There are two important dates for San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. The first is March 20, 1934, when Willie Lewis Brown Jr. entered the world in the East Texas community of Mineola. The second date, more important from a political standpoint, is Aug. 4, 1951, the day he arrived in San Francisco.
The City by the Bay hasn't been the same since. California's fourth largest city and one of the nation's most culturally diverse regions is enjoying something of a technology boom under the leadership of Brown, who spent more than three decades in the state Assembly before returning "home" to defeat the incumbent mayor in late 1995 and assume the post in early 1996. While Brown's agenda has a strong social service component, he also plans to transform San Francisco into a city of the future through economic development. He intends to use technology to keep San Francisco an economically vibrant city.
Brown told government officials in attendance at the Cities of the Future Conference in December, that he sees San Francisco as a prototype of tomorrow's city. "I want to make this the smart city. I want to make this the city of the 21st century, and I want to do so with all of the kind of brainpower contained in this room."
The city is at the edge of a peninsula. Because of its location, the city can't grow out, but technology can take it up. It has its landmarks and legends -- the Golden Gate, Jack Kerouac, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz, Willie Mays, the TransAmerica pyramid, the Grateful Dead. The eventual vengeance of the San Andreas fault is accepted as the price.
San Francisco is also unique in its political makeup. Whereas many cities operate under a council/manager format or in a mayor/council system -- the latter recently enacted by voters across the bay in Oakland, where former California Gov. Jerry Brown is now mayor -- San Francisco's welcome signs note entrance into "the city and county of San Francisco." Brown is in a strong mayor post, overseeing a city and county along with a board of supervisors.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of the more notable of the 39 names on the list of former San Francisco mayors. Brown is hoping to keep his name off the ex-mayors' list for a few more years, figuring that if he can successfully steer through the next election, he can carry out his goal of
making City Hall a truly smart building, with teleconferencing and television broadcast facilities -- important public projects that can't be completed in a short period of time.
"My re-electability will ensure the opportunity to complete this. That's the future I project for Willie Brown," said Brown, who shares Bob Dole's habit of speaking of himself in the third person.
The Brown of Renown
His eyesight has been known to fail him at times, but that has only heightened Brown's tremendous vision. "Long before I became mayor, the city had become addicted to the idea of being on the cutting edge with reference to technology," Brown said after his speech. "They had created an environment for all of these computer-types to live in. So, San Francisco becomes, literally, an incubator for technology from a governmental standpoint and the use of every aspect of technology."
San Francisco was also the incubation site for Brown. He was educated on the streets and at California State University, San Francisco. He eventually became a lawyer -- even helping arrange counsel for political protesters -- and a major force in the NAACP. Two years after losing his first Assembly run, Brown claimed victory in 1964, and kept his seat until deciding to run for mayor in 1995. While others have served longer in office, Brown spent 1980 to 1995 as speaker of the Assembly,