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Come on home Willie Brown, says some California Black newspapers

By Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Former California State Assembly Speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown’s 12-year run with the San Francisco Chronicle has come at an abrupt end.

Earlier this month, Northern California’s largest daily newspaper announced that Brown’s column “Willie’s World” would be discontinued as of Jan. 24. Brown’s weekly commentary, which expressed controversial opinions as it provided insider political gossip and other updates of goings-on in the city’s leadership circles, had become a fixture on the local San Francisco media landscape.

“They are going digital,” Brown explained, offering an obviously clipped and misleading explanation of the newspaper’s decision. The Chronicle has for decades now been a digital publication.

Responding to the news of Brown’s ouster, some members of the Black press in California say they would love to migrate “Willie’s World” to one of the state’s African American-owned newspapers.

“Come on home, Willie,” laughed Regina Wilson, who is the executive director of California Black Media, a news and advocacy organization that partners with a network of Black-owned newspapers across the state.

“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” Wilson said. “Willie Brown is a walking repository of California political history. He’s brilliant, he’s funny and even when he’s over-the-top, you cannot deny his wisdom.”

On its website, the Chronicle described Brown, a two-term mayor of San Francisco, as a “freelance journalist” and “widely regarded as the most influential” Black American politician of the late 20th Century.

Brown’s opinions covered a range of topics centered around stories about his life in the city. He was hailed for frequently offering astute observations and accurate predictions. But he also offended. For example, defending Bill Cosby during his sexual assault cases and coming to Donald Trump’s defense when the former U.S. president was the focus of the similar allegations in 2016, drew criticisms from some readers.

Brown also publicly mentioned his dalliance with Vice President Kamala Harris before President Joe Biden picked her as his Democratic running mate. In one of his January 2019 columns, Brown wrote “Yes, I dated” Harris in the 1990s.

“Yes, I may have influenced her career by appointing her to two state commissions when I was Assembly leader,” Brown continued in Willie’s World. “I certainly helped with her first race for district attorney in San Francisco.”

But Harris avoided responding to questions about her involvement with Brown. She told the Chronicle that she would not “design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown” when she ran for district attorney of San Francisco in 2003.

The day after the presidential inauguration, Brown complimented Harris, writing that she “stole the show” at the Capitol, and that her “pearls, her sneakers, and her laugh are all trending in the pop culture world.”

“Harris has the smarts, the personality and energy and, dare I say, the glamour to fit the bill,” he wrote in the Chronicle on Jan. 23, 2021. “If there’s a program to sell, an issue that needs public attention or a wildfire, hurricane or other disaster to recover from, Harris can be dispatched.”

In his columns, Brown often patted himself on his back, too, for contributing to the success of many San Franciscans’ political careers.

“I have also helped the careers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Diane Feinstein, and a host of other politicians,” Brown wrote in January 2019.

Brown had his share of critics. Some criticized his provocative style of commentary. Others slammed him for name-dropping. Mission Local reporter Joe Eskenazi said Brown was guilty of “violation after violation of the (Chronicle’s) ethics code.”

“He should never have been allowed to gleefully plug his clients and/or private businesses and/or political creations and their savage competitors,” Eskenazi wrote in his column published on Jan. 15.

Eskenazi also speculated that the Chronicle may have permitted a ghostwriter to ink Brown’s column while the 86-year-old legend of San Francisco dictated talking points by phone.


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