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Inside Willie Brown’s gilded world, as seen by Washington Monthly

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, late of The Bay Citizen before she shoved off for DC last fall, has a lengthy piece in the July/August issue of Washington Monthly on the power-brokering ways of Chronicle columnist Willie Brown that starts this way:

San Francisco’s ex-mayor Willie Brown has pioneered a new way to control a city without breaking a sweat—or running for office, or getting elected, or disclosing his clients, or making anyone particularly mad.

Of course she doesn’t get an interview from Brown. He doesn’t do interviews, except for “friendlies.” Stevens describes how Brown keeps his list of legal clients secret, how he pulled strings to put Ed Lee in the mayor’s office, and how he helped ex-girlfriend Kamala Harris become district attorney en route to her current post as state Attorney General.

On the Chronicle’s role in helping re-create Brown in the mold of Herb Caen while ignoring him as a perpetual conflict-of-interest:

The Chron once covered Brown’s dealings aggressively, but it is now so weak that Hearst Corp. nearly folded it a few years ago. Brown often uses his column to promote friends and punish enemies, and his column is not subject to the paper’s ethics policy.

On his propensity to trumpet less-than-honorable behavior as practically a personal trademark:

When Brown, married since 1958, got an aide pregnant while still in office, he invited everyone to congratulate him on the happy news. “There is nothing unseemly about this at all,” Brown told San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross. “She’s a great friend.” The woman, whose fund-raising business enjoyed rent-free city-owned office space, received nearly $2.5 million in payments from city commissions and campaign funds controlled by Brown or his allies, the newspaper reported later. No one batted an eye.

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