."[64]

The Assembly Democrats convened on December 2, 1980, behind closed doors. Tucker, Alatorre, and Torres—former Berman supporters—voted for Brown, giving him a 23-23 tie in the Democratic caucus. There was one


abstention—Tom Hannigan—and that was as good as a vote for Brown because it denied Berman a majority of Democrats.

Berman was in shock. The speakership fight would have to come to the Assembly floor; there could be no possibility of deciding it in the caucus. Once it was on the floor, Berman was in for a bigger shock. Carol Hallett delivered her votes: twenty-eight Republicans voted for Brown, giving him fifty-one votes to Berman's twenty-four. More Republicans voted for Brown than Democrats. To their everlasting regret, the Republicans gave Willie Brown the most powerful job in the California Legislature.

As the votes were cast, Brown sat with his son, Michael, and his wife, Blanche, in one of her few public appearances. As the votes were posted, pandemonium broke out in the house. Brown embraced McCarthy and accepted a handshake from Berman.

"Berman and McCarthy spent $2.5 million to get the speakership," Brown quipped to Berman. "I spent $80,000, with $40,000 on clothes, and I won."[65]

Within minutes Brown was escorted to the Speaker's dais, where he took the oath of office from San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Dearman, his old law partner.

The Republicans looked on in jubilation. "The day of his swearing in was a fabulous day," said Ed Rollins. "There was an excitement in Sacramento like I've never seen before. One of the good guys made it."[66]

Brown's jokes flowed.[67] "Now the little black kid can count." Brown asked Berman to punch his voting button for him as the house elected McCarthy Speaker pro tem. The practice of pushing the voting button for another member was called "ghost voting," and was technically illegal. But that morning Brown said, "That's not considered ghost voting, even though it's [being] done for a spook." The most enduring photograph of the day was of a beaming Brown surrounded by his wife and son, and Art Torres standing behind them with a wide grin.

Berman played along good-naturedly, but he was stunned all the same.

"This could not happen and therefore I just assumed this would not happen," Berman said years later, still incredulous that his fortune turned so dramatically.[68] "What I never believed was that Willie—Willie Brown, the San Francisco liberal-left activist legislator —could get that hard-core Republican vote to go for him." But Willie Brown did just that. And now he owned the place.


previous part
next part