Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor and state Assembly speaker, gestures while speaking during the dedication of the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge at Treasure Island in February 2014. Eric Risberg AP
Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor and state Assembly speaker, gestures while speaking during the dedication of the Willie L. Brown, Jr. Bridge at Treasure Island in February 2014. Eric Risberg AP

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Willie Brown: Villaraigosa should sit out U.S. Senate race

By Christopher Cadelago

ccadelago@sacbee.com

January 23, 2015 12:40 PM

UPDATED February 02, 2016 03:24 PM

Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown suggested Friday that Antonio Villaraigosa should pass on the U.S. Senate race out of loyalty to his friend and fellow Democrat Kamala Harris, the only announced candidate for the 2016 contest.

“His loyalty and his relationship with her should be so valuable, and he should, in my opinion, see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that,” Brown told The Bee in brief comments outside the Ben Ali Shrine Center in Sacramento, where he appeared for a workshop on card room regulations.

A spokesman for Villaraigosa declined to comment.

Harris, the state’s attorney general and a former San Francisco district attorney, had a personal relationship with Brown. But Brown said Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker and mayor of Los Angeles, was “like a young son of mine for years.”

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“I am hopeful that his candidacy will be rewarded with a statewide office – at some point,” Brown said.

His comments come days after a rare break in the state’s political logjam. Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she would not seek a fifth term when her seat comes open in two years.

Villaraigosa signaled his interest in the post soon after, and within days Harris became the first and only candidate so far to officially wade into the race. Several top Democrats have rallied behind her, prompting some Latino leaders to complain that Harris backers were not respecting the state’s ethnic and regional diversity.

Brown and other Democratic leaders are pushing back on that notion. Brown, a former San Francisco mayor, said “there’s nothing to that.”

“People in the world of politics always attempt, as best they can, to make the world believe it’s only them,” Brown said. “Harris is doing that, and she’s not doing it on the basis of race, she’s doing it on the basis that she is clearly an attractive candidate; she clearly has won statewide on more than one occasion, she clearly is bright and able, and she’s got the national relationships that can help produce the money.”

He added: “That’s just part of the ploy. That’s what you do. If I am trying to figure out how to get somebody to run, I’ll use whatever there is available to me. But Northern California has for years been the lifeblood of Democrats, period.”

John Burton, the state Democratic Party chairman, was decidedly more blunt when asked if party leaders are trying to clear the field for Harris.

“Bull----,” said Burton, a former state and federal lawmaker.

“When I ran – whatever the hell I ran for – I got (into the races) early,” he said. “And getting out early is good, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Burton said people are entitled to their opinions. “I can see how some people feel,” he said. But he downplayed Harris’ early support from Democratic U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

“If I was running in California I would rather have some guy who has 112 relatives than some guy elected in New Jersey or Massachusetts,” Burton said. “That ain’t an avalanche. That’s irrelevant to the election.”

Reflecting on other manoeuvrings since Boxer’s announcement, Brown said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision not to challenge for the seat was “smart.” As for his opinion about a possible clash between Newsom and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer in the next gubernatorial election more than three years away?

“That’s always a possibility; people are gonna say what they are gonna run,” Brown said. “But we’ll see when it happens.”

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago