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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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News + PoliticsWillie Brown says a little corruption is just fine

Willie Brown says a little corruption is just fine


In a remarkable interview with KQED’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez posted yesterday, former Mayor Willie Brown said that nobody should be particularly upset about the City Hall bribery and influence scandals—since nobody did anything all that bad.

In essence, he said, Harlan Kelly and Mohammed Nuru had just taken some “entertainment” and been “more tolerant of those who entertained them.”

Willie Brown: I don’t understand what the object (of people’s ire) happens to be, frankly, because the kind of thing they’re talking about, and the kind of thing they’re doing, doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of implications for the operation of city government.

It’s not like someone built a bridge and used inferior products to build the bridge, and therefore risked the lives of lots of people. Or built a rail line and built equipment that risked the lives of people.

Brown said he doesn’t believe that city contracts should go to the lowest bidder. He said that in all his time in politics, he has seen very little corruption or undue influence.

He said, again in essence, that it’s fine for someone in government to take favors from people who are seeking government contracts or approval:

But people do not think, I don’t think, in terms of someone buying you a drink, or buying you dinner, or anything of that nature, that there’s anything that caused them to influence or give up their responsibility to public service for the benefit of the public.

Read the entire interview. It’s a perfect example of how Brown ran the city: A little favor here, a little campaign donation there, promotions and high-paid jobs for people who are loyal—and in the end, who cares?

The problem is that this attitude fundamentally undermines people’s faith in government.

Brown also implied that he disagreed with the decision of the late district attorney Terence Hallinan to charge the top police brass with a coverup in the notorious Fajitagate case:

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For instance, (during my administration) the (district attorney) indicted my whole command structure of the police department. He indicted everybody, period.

I had to literally tolerate that. Ultimately, the courts ruled he never should have done that, and the courts gave them all back their lives for career purposes, without them having to ever answer that they were indicted. They all walked into my office and placed down their guns and badges. Except for the chief, he came in by himself.

As if indicting senior cops for an alleged coverup designed to protect the chief’s son was a terrible thing to do, something the mayor had to “tolerate.”

We are all used to Brown by now. His legacy remains profound – almost all of the players in this scandal in one way or another got their start with him. He still has his column in the Chronicle.

But for a former mayor to say that a bit of corruption is just fine still makes me sick. We cannot solve the crises facing humanity unless we can restore trust in government. This is not the way to do it.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Gorn, you haven’t a clue. The mayor uses the control over some non-profits as part of the overall strategy of abusing the homeless as her political football. Of course, there are non-profits she has no control over, like the Coalition on Homelessness, and some others. They receive no funding from the City, and are free to speak out. No, most of the “non-profits” she has sway over are ones like Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which is headed by Randy Shaw, who is quite happy to have his lips attached to Breed’s posterior. And Glide, which also profits from Breed’s favor. Ever read Beyond Chron? Ever here Cecil Williams say anything negative about the mayor? Shaw is currently, rather desperately defending Ed Lee from having the truth about his corruption coming out. And there is a piece on Breed’s “Challenging Year,” that is another total load of BS. Funny, at times Shaw sounds an awful lot like your BS. Hmmm, could that be your “secret identity?” Or are you just on the same payroll as he is?

  2. Geek: exactly, the nonprofits that the progressives claim as their base are under the control of they mayor. Therefore the mayor has a choke hold over the progressive electeds’ base. What you call a “long game,” I call slow strangulation.

  3. Gorn The non-profits that you are attacking so gleefully are under the control of the mayor. They are only allowed to do what the mayor allows. Prior to Ed Lee, social workers could place people in subsidized housing. Lee ordered all subsidized housing under the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing which he created to further his abuse of the homeless as his political football. Non-profits were strictly limited as to services that could be offered. People who, quite reasonably feared the systems that already existed had to either put up with abuse, or be cut off from hope completely. Breed has continued these policies. That is the actual “corruption.” Groups that legitimately want to help, like Episcopal Community Services can only help those who go through, and who are abused by, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.

  4. Geek, San Francisco has been pay to play and that includes the nonprofits. The expanding corruption probe has plenty on its plate, but once the Walter Wong threads get pulled, once the PUC threads get pulled as the Kellys are squeezed, assuming Harris does not have the plug pulled, that the full extent of pay to play will be revealed.

    Too much happens in the nonprofity political world that does not produce results and cannot be explained simply.

