My leather-jacketed host, Clint Reilly, taps a code into the security system that unlocks the metal gate to his 120-acre estate in Napa County. In his black Mercedes sedan, we climb past hillside vineyards and through a pine forest, emerging on top of Mount Veeder, where we park in front of a chateau.
Two years ago, Reilly paid $3 million for the alabaster building, custom-designed by London architect David Connor in 1988 for the heir to a Swedish bread fortune. The heir, now dead, had a thing about boats. The twisting concrete pathway snaking to the house is flanked with nautical navigation lights. The house itself is shaped like a huge ship, wide in the stern, pointed in the bow. Inside, the walls careen off one another at crazy angles. Art by Andy Warhol and Ray Lichtenstein adorns the sunlit rooms, which are furnished in a 1950s motif. Reilly, 54, chuckles as he shows me around his off-kilter home, in which form is untethered from function. “It's very modern,” he keeps saying.
I sit in the living room. To my left, hangs a rare Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe, clashing colors forming a composite image of the actress, who looks as if she's wearing a red mask. To my right, the eyes of Mao Zedong peer out of a blue face with green lips.
“Mao was a great leader — with flaws,” says Reilly. I ponder the contradiction of a commercial landlord worth $100 million admiring the Great Helmsman as we go outside, where a concrete pool in the garden stretches away from the ship-house toward a 50-foot tower, the guesthouse, which is pierced by a long nautical spar, making a cruciform. Or, maybe, a crucifix.
As Reilly and I ascend a stairway up the cross, he explains that he wants to be seen as the common man he believes himself, at heart, to be, but that view has been hard to get across, because common people are envious of his wealth. The comment comes toward the end of a series of lengthy interviews last month, interviews in which Reilly described himself as a philosopher, a community-minded businessman, a loving son and father, an art collector … and a candidate, for a second time, for mayor of San Francisco. Excruciatingly aware that he lost his first run at the Mayor's Office, in large part, because his political enemies succeeded in defining him as a wealthy, cynical, ill-tempered misogynist, Reilly openly acknowledges that he hopes to alter his public image, so it matches more closely what he believes himself to be. And Reilly clearly believes himself to be a public-spirited citizen who has paid exorbitantly and unfairly for a few minor character flaws blown out of proportion by his detractors and complicit media organizations.
Reilly has long been a central figure in San Francisco's politics of disgruntlement and grudges. Of late, his involvement has been especially prominent: He's used hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to bankroll political candidates and electoral propositions and, even, an antitrust lawsuit aimed at his adversaries, among them Mayor Willie Brown, many Brown aides and supporters, and (at least in Reilly's mind) several executives at the San Francisco Chronicle. His failed 1999 race against Brown and two late campaign entries, Supervisor Tom Ammiano and former Mayor Frank Jordan, is near-legendary for its viciousness, with Reilly repeatedly calling the mayor corrupt, and Brown campaign guru Jack Davis accusing Reilly of viciously beating a girlfriend two decades earlier.
Despite the investment of millions of dollars of his personal fortune, and despite years of prior experience as a campaign consultant, Reilly took a personal and political beating in the mayor's race, some of it warranted, much of it obviously unfair. I wanted to spend time listening to Reilly — hoping, frankly, to like what I heard — because I knew many reasons to be suspicious of his most dedicated detractors. And over time, it became clear to me that Reilly is not, in fact, the one-dimensional, money-grubbing, woman-beating devil that his opponents created during the mayor's race. Neither is he the mistreated, misunderstood, service-oriented savior of San Francisco he would have the public see, in advance of his run for mayor in 2003. Those images are just that — images, created by political professionals, and meant for easy, unthinking consumption.
The real Clinton Thomas Reilly — at least, the Reilly who came through in 25 hours of interviews — seems an intelligent, carefully controlled self-contradiction with a simmering temper. He's a Roman Catholic who supports gay rights and a woman's right to choose, a political candidate who quotes Martin Heidegger and St. Thomas Aquinas, an owner of fine art whose taste has a high gauche quotient, a successful businessman who has supported “progressive,” anti-business causes. He is openly calculating in his quest for the Mayor's Office — his agreement to be interviewed at length was, in fact, a thought-out, acknowledged attempt to change his public image for the better — but his motives for enduring the intense pain of San Francisco politics seem utterly personal, almost beyond his control. He says he wants to be mayor to accomplish good, to do what is right, but, as his own statements make clear, he is pursuing public office for his own sake, not yours. He fervently wants your support, but he wants you to support him because he is who he is, and not for what he would do, specifically, as mayor. In fact, he seems not to have a clear idea of what he will do if he gains the Mayor's Office — except to keep away from the enemies who, he knows, abound in the city's political and journalistic jungles.
