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Da market Willie Brown and also Mayor London breed share a minute at the traditional John"s Grill choice day schmoozefest in 2018. Once Brown asked Breed exactly how she was doing, she replied "I"m feeling like a winner!" photograph by Abraham Rodriguez.

Politico ~ above Friday damaged the news the our newspaper the record has opted come jettison “freelance columnist” Willie Brown in ~ month’s end, placing a belated conclusion on one inexcusable and, frankly, inconceivable situation. 

And it just lasted 12 years. Less time 보다 the central Subway project or Geary BRT — but an embarrassingly long stretch because that something the shouldn’t have happened in the first place. 

Brown, former mayor and Assembly speaker, and also still an extremely much a mover and also shaker, high-level information peddler, and also registered and also unregistered lobbyist in this town, must never have had actually a column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Or any kind of newspaper. 


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The most infamous pay-to-play politician in state background and “San Francisco’s legend Juice Mayor” need to never have been permitted to casually create his own unchallenged background of this city. He should not have been allowed to soft-pedal federal government officials’ rank dishonesty and billion-dollar lowballing schemes as simply one the those things. He should never have been permitted to gleefully plug his client and/or private businesses and/or politics creations and also savage their competitors. He must not have actually been permitted to issue coded advice or threats to members of the political class via a tower in the newspaper. He should never have been allowed to elude Chronicle reporters Monday v Saturday prior to generating his very own take ~ above the problems for Sunday — and also write write-ups that must have actually induced pinball an equipment noises in Chronicle staffers’ heads as they checked off violation after violation that the paper’s values code. 

Deciphering Willie Brown’s columns came to be an practice in reading between the lines and pinpointing his self-interest and stream the potential revenue in the subjects he was ostensibly “reporting” on. That was never clear if Chronicle higher-ups understood this, or cared. 

With Brown, you’d do well to i think there’s a well thought-out underlying motivation or rationale because that his actions, also if it’s not apparent. If his editors assumed they can stay a step ahead of the — good luck v that. Attempting to enhance wits through Brown is a little like attempting come play drinking games with the U.S. Ski Team: You will certainly lose. 

So it was also never clean if Chronicle higher-ups construed that Brown — and also others — were essentially running a PR firm from within the pages of the newspaper. 

Plenty of authors — and editors — understood this. It is why, when a new editor-in-chief critical year took over the record and inquiry employees throughout one-on-one meetings what they’d choose to check out changed, plenty of made it cursed clear where to start. 


“You are better off having them speculate ~ above what girlfriend conceal than confirm what you actually did.”

Willie Brown

I haven’t spoken with new Chron EIC Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, but I’d choose to think the wondered exactly how the hell this case was ever permitted to commence in the very first place, allow alone fester for a dozen years. 

It to be an open secret that short-timer Chronicle scribe Phil Matier — who additionally decamps in ~ month’s end — composed Willie’s column. That only added to the spectacle that this deep baffling situation. Staffers complained around Brown accurate phoning in his obelisk to Matier and “wordsmithing it. Loudly.” 

Transcribing Matier and also Brown’s rambling and profane lunchtime discussions so that Matier can pen the obelisk was an really assigned task for a happy low-level Chron staffer. 

I have some of this transcripts from a couple of years back. In one Brown notes that, together Assembly Speaker, that told his members to never write him anything important: “I don’t provide a shit if you placed ‘draft’ ~ above it, you room fucked if anybody touches it and also it is guarantee they will touch it … and also you are better off having them speculate ~ above what you conceal than confirm what you in reality did.” 

His bolder Matier agreed with this. 

But he was right. Somebody composed it down, and also somebody did, undoubtedly touch it. And eventually wrote about it. However not in the Chronicle.

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Da market Willie Brown stays in the facility of things. Photograph by Joe Eskenazi

The Chronicle‘s decision to part ways through Brown to be the ideal one. Prayer is in order because that the paper’s management. Because, make no mistake, Brown’s corrupting visibility undermined the good work Chronicle reporters and also editors were doing. 

Here’s what one reporter said my partner Matt smith in 2008, in ~ the dawn that the Willie’s civilization error: 

“Real journalists in the room were appalled by it. And the people who weren’t are world who don’t put journalism very first or who have a really shallow knowledge of san Francisco politics, or of that Willie Brown is, or of the reporting done in Hearst papers on Willie Brown.

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And here’s what another told me, eight year later: 

“Willie Brown is a pox on all of us.” The arrival of his tower “was a destructive blow to whatever serious work world thought they could do at the Chronicle.”

But this no just around journalists self-righteously clinging come a password of principles as everything else in our job crumbles about us. The goes deeper than that. 


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In 2013, Smith, then composing for the facility for Investigative Reporting, penned a masterful story around Brown’s efforts funneling Chinese visa money into the (persistently radioactive) Hunters point Shipyard project. Brown brazenly denied expertise of the enterprise, despite promotional material listing him as its “principal” and Chinese seminars in which that was explained as the dong shi zhang — the chairman that the board. 

Staff indigenous the office of mayor Ed Lee — Brown’s political production — crafted letters, memos and other products used in these invest pitches because that the enterprise Brown denied knowledge of, and also one that Lee’s aides ventured all the way to China to aid lasso investors. 

In short, it was a cracker that a story — and also deeply pertinent years later, in the wake up of FBI investigators rampaging v the city and also picking off indiscreet members of the so-called “City Family” in a large and long-running corruption probe. 

A number of these facility for Investigative reporting deep dives ran in the Chronicle. You’d think the newspaper of document would jump at the possibility to publish together a meaty story, and one that ensnared Brown, Lee, and also Speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi amongst others. 

Or not. The story, centered about the plot of a high-profile Chronicle columnist, was, for some reason, rubbish by the Chronicle. In the end, the ran in SF Weekly, a paper with just a portion of the Chron’s circulation. 

I to be at SF Weekly at the moment (I created the headline “Chairman Willie”). We were thrilled to have this boffo write-up fall into our laps — but, fact be told, we were additionally disappointed.

Every mountain Franciscan should’ve been disappointed.

Hopefully, much less disappointing work are now ahead. For this city, and also for its fourth estate.