Just How $leazy is Willie L. Brown? Pt. 2

March, 2016

Yes, Willie L.Brown actually went on stage dressed like this. (More Content Magazine modified the background)

Links are provided for all of the quotes used in this article. More Content Magazine does not have the resources to verify the accuracy of the information presented in the quotes below. Readers are encouraged to verify all factual claims. The Text in [brackets] was added by More Content Magazine.

"The years when Willie Brown ran this town were really, really bad

I have friends — progressives, activists, good people — who support Ed Lee for mayor. They tell me that Lee is accessible, that he listens to labor and grassroots community groups, that he's going to be good on a lot of issues and that, compared to the mayors we've had in the past 30 years or so, he won't be all that bad.

I respect that. I understand. But I try to remind them, and anyone else who's listening, that the years when Willie Brown ran this town were really, really bad.

At the height of the Brown era, during the dot-com boom, hundreds of evictions were filed every single month. Thousands and thousands of low-income and working-class tenants were displaced, tossed out of San Francisco forever. Blue-collar jobs were destroyed as high-tech offices took over industrial space. Every single developer who waved money at the mayor got a permit, no matter how ridiculous, dangerous or crazy the project was.

In 1999, Paulina Borsook wrote a famous piece for Salon called "How the Internet ruined San Francisco." But the Internet was just technology; what damaged this city so badly was a mayor who didn't care what happened to the most vulnerable populations. At one point, Brown even said that poor people shouldn't live in this city. We called his policies "the economic cleansing of San Francisco."

He controlled local politics — brutally. If you didn't kiss the mayor's ring, you were crushed. He announced one day that the supervisors (then elected citywide) were nothing but "mistresses who have to be serviced" — and since most of them were utterly subservient to Brown, they didn't even complain. Only one person on the board — Tom Ammiano — regularly defied the mayor; occasionally, Leland Yee and Sue Bierman joined him. But that was it.

The corruption was rampant. People who paid to play got in the door; nobody else came close. You did a favor for Brown and you got a commission appointment or a high-paid job, even if you weren't remotely qualified.

The ones who suffered most were the poorest residents, particularly tenants, particularly on the east side of town. Brown didn't seem to care that his appointments, deals and policies were causing terrible pain on the ground; it was as if politics was just a fun game, as if he were some sort of royal potentate, partying in the executive suites and ignoring what was happening on the streets.

There are people who believe that Ed Lee can be independent of Brown, and I hope they're right. But Lee and Brown are close, and Brown helped put him in office — and the thought of even a small part of that rotten era of sleaze coming back makes me very, very nervous. SF Bay Guardian Editors Notes

Willie L. Brown (Right) speaks, SF Mayor Ed Lee listens

“…From almost the beginning of his mayoral reign, Brown was hounded by his reputation as the king of patronage politics. Within a year of his mayoral election, he rewarded two GOP legislators with jobs after they had earlier risked their political careers by helping him retain power in the state Assembly. Brown also put his former girlfriend and fund-raiser, Wendy Linka, on the city payroll. Billy Rutland, a former Brown staff member in Sacramento, set up shop as a lobbyist in San Francisco after Brown's election, and won lucrative contracts for his clients. Other fund-raisers prospered, as well....

"One of Willie Brown's greatest strengths is his loyalty to his friends and his supporters. It's also one of his greatest weaknesses,'' said Herrera, the city attorney who served under Brown on two commissions. "When there were charges of patronage and cronyism, it came from that.''

Brown's take on the issue: "In the world of politics, that's part of the deal. You don't look, as (former mayor) Alioto said, among your enemies to find the best qualified people.''

Once at City Hall, Brown moved quickly to consolidate power, and using the skills he honed during his 31 years in the state Assembly, gained control of the Board of Supervisors. Before the 2000 election, he appointed eight of the 11 members, filling vacancies that he helped orchestrate, as supervisor after supervisor quit to run for higher office or take other jobs.

The board majority was steadfastly loyal, pushing through Brown's policies and budget priorities with little debate. In a 1996 magazine article, he was quoted as likening the supervisors to "mistresses you have to service.'' The Mayor's Legacy Willie Brown

“A two-month Chronicle inquiry, based on dozens of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of city and court documents, revealed for the first time the scope of the changes at City Hall under Brown.

...After the mayor's allies went to federal court and overturned strict city limits on campaign contributions, corporations seeking city permits or favorable regulatory decisions helped pump $4.8 million in unregulated soft money donations into political action committees backing the mayor or his favored candidates, studies by San Francisco Common Cause show.

...Since he took office in 1996, Brown has packed the city payroll with political loyalists and campaign workers, former legislative colleagues, old friends and even ex-girlfriends, city records show. Some of the hires were promoted quickly to run key city departments at six- figure salaries…

..During the past five years, corporations seeking city contracts, development deals and favorable regulatory decisions turned to lobbyists with ties to Brown. …

...The mayor and his allies also pioneered new strategies for tapping heavy- hitting donors… … San Franciscans for Sensible Government and other political action committees backing Brown received $4.8 million in unregulated soft money donations, much of it from developers, city contractors and downtown corporations, records show. Millions of those donations were spent on Brown's re-election and to support his slate of candidates to the Board of Supervisors.

