Willie Brown On "Out of Control" Civil Servants


Public sector pensions aren't the only things that are gonna be bulging!

Former San Francisco mayor and State Assembly speaker Willie Brown is becoming a high-profile champion of reforming California's public sector pension system. It's a strange but logical transformation for the staunchly utilitarian politician and practiced gladhander.

Jon Fleischman at Flash Report describes Brown's transition:

Earlier this year he wrote a widely-circulated column in the San Francisco Chronicle lamenting the "out of control" civil service: "The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians—pushed by our friends in labor—gradually expanded pay and benefits . . . while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages."

When I interviewed Mr. Brown in New York in March, he lamented that he hadn't anticipated the long-term implications of over-generous pensions: "When I was Speaker I was in charge of passing spending. When I became mayor I was in charge of paying for that spending. It was a wake-up call."

Governor Schwarzenegger wants the legislature to revoke certain pension reforms enacted in 1999, which made pensions much more generous. Mr. Brown may signal the emergence of other liberal allies calling reform, despite the opposition of powerful Democratic unions. The more that pension costs balloon, the less money is available for other programs—including many dear to the hearts of progressives.

As Brown himself suggests here, he doesn't exactly have clean hands when it comes to free spending. Back when he was in the Assembly, Brown used to make reporters swoon with his clever gambits to deliver costly new projects. (In particular, Los Tiempos de Nueva York loved to depict him as a puckish and wily master of parliamentary procedure.)

During his mayorship, however, Brown repeatedly let down his friends on the left with his more pragmatic leadership style. There were some big successes: I'd count the building of Giants stadium with no public money as one of the great feats of city leadership in the nineties. (And it was not at all done out of principle, as Brown proved later with an attempted stadium boondoggle for the 49ers.) Through all of that, Willie Brown has been fairly consistent: an extremely likeable political pragmatist with no particular attachment to principle or ideology. Which makes his new campaign worth listening to: It shows that facts on the ground are no longer possible to ignore.

NEXT: Hallelujah, Rosie Lea

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  1. Even as mayor he wasn’t all that “pragmatic.” At one point there was a BART strike for more pay, and the SF MUNI began running extra buses between the SF BART stations to alleviate the commuting nightmare. Mayor Brown put a quick end to that: it helped relieve the pressure the strikers were bringing, and he couldn’t allow that.

  2. Only in California would a Willie Brown be considered “pragmatic.”

    1. What? Corruption is totally pragamatic.

  3. He’s clearly a high status Negro, note the White woman.

    1. Whatever, Moby.

  4. The man did more to corrupt SF city politics than any other mayor you could name.
    His girl friends ended up in cheap (but luxurious) ‘rentals’ from the US military decommissionings, his buddies ended up with city ‘jobs’ (like a “neighborhood house”) that somehow ended up with the “clients” of those places pushing his candidates for various elective positions, he pushed a “light rail” system along a corridor which looks to put hundreds of businesses into bankruptcy, etc.
    “Sleazy” only touches the surface and he’s weather-vaning on this issue because even those in SF politics who play from deep in the seats behind 3rd base have been forced to admit ‘there’s a bit of a problem…’

  5. The old joke goes: When Willie Brown first came to Sacramento, California was rich and Willie Brown was poor. By the time he left, he was rich and California was poor!

    By the way, Brown has long been known for dating much younger women. Then getting them cushy jobs on the public payroll once he was done with them.

    1. Kamala Harris.
      Nuff said.

    2. oh he’s SFs version of Berlusconi

  6. “an extremely likeable political pragmatist with no particular attachment to principle or ideology”

    He’s black John McCain!

    1. McCain is “extremely likable”?

  7. Does he get points for saying the right things now? I don’t know much about the guy but California has Public pensioned its way in to bankruptcy, and it’s mildly refreshing to see someone on the left admit it.

    Oh California, you so crazy.

  8. I don’t know much about the guy

    Just enjoy the hat.

  9. [He] lamented that he hadn’t anticipated the long-term implications of over-generous pensions:

    I did. What do I win?

    1. You get to pay for those over-generous pensions.

  10. despite the opposition of powerful Democratic unions.


  11. (In particular, Los Tiempos de Nueva York loved to depict him as a puckish and wily master of parliamentary procedure.)

    He was. The result is California.

  12. My only complaint about Herb Caen was that he was so fond of Willie.

  13. Reason is amazing. Brown as those point out above was totally corrupt. He by his own admission was completely naive and stupid and helped bankrupt America’s richest state through over generous public pensions. But now he regrets it and alledgedly didn’t let the Giants rip of San Fransisco, this after allowed the public employees to steal everything anyway.

    But Reason thinks he is a “likable and practicle” politician. Excuse me while I vomit.

    1. In my job, I’m met a remarkable number of likable and practical politicans who were also scumbags, John. In fact, I think that describes the majority.

      1. likability doesn’t mean a lot. Even Hitler had a girlfriend.

        1. Right. But I though you took issue with Brown being described as “likable”?

          1. I don’t see how a guy who steals and is incompetent can be called likable and pragmatic. I think that it renders the word pretty much meaningless. Hitler was not likable no matter how charming he was to Ava Brown and his pet German Shepherds.

            1. Hitler was likable–ask the millions of Germans who liked him.

        2. And she was white, too.

    2. Have to agree with John here. “Likability” is kind of meaningless. Look at New York. Everyone agrees that our state legislators are both loathsome and corrupt – yet 98% of them get reelected every goddamn election anyway.

  14. Give us 10,000 or so Willie Browns in the ruling class and fifty years and they will destroy our Republic. But they’ll be sorry so it’s OK.

  15. Guy sounds like a complete tool to me!


  16. Willie Brown, tea partier?

    The mind boggles.

  17. Where’s his monocle?

  18. Nice try Brown, but you don’t get to avoid Carousel

  19. I believe that Willie has changed his ways about as much as I believe Lindsay Lohan has quit drinking.

  20. Opposition to Willie is racist!

  21. Meh. Willie Brown has value only as an indicator of the underlying political sentiment of 50% + 1 of the voters.

    The fact that he now feels like he has to bash on his buddies in the civil “service” only shows that he thinks that’s what he needs to say to hold power.

  22. Of course Willie Brown is affable and charming. All successful con men are affable and charming; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t eat.

  23. That Willie Brown’s comments are germane is illustrated by the split in San Francisco between the public sector unions and the “progressives” over the pension reform measure placed on the ballot by SF Public Defender, Jeff Adachi: The Sustainable City Employee Benefits Reform Act is bitterly opposed by the City’s unions, and is supported by Matt Gonzales, the former Green Party candidate for mayor, and Adachi, who want’s to run for mayor as the progressive candidate. Progressive are seeing that the money they want to spend on their pet projects (like “green” energy) is getting sucked up by public pensions.

  24. So Willie now recognizes the error of his Big Spender ways? Does he spend his days writing notes of apology to all the Republicans he demonized and marginalized while he was Assembly Speaker?

    I didn’t think so.

  25. Does he get a public employee pension? If so, how many and how much does he get a month?

    Is he willing to show his contrition by giving back some of that money?

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