If progressive mythology has a devil figure, surely it's Willie Brown. For more than a decade, he's been the embodiment of what liberals are trying to "progress" past.
Has that changed?
Brown should have shocked S.F. politicos last week by announcing in his Chronicle column that he'd had a power breakfast with new Board President David Chiu, but nobody seems to be upset about it. Progressives who were furious at President Barack Obama for meeting with conservative pundits or inviting Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration have taken a pass on Chiu's meeting with downtown's most notorious paid political hack.
Not that there's anything inappropriate about the meeting. As Chiu said, "I'm the new board president; I have to meet with a lot of people. Why wouldn't I meet with a former mayor?" But explanations like that haven't usually prevented outcry before. Why aren't progressives taking this opportunity to berate one of their own?
Part of it is that Chiu got lucky: Brown's column came over inauguration weekend, when all the people who really, really, really care about politics were either in Washington or weeping in front of their televisions. Even Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who ran against Brown in 1999, said he's happy to give Chiu a pass. "It's kind of yawn," he said. "When you get into office, you do a lot of courtesy meetings; sometimes people say you should touch base with other people. Plus Willie is very entertaining."
So does this mean that the history of animosity between Brown and the city's progressives is now ancient history, and it's okay to deal with him? Not so fast, Ammiano says: "That's to be determined. I wouldn't say it's water under the bridge just yet."
Chiu wouldn't discuss the meeting in detail, and while he didn't distance himself from Brown, he went out of his way not to compliment him, either. "I think it's appropriate for me to meet with a former mayor," he reiterated.
And, SF Weekly prompted, Brown is still a good person to have in your corner, right?
Chiu paused. For a long time. "He's a former mayor," he repeated.