Inside the V.I.P. cocktail party with Willie Brown

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Willie Brown said he was glad they didn't have YouTube when he ran for mayor.
Photo courtesy Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth

The Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth hosted a V.I.P. reception just before a mayoral candidate forum held at UCSF Aug. 16, and former Mayor Willie Brown appeared to be the guest of honor. Although the theme of the event was technically "honoring San Francisco's mayors" -- former Mayor Frank Jordan was there, someone indicated that former Mayor Art Agnos was in the room, former Mayor Gavin Newsom was invited but didn't show, and Mayor Ed Lee was of course in attendence -- Brown seemed to be given more prominent recognition than any of the others.

The moment he strolled in, Sup. Mark Farrell, who was doing introductions for the the affair, scrambled onstage to announce Brown's presence and deliver a warm welcome, and everyone applauded. Within minutes, the former mayor was seen chatting with a crowd that included Mayor Lee and several others. Soon after, Brown and former Mayor Frank Jordan were summoned to the stage to say a few words.

Once in the limelight, Brown cracked a few jokes. He said he felt for the 36 mayoral candidates, who are forced to campaign in an era when the Internet threatens to reveal videos and photos of them at any time to thousands of online viewers. "I'm glad they didn't have that kind of communication system when I was running," he said. "I can't imagine the photographs you'd have of me floating around doing things I shouldn't have been doing."

As for his own time in Room 200, "I enjoyed every single solitary minute of it, and if I really thought I had great skills, I would be number 37," he said, drawing more applause.

Then again, common wisdom says it isn't necessary for Brown to bother campaigning in order to gain access to Room 200 these days. Later that same evening, during his own turn in the spotlight at the mayoral debate, Mayor Lee came under fire from Board President David Chiu, who revealed that Lee had privately confided to him about a week before he announced his candidacy that he was having a difficult time saying no to Brown and influential Chinatown business consultant Rose Pak when it came to launching a campaign for a full term.

Chiu's pointed question for the mayor was what had changed in his mind since that conversation, but Lee referenced neither Brown nor Pak in his answer. Instead, he said he'd changed his mind after witnessing his success in changing the tone of government and getting things done in City Hall.

Back at the V.I.P. reception, Brown and Jordan were invited onstage again, this time to receive awards presented by the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth. But first Steve Falk, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, reminded the crowd that there was still time to buy a drink before the debate got underway. He said, "Debates are much more interesting after three drinks."

Before Falk presented Brown with a commemorative plaque, he said, "It's tough to put in a few sentences the life and times of Willie Brown," and proceeded to note that, with his term in the California Assembly and time serving as mayor of San Francisco behind him, Brown "has now followed his friend Herb Caen into an honest line of work as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle."

Being a newspaper columnist doesn't mean Brown is always kind to members of the local media. While mixing through the crowd minutes after receiving his award, he fired some harsh words at a well-known City Hall reporter who had recently published some unflattering articles about the "Run, Ed, Run" effort to encourage Lee to seek a full term.

In recent months, Brown's columns have provided the public at large with a rare glimpse into Mayor Lee's dining experiences in San Francisco. In February, Brown wrote in one of his columns that he went out to North Beach Restaurant at sat at the window table with Lee, Brown's "friend" Sonya Molodetskaya, and Jack Baylis, who serves as the US Group Executive of Strategic Development for AECOM, one of the city's largest contractors and a sponsor of the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth Event. (Baylis was on the invite list for the V.I.P reception, too.)

Apparently, AECOM had something to celebrate that same day -- according to an Aug. 16 press release, an AECOM joint venture was just awarded a $150 million contract for program management services for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's wastewater improvement program.

The V.I.P. reception had representation from many key players in the downtown business community, with sponsorship from AT&T, AECOM, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Wells Fargo, Motorola, California Pacific Medical Center, the San Francsico Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the San Francisco Police Officer's Association, Shorenstein Properties, and others. Several labor unions, including the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 38, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local Union No. 22, and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5 were also listed as sponsors. Guests included district supervisors, developers, lobbyists, business owners, mayoral candidates, media spokespeople, executives from the health care industry, and other political insiders.

Clearly, there were many people in the room who wanted to get on Brown's good side.