He is someone who could own a ship-shaped country manor full of Warhols, believe he possesses the common touch, and be angry when you do not agree.
Blue-eyed, soft-spoken, 75-year-old Bess Reilly, who is Clint's mother, and Joseph Reilly, his 74-year-old father, have agreed to share coffee and cookies with me in the living room of their small house in San Leandro, and to talk about their son. The oldest of 10 children, Clint was born in 1947 into a family his parents describe as, at best, lower working class. “We were poor because we had so many kids,” Bess says. Joseph worked as a milkman; Bess sold hot dogs at the Oakland Coliseum. [page]
“We didn't have curtains,” Joseph says, laughing. “People would knock at the door and ask if the house was for rent.”
When Clint was 6, Bess, a Presbyterian, converted to Roman Catholicism; Joseph, who was born a Catholic, had fallen away from the church. “I was a pious nut,” says Bess. “I said the rosary at the table.”
The church became the center of family life. Clint and his ever-increasing tribe of siblings attended catechism classes and took the sacraments at St. Leander's church a few blocks away. Clint became an altar boy. In 1959, the Reillys moved into the house Bess and Joseph still inhabit, after one of Clint's sisters, Jill, succumbed to a brain tumor. “There was a lot of joy and heartache in our house,” Bess remembers. “We were intense, that's the word. Clint is intense, too.”
After Jill died, Clint decided to become a priest, and in 1960 left home to enter the seminary. Bess says that at the seminary, her son was most influenced by Monsignor Eugene Boyle, a priest who was close to Cesar Chavez and the civil rights movement of the turbulent 1960s. In fact, under an autographed picture of Boyle on the wall of the Reilly family home, there leans a “Clinton Reilly for Mayor” placard. “Priests should be involved in politics,” says Bess. “They should be concerned about human beings and injustice in the world.”
Interested in Monsignor Boyle's view of things, I drive down the Peninsula to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic seminary in Menlo Park, which is surrounded by 20 acres of palm trees and flowery gardens. The turn-of-the-century buildings are filled with fine wood furniture and woven carpet from Austria. The seminary is so richly appointed that it was made a pilgrimage stop in the Vatican's recent celebration of the 2,000th birthday of Christ.
A few blocks from the seminary I find Boyle, 79, in the apartment to which he retired after a half-century as a well-known advocate for social justice. Boyle met Reilly while teaching social action seminars at St. Patrick's in the mid-1960s; he has been Reilly's spiritual mentor and political sounding board for more than 30 years.
“Clint was always a leader,” says Boyle. “A leader has to be tough. Controversial.”
In 1968, under Boyle's guidance, Reilly and a group of his fellow seminarians wrote the “Little Kerner Report,” which detailed race-based poverty in San Francisco. Mayor Joseph Alioto was furious at the attention the report received in the press. He called it “Chicken Littleism.”
Then, in the early 1970s, Reilly helped Boyle weather an international media storm. A children's coloring book that contained an “Off the Pig” (that is, kill the police officer) page was “discovered” in the basement of Boyle's Western Addition church. The priest had allowed the controversial Black Panther Party for Self-Defense to run a breakfast program in that basement. Reilly acted as the monsignor's media spokesman in the affair, which ended when a congressional investigation revealed that the coloring book had been planted by the FBI.
I drive back to San Francisco, wanting to ask Clint Reilly for his thoughts on making the transformation from priest-in-training to community activist to famous political consultant, and on some observations his mother made while discussing the same transformation. Among other things, she said she was not surprised that her son is often described as abrasive. “Clint can't tolerate petty people,” she said. “He's not into small talk. He's not beholding. He pushes people; you know, you have to.”
But what haunts me is something else she said about her first-born son: “People do not really like him. He's not lovable.”