  5. Gorn, you are truly delusional in that you think you are actually fooling anyone. Funny how there are no cases of progressives charged with corruption. Or suspected. Or covering it up. Brown, Newsom, Lee, and Breed, seem implemented. Newsom helped promote Nuru and used him carry out his dirty work.

  6. The compromises of persistent corruption is what keeps progressives from doing anything about Breed or corruption because progressives have bought in as junior partners to the patronage operation.

  7. Gorn, why are you trying to defend corruption, and spew Trump propaganda? Your lies are getting old. Funny that you and your fellow Trump Republicans were so keen on giving Breed control of the Board. Breed is circling the drain. The only question is, recall or indictment? Which comes first.

  8. Remember when Mayor “Mother Knows Best” Breed said: “And I think, in some instances, their focus is to not necessarily do what’s best for people in San Francisco, but do what’s best to stay in the good graces of this whole lefty movement.” Don’t bore me with the French Laundry nonsense. That quote says a lot more about her relations with the voters who got her elected because they legit believed she was a progressive.

    It’s a shame in politics it’s the petty and trivial that sticks. But it’s easy to remember, easy to repeat, and it doesn’t confuse the stupids.

    Why is Brown suddenly speaking up now? Does he miss the attention? Or does he fear unwanted attention is coming his way and he wants to get in front of the narrative?

  9. richmondman,

    I heartily agree.

    I’ve always felt that the Earth was put here for me and everyone else are just characters in my play.

    Willie’s always been one of my favorite characters.

    Scott Wiener’s another.

    I think he looks like a cross between Lord Valdermot and Ichabod Crane.

    It’s all a game.

    Go Niners!


  10. Freakgoil, we are discussing corruption, pay-to-play. Given the poor outcomes from the nonprofits, they are most likely participating in the money laundering operation that characterizes the Democrat Party from SC, ME and MI senate races ($250m to lose) to the nonprofit patronage network here that gets all of this city funding but never seems to produce the outcomes that match what they’re paid and the importance they’re granted politically. In this case, importance means foreclosing any direct challenge to power.

    Since “progressive/liberal” political power only empowers the moderate/conservatives, one can conclude that supporting progressives implicitly means supporting Breed and Brown.

  11. Willie’s 84, and has been retired for 16 years. But he’s an entertaining writer, and he gets progressives fired up, which is fun.

  12. Gorn, I am sure you find it heart warming that Brown is defending corruption. Not that a a majority is taken in. Do you ever notice that Breed’s approval rating is never mentioned? I did some research, and the most recent mention was over a year ago when the Chronicle reported that a third approved of her performance, a third solidly disapproved, and the remain third were “uncertain.” That does not bid well for her future. The French Laundry debacle is not doubt eating away at the uncertain and sparing them into the disapprove column. Ed Lee, not long before he died, had similar problems. He had only a 1/3 approval as well. I recall he did surprisingly poorly in his last election. Three basically unknown candidates came achingly close to forcing the race into ranked choice, which would have not gone well for Lee. A serious candidate would have likely beaten him.

  13. Funny that he should mention a bridge or a rail line. Has he forgotten the Bay Bridge that was built with inferior steel, or the current case of inferior steel rails and splices that will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars to replace? Is it ok to dig a hole of three and then hold the taxpayers hostage if they want to see them filled and the traffic return to “normal” on major streets?

    Mr. Brown’s idea of ethics does not protect the accused from prosecution by the Federal government. He is lucky he never got caught playing those little games he find amusing.

    Corrupt city officials undermine trust in government, making it harder for civic authorities to do their jobs. Fool me once, but not again. Lying and cheating our way through life is not the way most of us want to run our lives, but it is hard to be truthful and honest when all around you are breaking the law and throwing it in your face.

  14. Remember that time in 2017 when Calvin Welch and Peter Cohen from the “progressive affordable housing developer collaborative” scuttled the Anti-Corruption Act by objecting to bans on behested payments to politically connected nonprofits in implicit exchange for favors?

    Behested payments were the currency of corruption in recent indictments and pleas. Why would CCHO be defending such corruption if they were not corrupt themselves? Pay to play means pay to play.

    There’s an amazing Facebook video out there shows Keane slapping Welch and Cohen down:

    See: “San Francisco Government Jams” FB and the video “Fireworks at Ethics, Again.”

    facebook {dot} com /watch/?v=1247611938717498

    Brilliant work.

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