Elections

Triumph of Poontronage

Once again, Kamala Harris leaves Democratic kingmaker Willie Brown “very pleased.”

No, I did not hear from her, but I’m very pleased that she did accept the offer from Joe Biden to be his running mate.”

That was former San Francisco mayor and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, in one of the few reports that sought his take on Kamala Harris being named Joe Biden’s running mate. J. Edward Moreno of The Hill did not ask why Brown had not heard from Harris since she got the nod. Biden’s vice-presidential pick has a couple of good reasons to avoid those conversations. 

Last year, with Harris’s presidential campaign “hit and miss,” Brown was pining for Hillary Clinton. “It’s time for Hillary Clinton to come out of retirement, lace up the gloves and get back in the ring with President Trump for what would be the biggest political rematch ever,” Brown wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, adding, “Clinton is the only candidate short of Barack Obama who has the brains, the battle-tested brawn and the national presence to take out Trump.”

This surely disturbed Harris, who was praised by the previous president as tough and good looking. Back in the day, of course, Kamala Harris left Willie Brown very pleased indeed. 

In 1994 Brown, 60, met Harris, a full 30 years his junior, and she became “the Speaker’s new steady,” Brown’s “girlfriend” and “frequent companion.” The two-year relationship worked out well for the 1989 UC Hastings law grad.  

Willie Brown appointed Harris to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, which paid $97,088 a year. She served six months and Brown then appointed her to the California Medical Assistance Commission, which met only once a month but paid Harris $72,000. Call it “poontronage,” a politician’s appointment of his girlfriend to a lucrative government position requiring little work. Brown also backed Harris for district attorney in San Francisco, but Brown’s sinecure sweetie was already looking ahead. 

In the 2010 race for state attorney general, the Sacramento Bee endorsed Republican Steve Cooley over Harris. Harris won by less than one percentage point, but as the Bee saw it, “she could be more aggressive on public corruption cases, though her handlers might worry that would cause friction with fellow Democratic politicians.” 

In the 2016 Senate race, Brown told high-profile California Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa to butt out and make way for Harris. As he told The Hill, Brown thought his former girlfriend would be in a stronger position as U.S. attorney general. As a mere “second banana to a president,” she may not be able to “demonstrate those skills.” That invites a look at Harris’ record.

The new span of the Bay Bridge came in 10 years late, $5 billion over budget, and riddled with safety issues. In hearings held by state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Concord Democrat, one whistleblower called for a criminal investigation. DeSaulnier sent a report on the bridge to Attorney General Kamala Harris, who launched no criminal investigation. So the Sacramento Bee had a point that Harris “could be more aggressive on public corruption,” which abounds in Washington. Skeptical Democrats might also wonder about her record on crime. 

In 2009 Harris authored Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer, written with ghostwriter Joan O’C. Hamilton. California’s attorney general stayed quiet in 2014 when racist Mexican national Luis Bracamontes gunned down police officers Danny Oliver and Michael Davis. In 2015, repeatedly deported felon Jose Inez Garcia Zarate shot and killed Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier. Attorney General Harris defended the city’s sanctuary policy and failed to decry “gun violence” in the case.  

On December 2, 2015, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 unarmed innocents and wounded 22 at an office party in San Bernardino. A year later Harris issued a statement on the “devastating and tragic terrorist attack,” but failed to name the Islamic terrorists and their motive for the mass murder. Skeptical Democrats might wonder then, what “skills” Willie Brown has in mind. They should keep in mind that Harris wasn’t the only woman who left him very pleased. 

Brown was already a grandfather when he hooked up with political fundraiser Carolyn Carpeneti. The couple’s daughter Sydney Brown is a singer-songwriter, and at a 2018 event she quoted her father’s friend Eugene Duffy that “Willie Brown can herd cats in a rainstorm being chased by Rottweilers.” Duffy, a board member of the Willie Brown Institute on Politics and Public Service, was on to something.

“I have also helped the careers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a host of other politicians,” claims Brown, now 86. With Joe Biden so shaky, Brown’s former understudy Kamala Harris may finally get a chance to wind up on top. That would be a triumph of poontronage for the ages.