“I left the seminary in 1969 because I wanted to make history, not bless it,” Clint Reilly says, sitting in the mahogany-paneled conference room of Clinton Reilly Holdings atop the Merchants Exchange, the downtown office building that represents the bulk of Reilly's wealth.
In those days, he says, the seminary was a real cloister. “I was taking the same classes Boyle had taken 25 years before,” remarks Reilly. “We were up at 5:30 a.m. for chapel, prayer, meditation, and Mass — all before breakfast. Once a month we were allowed a three-hour walk in town. We were not allowed to watch television. All books had to be approved.”
In the mid-'60s, things started to open up as Pope John XXIII liberalized the church. In Mass, Latin replaced English. Modern philosophy made its way past the rectors of St. Patrick's. Reilly became a philosophy nut.
“I started out studying Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. In their systems, there is a hierarchy of life, like rocks, animals, humans, God. You always know what the truth is, because it's objective, like the Ten Commandments, right and wrong. The universe is orderly, moral, and mechanistic.
“Then I learned about existentialism, the idea that truth is derived from one's existence, that it is subjective. But I was really taken with the work of Martin Heidegger, a mediator between Aristotle and existentialism, between objective reality and subjective truth.”
(The German philosopher Heidegger, 1889-1976, renounced Catholicism after leaving the seminary. He has gone down in history as the only major European philosopher to enthusiastically use his own teachings to aid Hitler's National Socialist Party, an action for which he never publicly apologized. When asked about this association, Reilly says, “The Nazi connection? That's always the attack on Heidegger. It's important to separate the ideas from the person.”) [page]
“Heidegger defines the human being as only existing in relation to other beings in the world,” Reilly says. “So the only way you can know your own truth is through interaction with other beings. In later years, I reflected upon the political and ethical implications of this. It's all about self-interest.”
Reilly says he was also drawn to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit who, according to Reilly, “applied evolution to human history and predicted globalization and the decline of nationalism.”
(Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955, believed that the planet Earth has evolved a “noosphere,” which is a “planetary thinking network” akin to the human nervous system.)
“I hooked Teilhard de Chardin up with Marshall McLuhan,” Reilly continues. “McLuhan said that media is bringing us together instantaneously, as spectators of war on television, as watchers of elections instead of voters, as globalized consumers.”
(McLuhan, 1911-1981, a Roman Catholic college professor whose book Understanding Media propelled him to celebrity status in 1964, coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” McLuhan taught that communication media — whether drums, print, or radio — are the motive force of history. The manner of presentation — the medium itself — is more influential than the actual content of the message conveyed. Sensuous mediums, like television, transform traditional learning by packaging the message, placing it inside a wrap of sound and image and inserting it directly into people's consciousness.)
From these ancient and modern thinkers, Reilly says, he extracted a mechanistic, self-centered worldview, and some useful advertising techniques. He then left the seminary, hoping to work for social justice in the world.
I ask him to define the youthful, justice-related goals that remain important to him.
He laughs uncomfortably.
“I don't know,” he finally says. “I have no 10-point plan.”
He stares into space.
“You have to live according to your principles. Biblical dictums like: “He who loses himself will find himself.' Sometimes you need to leave your self-interest behind in order to find true peace and happiness.”
He looks at his watch.
“I do feel part of the human family, and responsible to other beings to enhance their lives, and in doing so we can enhance our own life … I don't know.”
“No one ever asks me that question.”
Reilly floundered around after abandoning the priesthood. His faith leaked away, he says, but questions about the existence of heaven and hell — even the existence of God — were soon overwhelmed by the question of how to feed himself. For a few years, he slept in church rectories while working on social programs for the poor. Along the way, though, he discovered a talent for making business deals. He bought used milk cans by the thousand and sold them to department store chains for use as window dressing and kitschy barstools. He persuaded a bank to loan him money to buy used school desks, which he resold. He learned how to make money in the margins, to leverage more out of less, to appear more successful than he really was.
He found his true calling, however, as a campaign manager. Through his community work, he met Richard Hongisto, a gregarious San Francisco cop. In 1971, he managed Hongisto's successful campaign for sheriff of San Francisco. He helped the United Farmworkers Union win the right to organize. He lost a few campaigns, of course, but in 1978, he won his first big one — Bob Matsui's race for Congress — and he entered the political big time.
