Former San Francisco Mayor, former Speaker of the California Assembly, and therefore formerly the most politically powerful man in the state, Willie Brown entertained a good-sized crowd at the Commonwealth Club last night. Billed as his annual speech on political trends, Willie put on a face-paced, witty, informative, and satisfying liberal tour de force which kept us snickering, smiling, and nodding knowledgeably for the entire hour.
He touched on national, state, and local politics, and scattered gems of insight along with sugary left-wing candy prophesies that had us smacking our lips for more. He sees the national Republicans in disarray. Acknowledging that even he cannot think of a Democrat with a policy in any major area (with the exception of Senator Ted Kennedy’s health care stance) Willie postulates that it might not matter. The Republicans are running backwards fast enough, he thinks if the Democrats manage to stand still they’ll wind up in front.
Responding to a question wondering if America is ready for a woman president and if Hillary had a chance to win the office, Willie gave a great answer: woman should no longer be treated as novelty acts. We shouldn’t focus on the “firsts” any more since there are so many women in top positions. And, yes, it seems he thinks Hillary is the best candidate.
His blatant statement of the obvious was fun. He had us chuckling over the dilemma of the Democratic candidates for governor when he stated that Phil Angelides and Steve Wesley could combine their votes or do a tag-team in the Fall election and still lose to Schwarzenegger.
Willie told us that Gavin Newsom and D.A. Kamala Harris are kids with the same basic views who need to figure out a way to be political allies. He poked at the Board of Supervisors and ran though the list of statewide office contenders waiting for our votes.
Unfortunately, Willie revealed some about himself, too. His words brought back bad memories.
When he mentioned the grand achievements of his city leadership he spoke of the monuments like the new ballpark and the de Young. “Monument” was his word; an apt and striking choice that reminded me of how his mayorship rabidly avoided focusing on the people problems of the city.
Da Mayor showed how personal loyalty trumps public policy in his political system. He went down a side path when talking about the coming city elections and shared how the city would probably be forced by initiative petition to vote on banning cars in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays since Mayor Newsom has vetoed the Board-passed ban. Willie said that Newsom’s veto would probably be sustained, unlike Brown’s own vetoes which Supervisor Newsom and Supervisor Mark Leno voted to override. Willie talked how Newsom and Leno, appointed to the Board by Mayor Brown, hadn’t shown the Soprano-like loyalty to benefactor Brown. It was an uncomfortable memory for me to hear about so many years later.
His choices for some of the elected offices showed his scratch-my-back bias. He didn’t fess up to his legacy of deficits, bankrupt-causing sweetheart union contracts, and infrastructure neglect. The first 10 minutes of his talk was an extended commercial for the 960 Quake radio Will and Willie Program. But, of course, these realities are beside the point.
The Commonwealth gig was a happy evening of Willie witticisms and wisdom. He delivered.