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Chapter Sixteen— Give Me Back My Delegation!
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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.


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