In 1982, Reilly opened his consulting firm, Clinton Reilly Campaigns; it went on to manage hundreds of campaigns in California for, mostly, Democratic Party stalwarts, including luminaries such as U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. His professional ties to two clients, in particular — state Senate President pro tempore David Roberti, and the then-Democratic congressional whip, Tony Coelho — gave him access to party funding for his stable of candidates.
He bought a small office building on Sansome Street. He worked incessantly, eschewing a social life. He freely admits that he drove his employees hard, yelling at them from time to time.
In 1986 Reilly donated his services to the campaign to pass Proposition M, a still-extant restriction on the amount of new commercial office space that can be built in San Francisco each year. The proposition was fiercely supported by a coalition of “progressive” organizations and conservative neighborhood groups concerned about the pace of development. Downtown real estate king and Democratic Party financier Walter Shorenstein was also a major backer of Prop. M. The measure passed. Ultimately, it served to protect the value of Shorenstein's office rental empire by limiting new supply and driving up rents.
During 1988, Reilly was paid more than $6 million by the automobile insurance industry to run two statewide anti-consumer initiatives. In the spring of that year, he bought a mansion in Sea Cliff for $2.3 million, and in 1992 became a landlord, paying $3.9 million for an office building on Pacific Avenue in North Beach that became the start of his commercial real estate fiefdom.
In 1993, Reilly was awarded what he says was a $600,000 settlement after San Francisco Examiner Editor Phil Bronstein allegedly broke his ankle in a scuffle that erupted during a meeting with Publisher Will Hearst. (Both men have their own versions of the scuffle's origins.) Reilly believes the pain-filled incident marked a turning point in his previously charmed consulting life. The media was no longer entirely friendly toward him, he says, and a four-year streak of winning campaigns ended.
Reilly's ship went to ground on Kathleen Brown's 1994 gubernatorial campaign. When she lost by a landslide to Pete Wilson, a Greek chorus of pundits blamed Reilly for her defeat. Then, in 1995, Reilly ran the failed re-election bid of San Francisco's incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan against the outgoing speaker of the state Assembly, Willie Brown. Jordan lost after he spontaneously took off his clothing and allowed his picture to be taken in a shower with two naked radio DJs, spawning universal expressions of incredulity. [page]
Reilly retired as a political consultant. Despite the late-career defeats, he is recognized by his peers as a pioneer in the business of campaign management. He and his full-time staff ran a profitable, full-service operation that did everything from raising campaign funds to printing and mailing brochures to writing speeches and producing television commercials. Reilly excelled at providing what may be the most important service of all: developing a simple, believable message on which a candidate could focus his media barrage.
He had another talent. In honor of his ability to create negative images for opposing political candidates, his associates nicknamed him “Satan.” It was a negative image his opponents resurrected — to startling effect — in deflating Reilly's initial run for mayor.
Although he's out of the business, Reilly loves to explain the mundane science underlying the seeming magic of political consulting. Before the advent of television, he says, people elected leaders who, they believed, possessed uncommon knowledge about public affairs and a talent for governance. “These leaders were like Old Testament prophets who navigated the crises for the people,” he says.
Inside the mass media barrage of the present-day election, however, people are “deluded” into believing that they — the voters — possess significant knowledge about reality and governance (when they do not). Therefore, Reilly says, they vote for the candidate who they think agrees most with them. Modern campaigns are intended to hook into people's fears, insecurities, and prejudices, not their hopes.
“Media bombards you,” remarks Reilly. “You do not comprehend it as it changes the way you think; voters are empowered in their own minds to believe they are in control of the issues. The political consultant does not put out anything new; rather, he strives to resonate with people's previously held ideological convictions, such as about the death penalty, abortion, taxes, crime, education.
In 1995, Reilly moved to improve the quality of his own life. He married his girlfriend, Janet Koewler, a public relations professional who worked for a former Reilly client, Richard Riordan, the mayor of Los Angeles. And he bought the 16-story Merchants Exchange Building from Shorenstein for $18 million. It turned out to be a brilliant investment; the building may now be worth as much as $70 million. Reilly also owns an office building in Sacramento. He says steady income from his commercial office rental holdings gives him the freedom to serve the public.