Many corporations whose bottom lines are directly affected by City Hall's decisions also gave heavily to nonprofit organizations controlled by the mayor and used to defray costs of civic events such as hosting conferences and entertaining visiting dignitaries. …

...Eventually, juice politics at Brown's City Hall attracted the attention of an old adversary: the FBI. Almost from the day he was elected Assembly speaker in 1980, Brown was the focus of an overlapping series of federal investigations into suspected corruption, according to court records, published accounts and interviews. ... The Bessers have declined comment.

Three weeks after Brown's second inaugural, the focus seemed to turn on the mayor. Agents served a grand jury subpoena for records of meetings between Brown and Jefferson, Walker, the Bessers and others involved in city contracting.

...So far, the grand jury has handed up indictments in only two cases. In April, four executives of a construction firm that had won some $64 million in city contracts were indicted for allegedly defrauding the city's minority contracting program. ..the grand jury indicted Zula [We pay to play here"] Jones, the Human Rights Commission official who was involved in the airport people-mover contract probe that began the broader FBI investigation…

In a related investigation, the grand jury also indicted a top city Housing Authority executive and 25 others in a bribery scheme involving the sale of federal rent subsidies intended for the poor. Patricia Williams, a career city employee, was convicted in a trial featuring testimony by her former aide, Yolanda Jones, daughter of Charlie Walker and self-described goddaughter of Brown. Jones, who had pleaded guilty, testified she did no work for her $52,000 city salary, but spent the day collecting bribe money. In March, Williams was sentenced to five years in federal prison. Jones received an 18-month prison term, and another conspirator who was not a city worker got one year. …

The probe and the ethical concerns underlying it proved an embarrassment to Brown. In last fall's election, incumbent supervisors were unseated after challengers portrayed them as tools of the mayor and his political machine.

Several supervisors have introduced or are preparing charter reforms for the November 2001 ballot. Those reforms would reduce the sweeping authority that the mayor now enjoys and shift some key responsibilities to the Board of Supervisors….

...In 1999, the FBI began a wide-ranging probe of suspected corruption in San Francisco city government. A U.S. grand jury has inquired about more than $1 billion in city contracts and dozens of people with ties to Mayor Brown. Here, from court records, are some of the subjects of the probe.

...In 1999, the grand jury heard accusations that city contracting official Zula Jones helped steer a $116 million contract for an airport "people mover" system to Adtranz, a firm that had given a subcontract to businessman James Jefferson, a Brown backer. No charges have been filed.

...The grand jury heard testimony in 1999 about how Krystal Trucking became eligible for city contracts set aside for firms owned by minorities and women. Krystal contributed to the mayor's campaign. The mayor met with officials about Krystal. No charges were filed.

...Plumber Al Norman, contracting official Zula Jones and three executives of the white-owned Scott Co. are awaiting trial on charges of bilking the city's minority contracting program. Norman is on the board of a nonprofit that hosted galas honoring the mayor. The defendants have pleaded not guilty…..

...In January, 2000, weeks after Mayor Willie Brown began his second term, the grand jury subpoenaed records of the mayor's meetings with more than four dozen companies, individuals and other entities involved in city contracting, development and grant awards. Willie Brown Inc. How S.F.'s mayor built a city based on 'juice' politics (Editors Note: This series of articles is the motherlode for details on Willie Brown’s activities as San Francisco Mayor and is highly recommended.)

"[In the mid-1970s] Willie Brown remained hugely frustrated with politics. He increasingly spent his time attending to his private law practice, and his outlet for his considerable nervous energy was in living the high life of a San Francisco sophisticate. His taste for fast cars, women, and nightclubs seemed insatiable....

Outside California, Brown became a high-priced political hired gun, most notably for promoters of a 1976 ballot proposal in New Jersey to legalize gambling in Atlantic City. Brown was paid $10,000 plus $2,034 in expenses, considered a handsome sum at the time, to make speeches to black audiences to convince them that casino gambling was a good deal. Brown spent three or four days a week in New Jersey during the casino campaign.[16] His critics at home viewed him as cynical and mercenary. Even his admirers believed that Brown had reached the depths by selling to the highest bidder his status with the black community." Willie Brown, A Biography

"It's worth remembering that in California, as in some other states, term limits were originally passed based on enmity toward particular longtime leaders. The poster child in California was Willie Brown, who was Assembly speaker for 14 years before beating booted from office by term limits, and then served as mayor of San Francisco. During a recent interview on KQED radio in San Francisco, Brown had this to say about the failure of Proposition 93:

I thought yesterday's vote was a continuation of the public's desire to treat politicians as if they are not necessary, period. As a matter of fact, I think the public has the idea that anybody can do the job at any time without any experience. The public does not understand the need to build relationships...As a result of that, they will impose upon politicians all kinds of limitations on conduct that they think might bring better quality persons to be the person trying to make the decision...." Willie Brown on Term Limits

Stay tuned, in part 3 we will highlight Willie Brown's sleaziness as described in his own words.

Many thanks and kudos to Tim Redmond (former editor of the defunct San Francisco Bay Guardian) who continues to uncover political corruption and incompetence at www.48hills.org.

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