HECTOR AMEZCUA / Bee file, 2011

Steve Glazer, right, advises Gov. Jerry Brown on a volunteer basis. "I like him, and I want him to be successful," he said.

Steve Glazer advises Jerry Brown as tax measure heads for November ballot

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 29, 2012 - 6:52 pm

Steve Glazer waited alone backstage in San Diego as Gov. Jerry Brown finished speaking at the California Democratic Party's annual convention last weekend. Then together they slipped from the convention hall to a private, high-dollar fundraiser at a nearby hotel.

If it is true, as Brown once said, that Glazer's "No. 1 goal is to get me not to say things that I might otherwise say," the governor's political strategist had reason to be pleased as they flew home.

The Democratic governor, in the most obligatory of speeches, said almost nothing about his proposal to increase the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, ignoring growing tension among Democrats about competing tax plans.

"Our judgment," Glazer said, was that "a speech isn't going to change their minds."

As Brown prepares for a November ballot initiative to raise taxes, Glazer, 54, is counseling the governor, courting donors, rallying allies and cheerleading via his Twitter handle, @steve4jerry.

"Thank you Democrats! Jerry Brown fundraiser for tax measure just raised $750,000 at State Dem convention," he said on Twitter after the convention event.

Other than Brown's wife and special counsel, Anne Gust Brown, Glazer is closer to Brown than perhaps anyone at the Capitol. Like Gust Brown, he sometimes walks the governor's dog. Like Gust Brown, he isn't paid. He says he is volunteering for Brown because "I like him, and I want him to be successful."

Glazer, who is mayor of Orinda, earned $250,000 managing the campaign to return Brown to the governor's office. He is positioned to earn more through his association with Brown if the tax measure reaches the ballot and he oversees the campaign.

In January, Glazer started advising the California Chamber of Commerce's political action committee in legislative races, a position widely viewed as valuable to Brown for the access to business interests it affords him. Last year, Brown appointed Glazer to the California State University Board of Trustees.

Their connections go back more than 30 years. In 1978, as a student at San Diego State University, Glazer organized students throughout the state for Brown's re-election campaign. He was deputy manager of Brown's 1982 Senate campaign, and he advised Brown's sister, Kathleen Brown, in her successful run for state treasurer in 1990 and in her failed bid for governor in 1994.

When Jerry Brown was considering running for a third term as governor in spring 2009, Glazer wrote him a letter. He said he told him, "Let me know if I can help." He wound up in charge.

Up against a billionaire opponent, Meg Whitman, Glazer was credited with adhering to a plan to spend little money until the final months of the campaign. The American Association of Political Consultants named him its political strategist of the year.

"Steve is calm and patient," said Gil Duran, Brown's press secretary. "There's a very breakneck pace that things happen in campaigns or in the Governor's Office, so being able to kind of remain calm in those circumstances is a real asset."

Duran said Glazer and Brown suit each other in part because both "take the long view of things."

Last year, Glazer advised Brown as he populated his administration, ordered a series of high-profile cost-cutting measures and negotiated, ultimately unsuccessfully, with Republican lawmakers for a tax deal.

Glazer grew up in Land Park and became politically active in 1970, when he was 13 and took a bus downtown on weekends to stuff envelopes for Democrats running for statewide office. His first campaign loss came four years later – to a cheerleader for student body president at McClatchy High School.

In retrospect, Glazer said, "That was an easy one to see."

Glazer is helpful to Brown, associates said, because he is unusually analytical. In college, Glazer excelled at such games as chess and Risk and identified voting blocs within the student body in his successful run for student body president, said Gerry Braun, a college roommate.

Michael Woo, a former Los Angeles city councilman who ran for mayor in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots in 1992, said it was Glazer who convinced him it would be politically advantageous to call for Police Chief Daryl Gates' resignation before other politicians did.

Early in his career, when Glazer was not working for Brown, he found himself in Brown's circles. He worked for Gray Davis, the eventual governor and Brown's former chief of staff – he left Davis' office to live on a kibbutz in Israel for six months picking grapefruit and making furniture.

He also worked for Rose Bird, a Brown appointee and the state's controversial chief justice. During a campaign in which voters infuriated by Bird's decisions opposing the death penalty ousted her and two other justices in 1986, Glazer was paid to defend her.

By 1994, Glazer – who by that time had two young daughters – adopted a lower profile. He stayed largely out of candidate races, instead managing ballot measures throughout the country, most of them for environmental protection causes. He also helped real estate developers overcome public opposition to their projects.

"Most of the people that hire me have a big problem," he said.

Brown's problem with the competing tax initiatives is a "big challenge," Glazer said. Brown believes the presence of multiple tax initiatives on the November ballot could overwhelm voters, leaving all of the measures to fail. But he has been unable to persuade the supporters of two competing initiatives to withdraw.

At the convention, Brown told delegates only, "You'll get your marching orders soon enough."

Glazer said of the convention speech: "We thought it was an opportunity to speak to things that will bring us together, rather than things that divide us."

Glazer and his wife, an executive at AT&T, moved with their daughters in 1996 to Orinda, where he won election to the City Council in 2004. In addition to attending to minor controversies about tree removals, leaf blowers and the location of a decorative city sign, Glazer has managed five tax measures in the city, losing one.

The politics of local tax measures, he said, is not unlike Brown's statewide tax initiative.

"You still have the same thresholds," Glazer said. "It has to be seen as a compelling need, it has to be affordable, and they have to trust that the money will be spent as promised.

"And then," he said, "there has to be a good campaign."

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