“Citizen” Reilly replaced Satan.
“When I started out in 1970,” Reilly says, “I thought I could elect good people who could do more than me by myself. I thought I could multiply myself and my convictions. In the Christian community, the priest is not really a leader, but a facilitator of leadership. My idea of a political consultant in the absolutely best sense was as a facilitator of leadership. I left the profession because people think of political consultants as Machiavellian, as necessary evils. I decided I could have a greater impact on social change by becoming a leader myself, as opposed to a facilitator of leadership.”
Reilly's first foray into citizen politics was financing and quarterbacking a barely losing campaign against Willie Brown's proposition to build a “stadium-mall” for the 49ers football team. (When 49ers then-owner Eddie DeBartolo pleaded guilty to a federal bribery count in Louisiana in 1998, the stadium-mall deal died.)
In 1999, Reilly announced the birth of his daughter, Jill, and his candidacy for mayor. He sold stock and took out loans on his buildings to finance his $4 million campaign, which he lost with 12.5 percent of the vote after ex-Mayor Jordan and Supervisor Tom Ammiano jumped into the race at the last moment — and after a charge that Reilly had a history of abusing women was splashed all over the front pages of the papers.
“Losing the mayoral race was humiliating and embarrassing, but losing is part of winning,” Reilly sighs.
Last year, the multimillionaire citizen made a more successful foray into the public consciousness, filing a federal lawsuit aimed at stopping the Hearst Corp. from paying $66 million to Independent Publisher Ted Fang to “buy” Hearst's dwindling afternoon paper, the San Francisco Examiner, as part of a deal that would allow Hearst to purchase the much larger San Francisco Chronicle without breaking antitrust laws. Testimony in the highly publicized trial revealed that top Hearst executives and Brown discussed “horse-trading” favorable coverage of the mayor in return for his support of the newspaper sale. United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker called the whole deal “malodorous.” The judge ruled against Reilly on a technicality, but, in an unusual move, Walker awarded $2 million in attorney's fees and costs to the loser. News coverage of the suit generally portrayed Reilly as public-spirited and concerned with ethics. It was a true public relations coup.
Then, last fall, citizen Reilly met with more success, spending $340,000 on the district election cycle, funding “soft” money campaigns for several candidates who ran against and beat supervisors supported by Mayor (and longtime Reilly detractor) Willie Brown. Reilly was also the primary money-man behind Proposition L, a measure aimed at further limiting the development of commercial office space in the city. The proposition was narrowly defeated, but Reilly's support of it forged new ties to the city's so-called progressive groups and politicians.
Reilly is proud of his ties to the new supervisors (“I had no allies. Now I am electing people who are allies of mine!”), and says he wants to work with them to improve their images, lest they be sullied by the Chronicle, which, Reilly says, is trying to portray them as kooky. Mostly, though, Reilly is concentrating on improving his own image, which took a phenomenal beating during his run for mayor. [page]
“I used to get a lot of puff pieces in the press,” Reilly tells me on the way to a Warriors basketball game at the Oakland Coliseum, where he has season tickets. (The team lost, as usual, and we left early, not caring.) But after Bronstein broke his ankle, he claims, the puff pieces were suddenly filled with razor blades. In 1994, for instance, the Los Angeles Times ran a major profile on Reilly, written by Amy Wallace. Her first sentence labeled Reilly a “vitriol-spewing millionaire.” Reilly complains that Wallace's long list of his sins gave too much credence to the opinions of his enemies. There is some truth to his beef. Considered in the long view, the profile does seem one-sided, at one point describing Reilly as “a walking cluster bomb.”
Unfortunately for Reilly's image, the Los Angeles Times' account has become his semiofficial biography. Reilly blames the press for keeping his enemies' allegations that he is a violent and mean-spirited man alive.
During the final leg of the mayor's race in 1999, Willie Brown's chief campaign adviser, John R. “Jack” Davis, went on the record with an unsubstantiated accusation that Reilly beat up a woman 20 years ago. No medical or police records were produced. In fact, no woman, or name, was ever produced in public by Davis, who worked with Reilly on Frank Jordan's successful 1991 race for mayor. But Davis enjoys tremendous access to the local press, due in no small measure to his intimacy with Brown.
