Senator Kamala Harris is the only major 2020 Dem candidate to have called for legalizing prostitution. It’s not hard to see why.
Harris has proven to be a Democratic donor draw since her first race, for San Francisco district attorney in 2003. Despite being a little-known, 39-year-old prosecutor, Harris pulled in checks from an array of bold-faced names in San Francisco and beyond.
The Getty family, heirs of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, gave a combined $3,750, as did then-CEO of Wells Fargo Richard Kovacevich. Bill Fazio, a local attorney who ran against Harris in the 2003 race, recalls hearing she received a donation from comedian Chris Rock (he indeed sent along $500 from New York). Actor Danny Glover kicked in another $500.
Fazio and others who observed Harris’ rise in San Francisco believe she made many of those glitzy connections via Willie Brown, then the mayor of San Francisco.
“She tapped really strongly into Willie Brown’s political network,” said Boise State political science professor Corey Cook, who was teaching at the University of San Francisco at the time.
Brown, a larger-than-life power broker in the state, also “helped introduce her around to the Pacific Heights area,” said Fazio, referring to the wealthy enclave overlooking the San Francisco Bay that is home to some of the city’s most prominent families.
Brown, whom Harris dated before she ran for office, caused a stir by acknowledging in a recent San Francisco Chronicle column that he “certainly helped with her first race for district attorney.” But Brown also pointed out that he helped Gov. Gavin Newsom get his start, as well as many other politicians from San Francisco. Fazio noted the same thing, and emphasized that he saw “absolutely nothing wrong with” Brown’s assistance..
Newsom wasn’t sleeping with Brown. Not that we know of anyway.
He personally gave $500 to her campaign, and a political consultant who worked on both of his mayoral runs is raising money for Harris — without her consent — using a pitch letter signed by Brown. Harris denies asking the mayor for fund-raising help and knows it gives her antagonists even more ammunition…
While she enjoys significant support in Pacific Heights (one of her best friends is Vanessa Getty), Harris also is trying to generate enthusiasm for her run in poorer neighborhoods such as Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission, and the Tenderloin. But her candidacy is hardly of the grass-roots variety. Most of the $400,000 she has raised so far has come from the city’s social and legal elites, people with power and money, people who respond well to Harris’ message that Hallinan is erratic, divisive, and soft on crime.
Some of them are people Brown introduced her to…
On the night of the Central Committee vote, a reporter for the Bay Guardian, which has vociferously criticized Harris for her association with Brown, stands staring outside the State Building as Harris drives off in a stylish black car. “Willie Brown gave her that BMW!” the scribe remarks with unconcealed disgust.
The reporter is about half right. In fact, as Harris later tells SF Weekly, the mayor gave her a 1994 BMW, which she traded in for the 1997 model she now drives. The car remains a tangible link to a man whom many San Franciscans associate with political chicanery and self-dealing — a connection that doesn’t bode well for Kamala Harris…
Harris’ networks, especially in high society, expanded rapidly while she was going out with one of California’s most powerful politicians. The association also had major financial benefits, which Harris talks about reluctantly.
Aside from handing her an expensive BMW, Brown appointed her to two patronage positions in state government that paid handsomely — more than $400,000 over five years. In 1994, she took a six-month leave of absence from her Alameda County job to join the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Brown then appointed her to the California Medical Assistance Commission, where she served until 1998, attending two meetings a month for a $99,000 annual salary…
Buell insists the Harris campaign has “not received a penny from Willie Brown.” When informed by SF Weekly that public records show Brown personally gave Harris $500, the maximum individual contribution allowed, Buell’s memory suddenly improves. “Oh yes,” he says. “My stepdaughter asked Brown for a contribution in a restaurant…
A few nights later, she hits up an all-white Pacific Heights crowd with the same speech. Among the wine-sipping guests is romance novelist Danielle Steel. The hostess, Frances Bowes, whose fortune derives partly from Hula-Hoops and Frisbees, says she met Harris at a benefit thrown by clothier-to-the-wealthy Wilkes Bashford, a longtime Willie Brown crony, in 1994. Bowes and Harris served together on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where Harris started a successful program to bring art into the public schools.
Bowes is particularly impressed by “Kamala’s incredible theme, which is to protect young girls that become enslaved to prostitution. She is so vital and impassioned, anybody who heard her would vote for her for president.
“Why, Willie Brown just wrote us a letter on her behalf,” she adds happily.
And of course now Kamala Harris supports legalizing prostitution.