Capitol Alert

As columnist, Willie Brown has been on point – and also way off

Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and mayor of San Francisco, arrives to participate with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on a panel discussion on civil rights.
Willie Brown, the former Assembly speaker and mayor of San Francisco, arrives to participate with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on a panel discussion on civil rights. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Willie Brown, the powerful former Assembly speaker and mayor of San Francisco, has continued into his golden years stirring the political pot.

For the last seven years, Brown has conveyed his insider status as a must-read freelancer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

His column is a mix of high and low culture, bounding from exclusive soirées and intimate dinners with big-name guests to sidewalk/taxicab/lobby chats with anonymous people who, upon recognizing Brown, seem always ready with an epigram for him to conclude his dispatches.

There also are movie reviews. Brown enjoyed “Grown Ups.” “Very fun,” he wrote. “The only disappointing thing is that Chris Rock’s role is virtually nonexistent.” And he hated “Chappie,” calling it “a tired story (and) a terrible production. If you haven't seen it, don't.”

But it’s Brown’s political ruminations that generate the most debate. Two weeks ago, he suggested that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton choose Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to be her running mate. Brown said that recommendation “ticked off half the world.”

Last week, Brown said he wanted to “double down and make a better suggestion: (Gov.) Jerry Brown.” Among his arguments is there would no learning curve. “Plus he’s a senior citizen, which is a vote that Hillary will need to win.”

Willie Brown has had some spot-on predictions, including the San Francisco 49ers moving to Santa Clara; former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa not running for U.S. Senate (Brown also didn’t want him to); Colin Powell endorsing Barack Obama; and Obama winning the White House and retaining the position. Brown did not respond to a request from The Bee asking about his creative approach and process.

However, if his latest ideas don’t pan out, or change significantly, it wouldn’t be the first time. Here, after some examination, are some of Brown’s most remarkable pronouncements.

Aug. 3, 2008: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, is shown in a poll beating out other Democrats “hands down” in the 2010 governor’s race. If she did run, Brown said, “Everybody, and I mean everybody, else steps out.”

Here’s how he thought the dominoes might fall: Jerry Brown would stay on as state attorney general, and then-San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris would probably run for mayor. Newsom would “immediately defer to Dianne and hope that she appoints him as her replacement in the Senate.”

“In fact, Gavin should call and offer to be Dianne’s campaign chairman if she runs. And he should make that call today, before anyone else beats him to it.”

Jerry Brown won the race after Feinstein opted not to run.

Sept. 7, 2008: Democrats are in trouble. Why? Two words: Sarah Palin. She “has totally changed the dynamics of this campaign. Period.”

Then, following her infamous interview with Katie Couric.

Oct. 5, 2008: “How do you not come up with which newspapers you read?”

Nov 21, 2010: With Newsom elected lieutenant governor, the race was on to replace him as mayor. Mentioned were Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Supervisor Bevan Dufty and state Sen. Mark Leno. Not mentioned was Ed Lee, whom Brown picked to run the city’s purchasing department in 1996.

Lee was chosen as the interim mayor over Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

March 6, 2011: James Fang, of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board, and former Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata were spotted lunching at North Beach Restaurant “in the darkest of corners.” Brown said he normally wouldn’t have paid it much mind. But BART is “in the market for a new general manager.”

The next month, General Counsel Sherwood Wakeman was named interim GM. The permanent GM job eventually went to Grace Crunican.

April 10, 2011: Vice President Joe Biden will shift over to secretary of state, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “stepping in to bring new blood to the Obama re-election campaign.” “He's a big name, a big-state governor. And a Democrat who is taking on the issue of public employee salaries and pensions. Plus, he looks good.”

Biden remains vice president and Cuomo is still governor.

July 10, 2011: Newsom expressed no interest in replacing retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey. “I’m not sure he’s really interested in running for governor, either,” Brown said. “In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d say Lt. Gov. Newsom would eventually like to wind up in the U.S. Senate, where his talents as a thinker and policy wonk would be put to their best use.”

Newsom is running for governor in 2018.

July 17, 2011: “And watch out, Mitt Romney, you may be ahead in the early Republican polls, but Michele is gaining on you fast. Bachmann has already turned Sarah Palin into yesterday’s news, and Romney could easily be next.”

Bachmann ended her campaign after getting just 5 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.

Nov. 10, 2013: “Congratulations to re-elected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But forget about his being the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. He’s still too liberal to get past the primaries.”

Jan. 25, 2015: Put your money on Jeb Bush as Republican nominee for president. I am – I’m all in.”

March 1, 2015: “On another front, I’m starting to think the Republicans might be better off with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie than with Jeb Bush. Christie is the butt of jokes in the media, and with good reason. He's confrontational. He doesn't do things that are seen as politically appropriate, and he’s less than diplomatic. In other words, he’s exciting.”

Nov. 2, 2014: “The U.S. Senate is going to stay in the hands of Democrats, thanks in part to wins in Georgia and North Carolina, where the black vote should make the difference.”

Nov. 9, 2014: “Everybody keeps asking me, Why did this happen? Beats me. When it came to the elections, I was a dreamer who thought the Democrats were going to retain the Senate. Instead, we got walloped.”

Dec. 28, 2014: With rumors swirling that Barbara Boxer would retire in 2016, Brown notes that Bay Area strategist Ace Smith consults many potential successors. Brown correctly anticipates that “Smith and company will use the opening of the Boxer seat to clear the deck, with Harris running for the Senate and Newsom running for governor.”

Then, a couple weeks later ...

Jan. 11, 2015: “Let me throw a new name into the hopper full of possible candidates to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. Jerry Brown. He says he’s not going to, but think about it: He s the most popular politician in the state. He would have no problem raising money.”

Like his predictions on the vice presidency, some are TBD ...

Nov. 23, 2014: “That’s quite a showdown looming between Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano. My money is on Napolitano.”

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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