Reilly believes that reporters and editors for the Chronicle and the then-Hearst-owned Examiner were consciously or unconsciously biased against his candidacy because they wanted to please Davis, their reliable source, and Bronstein, the Reilly foe who ultimately became senior vice president and executive editor of the merged newspapers. Reilly also blames his campaign manager, Jim Stearns, for the domestic violence debacle, saying Stearns did not do a good job of answering the allegation, which was repeated endlessly in newspaper accounts, commercials, and mailers. “I was limp and passive. I stayed out of running my campaign last time,” Reilly says. “But next time I won't.”
(Stearns responds to Reilly's comments this way: “The responsibility for telling the city what happened 20 years ago rests with Reilly. He had ample opportunity to answer the charges. He was unable to do that.” Bronstein says the Examiner's coverage of Reilly's 1999 candidacy was fair, and adds: “That's a bizarre theory to explain losing an election.”)
As he blames others, Reilly consistently minimizes the responsibility he might have for the damage done to his image. He has admitted that he once had a drinking problem, but has never publicly addressed the charge that 20 years ago he broke his girlfriend's jaw. The way he usually deals with reporters who ask about the incident, Reilly says, is to go off the record, providing facts that supposedly show the incident is not what it seems. Reilly says the incident involved his then-girlfriend Gale Kaufman, a political consultant. He offers to explain further, off the record. I decline the offer; he declines to explain further, on the record. (All interviews for this article were on the record and tape-recorded.)
Reilly's concerns about the San Francisco press extend well beyond the prominent play given to Davis' woman-beating charges.
Both the Chronicle and the Examiner endorsed Brown for mayor, and Reilly is particularly bitter about the Examiner's gushing endorsement of Brown. There is some factual basis for his bad feeling. That endorsement was issued after the paper had criticized the mayor editorially for years, and after the paper had published months of reports on an FBI investigation of the Brown administration. Most galling to Reilly is a fact made public long after the mayor's race was over, during his antitrust lawsuit against the Hearst Corp.: The endorsement followed a lunch at which the Examiner's publisher, by his own sworn testimony, offered to “horse-trade” favorable editorial page treatment to the mayor, if the mayor would stop opposing Hearst's ultimately successful attempt to purchase the Chronicle.
Reilly also remains angry about the Chronicle's pre-election profile of him, written by Susan Sward, which essentially mirrored the image painted by the Los Angeles Times several years before. In the Chronicle profile, Sward portrayed Reilly as someone who was feared far and wide for his skill in manufacturing campaign hit pieces. To refute this allegation, Reilly takes me to his personal archive, several rows of filing cabinets that contain almost every piece of campaign literature he ever wrote. He says that he did not attack candidates personally, or on the basis of race, sex, religion, or other inherent attributes, and a random review of the archive seems to support his contention.
But the same review shows that Reilly was certainly a master of the negative campaign. The cover of one glossy pamphlet, for example, features a toothless homeless man in Los Angeles standing near a shopping cart; inside the pamphlet are a series of photos depicting murder victims, graffiti, police officers, and uncontrolled riot fires. This picture of urban hell is blamed entirely on city Councilman Mike Woo, who was running against Reilly's candidate for mayor, Riordan.
The negative campaign waged against mayoral candidate Reilly was personal, to say the least. It painted him as violent, unprincipled, even loony. (“A political consultant for Mayor? That's nuts!” was the core slogan.) Reilly says he now considers the personal attacks to be “a necessary rite of passage.” He is sure the charges will not stick a second time around.
Unless, he adds, the San Francisco press keeps them alive.
For the next 30 minutes, Reilly paces the conference room, anxiety all but shimmering in the air around him. “I hated the Examiner [when it was still owned by Hearst],” he exclaims. “Bronstein, Rob Morse, Scott Winokur, John Jacobs, James Finefrock, Will Hearst — these are little people.” He expresses similarly uncharitable feelings about the Chronicle's managing editor, Jerry Roberts, and its legal reporter, Reynolds Holdings, who covered Reilly's antitrust lawsuit against Hearst. According to Reilly, his worst enemies are now gathered together at the Chronicle, which wields monopoly power over the business of image-making in San Francisco. [page]
“I leave myself vulnerable by running for public office,” he observes. “San Francisco is such a small place, everything gets personalized.”
