San Francisco is buzzing over a long magazine article about former mayor (and before that Assembly Speaker-for-Life) Willie Brown and his continuing influence over City Hall.
Brown remains sparklingly charismatic and jaunty despite his seventy-eight years. He is possibly more powerful and certainly less controversial now than when he held public office. The ethics and criminal investigations that dogged his entire political career (no charges were ever filed) have been largely forgotten. The well-dressed bon vivant lives downtown in his St. Regis apartment and seems to never tire of the party circuit.
Brown is now a private attorney under no obligation to disclose the identity of his clients or his interactions with the legion of public officials and others who owe their careers to him. (The most promising of these may be California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Brown’s onetime girlfriend.) Brown operates in a post-partisan, post-paper trail world in which he reaps the benefits of power while bearing none of the unpleasant culpability or scrutiny that typically comes with that.
There is no scandal here. Brown helped create the system that allows him to flourish now. And he plays that system like a born musician who rarely if ever hits a wrong note. “He is smarter than everyone else. That is what it comes down to. He’s a chess player playing at a level far more advanced than everyone else,” says Corey Cook, a politics professor at the University of San Francisco. “He has always been able to figure out how to find the gray area, and never cross the line.”
There's lots of dark rumblings about billion dollar subway extensions, garbage monopolies, and other local matters; so it's beyond peculiar that this close examination of San Francisco politics has been published by ... The Washington Monthly??? That should give you an idea how closely the local media follows events in their own back yard.