Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown reflects on sister, power of ‘family system’

This Dec. 14, 2010 photo shows then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, with now-Gov. Jerry Brown, center, and Brown's sisters Cynthia Kelly, left, and Kathleen Brown in Sacramento, Calif.
This Dec. 14, 2010 photo shows then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, with now-Gov. Jerry Brown, center, and Brown's sisters Cynthia Kelly, left, and Kathleen Brown in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee

The Browns occupy such a prominent place in California history that, in eulogizing his sister Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown offered a reflection, too, on the power of family.

“This is about a passing, it’s about change,” Brown told hundreds of mourners at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in San Francisco. “But there’s also a continuity.”

Brown, the son of the late Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, said his sister Cynthia Brown Kelly’s family “didn’t just come out of nowhere.”

Its connections are far-reaching. Brown, who turns 77 on Tuesday, said that William Newsom, the father of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, told him recently that he once went on a date with Brown’s sister. The governor used the anecdote to contrast the “merit system” with what he called the “family system.”

“So Newsom’s around because his father was one of my father’s first and major campaign contributors,” Brown said. “So, I know it isn’t fair. I know all these families dominate San Francisco. But, too bad. Gavin Newsom didn’t get to be lieutenant governor on the merits. He got there because his father took out my sister Cynthia.”

The Brown and Newsom family ties are well documented, and Brown meant this as a joke.

After laughter subsided, Brown added that Newsom, a candidate for governor in 2018, “has plenty of merits.”

“Plenty of merits,” Brown repeated.

Cynthia Brown Kelly died last month at 81.

In 2013, Jerry Brown declared his sister’s birthday that year to be “Cynthia Kelly Day.” He finished his eulogy Monday with a reading of that proclamation, amending the date to April 6.

She was celebrated for her gregarious spirit and as a convener of family gatherings. Brown said his sister would have loved the memorial Mass.

“Looking down from heaven, she, she’s made it,” he said. “And I think she must be very excited about it.”

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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