The legendary California politician and power broker struts his stuff.
A credentials battle and an electrifying speech to the 1972 National Democratic Convention shone the national spotlight on Brown, and he’s warmed himself in its glow ever since. As the first African-American and longest-tenured speaker of the California Assembly and as two-term mayor of San Francisco, he displayed all the talents common to political genius: He was a charismatic speaker, a prodigious fundraiser and a consummate insider who mastered the rules of any office he held and never lost the common touch. He fought successfully against limitations imposed by the white community by never styling himself as merely a minority spokesman. Brown operated with a panache normally associated with big-city mayors from a bygone era. Like New York’s Jimmy Walker and Boston’s James Michael Curley, he was famed as a clotheshorse, a gourmand, a showman (he had a cameo in The Godfather: Part III), an inveterate partygoer, table-hopper and ladies’ man, despite his 50-year marriage. His altogether unique style inspired his supporters and confounded his enemies. Convinced that anyone so powerful had to be corrupt, the FBI tried unsuccessfully for years to get something on him. Even after finally achieving a majority in the Assembly, Republicans proved unable to oust him as speaker. Brown retells with relish his political battles, including his efforts to restore San Francisco’s City Hall, and drops allusions to giants of California politics, including former Speaker Jesse Unruh, former SF Mayor George Moscone, congresswoman Maxine Waters, gay-rights activist Harvey Milk and Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Herb Caen. His memoir includes just enough biographical information about his modest origins to place his spectacular career in impressive relief.
The scattershot narrative, breakneck gallop through topics large and small, seductive name-dropping and, above all, Brown’s impregnable self-confidence add up to what feels like a genuine encounter with an unforgettable character.