Yes, it does.
It's a few days later; Reilly is driving me toward his home in his black Mercedes. A few hundred yards from his house, he swerves down a cul-de-sac.
“See that green house?” he growls. “That's where Bronstein and Sharon Stone live.”
A man appears in the driveway of the green house.
“I think that's him!” Reilly exclaims, and then peels away, red-faced.
Janet Reilly, 36 years old, blond, and fashionably attired, gives me a tour of the Reillys' Sea Cliff home, which features a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Janet, who is due to give birth to a second child any day now, is very hospitable, but the pin-clean house has a sterile flavor. Nothing is visibly out of place, even in the master bedroom. It's kind of like … an art gallery.
Almost every wall in the mansion displays an abstract expressionist painting. These are not soothing pictures; the Reilly art collection — valued at well over $1 million — is dark. In the living room, for example, a plaster humanoid screams silently from deep inside some private hell.
Janet jokes about the omnipresent art. It relaxes Clint, she says.
Janet and the house and the art collection are important parts of The Image that Reilly is refining for his next stab at the mayoralty. The Image is a collage of bits and pieces of his real life, artfully glued together, Reilly admits, to appeal to a certain demographic. To Reilly's horror, though, unwanted scraps from his real life keep attaching themselves to the collage, messing it up.
Fixing The Image, Reilly believes, is simply a question of technique.
“The best campaigns are a two-edged sword,” Reilly says. “They sum up a candidate's strengths in terms of his opponent's weaknesses. Take the brilliant slogan “Coke, It's the Real Thing.' Its claim for authenticity implies the opposite of Pepsi.”
In the 1999 mayor's race, Reilly used a double-edged formula to mold his image and guide his campaign. He attacked Brown as ineffective and corrupt, while at the same time putting forth his own programs for reforming Muni and the city's homeless policy. But, in the face of mud slung Reilly's way, being the Anti-Brown was not enough.
Reilly admires former President Bill Clinton for the way he handled personal attacks with political responses. “He essentially did almost nothing in office, yet he had a 65 percent approval rating, despite Lewinsky! That's because he targeted the economic self-interests of the middle class.”
Reilly wants to define himself as a champion of the middle class, too.
“The power of leadership has been enormously cheapened,” Reilly remarks. “Government and politics have been marginalized by the constant muckraking of the post-Watergate press. Voters are skeptical. They do not want their tax dollars spent on charity for the poor. They want college tuition and health care subsidies for themselves. They want more police on the streets and the death penalty.”
Reilly supports the death penalty — “I believe in an eye for an eye,” he says — but has no apparent ideology beyond a self-interested pragmatism. Like Heidegger, Reilly is searching to define himself (and his political agenda) in relation to other beings — voters, in this case. He is not looking into his soul to discover his true self and present it to you for approval or disapproval. He is looking into your soul to discover the secret desire, fear, or hate that will make you punch a ballot for him.
When I ask him to list, specifically, what he would like to accomplish if elected mayor of San Francisco, Reilly talks about being a “fiscal conservative and a policy liberal” and “reinventing government from transactional to transformational.” He says he believes the city's business community has failed to be a watchdog for the common good because “it benefits from the corruptibility of city government.” But he says he does not want, at this point, more than two years before the mayoral election, to go into the details of changes he might make at City Hall.
Driving down the mountain from his Napa house, Reilly says casually, “I'll bring you up here next summer, if you want, and you can stay for a couple of weeks.” I say nothing.
A bit later, Reilly returns to one of his favorite themes: There is no honor left in politics because of the press. Because, as it turns out, there is no honor left in journalism, either. Even the man on the street thinks most journalists are corrupt. Young reporters start out with noble intentions, Reilly says, but the owners of newspapers — the de Youngs, the Hearst Corp. — co-opt them, gradually changing them until they can no longer distinguish rumor from fact.
He laughs. Most journalists are envious of the lives of the rich and famous, he says. I turn off my tape recorder. I remember what his mother said. The emotion I feel is not envy.