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California Politician Willie Brown Says Preparation Spurs Political Success


If a legislator tried something corrupt during the time that Willie Brown was speaker of the California State Assembly, he had a simple way of dealing with that person.

"If I found you on that slope, I pushed you off," Brown told a group of Morehouse students on April 11.

It’s that straight-forward, colorful brand of politics that made Brown one of the nation’s most influential and controversial legislators during his nearly 40 years in California politics.

He was often accused of favoritism and being corrupt, but was never convicted of anything. “For most of my 40 years, I was investigated every day of the week,” Brown said to laughs.

Brown talked about his career during a Division of Humanities and Social Sciences lecture at Sale Hall’s Chapel of the Inward Journey. He spent 30 years in the California State Assembly, 15 as the state’s first African American speaker.

Brown wielded considerable power as speaker – so much so that Brown, a life-long Democrat, allegedly nicknamed himself the Ayatollah.

He then spent 1996 to 2004 as mayor of San Francisco. The city flourished during his tenure, particularly because of the technology-driven, dot-com boom of the late 1990s.

Brown retired from politics after term limits – an effort passed partially because of his long stint in politics -- forced him out of the Assembly and then the mayor’s office.

Brown, who has a best-selling book titled “Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times,” said seeing Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton both with a chance to become president shows how much politics in America is beginning to evolve.

“It’s going to be such a dramatic change in how people seek public office, why people seek public office and who seeks public office,” said Brown, adding his amazement that new black politicians are beginning to come from places other than the civil rights movement and the church.

“But things change only when things become institutional,” Brown added. “I believe we are on the cusp of change.”

He said the key to his longevity in politics was being prepared and knowing about everything that was going on around him.

“The foundation for my success was adequate preparation,” he said. “You are here at Morehouse. Get credentialed.”

Then Brown smiled.

“In other words, shut up and listen,” he added. “You’d be surprised at how impressive it is to people when you seem to really be listening and interested in what they are saying.”

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