Even at 90 and with deteriorating eyesight, Willie Brown's political vision remains unmatched

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Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who just turned 90, has cemented himself as one of the most influential politicians in California history.

The first time I saw Willie Brown he was grinning widely, drawing inquisitive eyes and wearing a fashionable Nehru jacket. “And beads,” he reminded me the other day with a chuckle. That was long ago — 59 years — when Brown first showed up in the state Assembly chamber to be sworn in as a freshman legislator. He was a 30-year-old Black lawyer from San Francisco in a strange sea of white males who were attired in traditional dark business suits with collared shirts and ties.

“He was born into a family of bootleggers and gamblers and they outsmarted and out-hustled everyone,” Brown biographer James Richardson once wrote. “He learned the skills of politics at the feet of masters: a pair of uncles who knew how to work the system before it worked them.” “He has a political mind that I think is unparalleled,” says Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman, a former Brown advisor and longtime friend. “He’s able to see all sides of an issue and to think two or three steps ahead.

 

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