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Chapter Seventeen— Oblivion
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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]


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