“Profile of San Francisco’s Mayor Willie Brown.”


The New Yorker — 21 October 1996 P. 200

Born an illegitimate black child in Mineola, Texas, Brown was brought up by his grandmother and sent to stay with his uncle in San Francisco as a teenager. He attended San Francisco State University, where he met his future wife, Blanche, and Hastings College of the Law. He ran a law practice whose clientele consisted mainly of prostitutes, but became active in the community. He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1964 (after losing in 1962). The thirty-one years he spent there were a political performance that Brown himself calls, not altogether inaptly, “classic politics in American democracy.” He became expert at negotiating power in the Assembly. Brown became chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, presiding over the budget. However, he had to fight for the attention of Reagan Republicans in the Assembly. Brown lost a bid for the Speakership in 1974 and concentrated on his law practice. It gained prestigious clients, and was investigated for possible conflicts between political and business interests (none were found). In 1980, he waged a successful campaign for the Speakership, convincing Republicans to vote for him. He became the first black Speaker in the state’s history, announcing that he expected to stay in that position “forever,” and managed to manipulate the population of the Assembly so that it seemed possible. He was becoming an increasingly familiar national figure. He and Blanche, though they had three children, finally separated, due in part to his many young female escorts. Brown defeated attempts to dislodge him in the Assembly. He was elected San Francisco’s first black mayor in 1995. Brown has ignored, fought, and triumphed over racism for his whole life, from shining shoes in Mineola to proving himself in the Assembly. He believes that San Francisco has two great advantages: its unusual diversity and racial harmony, and its unusually driven mayor, Willie Brown. As Mayor, Brown has to deal with more immediate and tactile problems — such as housing and public transportation — than he did as Speaker. He is a popular figure in San Francisco, a boulevardier known for his natty clothes and social energy. He and Blanche are still close. He has a solitary nature, in spite of his public charisma. Brown’s panache suits San Francisco; he says, “It’s great to look out there and know that you are mayor of everything — as far as you can see.”

29 September 2020, 13:13