Matt Gonzalez: H., let’s start at the beginning.
What did you have to drink last night and how did you feel this morning?
h. brown: Oh lord! Which last night? The day gets
kind of segmented when you burn the candle at both ends.
Hmmmm. Well, Jens came by & brought a couple of beers
(big ones) & earlier there was some bourbon. I had a glass of wine left.
Soooo. That would be beer (Urquell), bourbon (Ancient Age) & wine (a
cheap merlot). About a normal evening. Hangovers? Don't get em (knock on
wood). If you run & work out at least 90 minutes a day, you burn that
MG: Tell me about the Bay-to-Breakers race. Is it
true you finished in the top 100 runners once?
hb: Naw. That's a rumor I made up to get laid.
Actually, in around 1983 or so, I was in great shape &
took 500 mics of purple micro-dot & actually topped Hayes Hill in 14th
place out of around 150,000 people. I stopped for a Bloody Mary & ended
up finishing at 43 minutes & something.
The Breakers? Best race in the world. If you're a
serious runner, it's like a golfer getting to play against Tiger Woods.
You get to run with your heroes. I've run against everyone from Bill
Rogers to Henry Rono.
MG: Runner? Muckraking journalist? Former
firefighter? Raconteur? Ex-husband (6 times)? Which title do you prefer?
Particularly as you're getting into the political arena?
hb: I'm a writer. Always have been. You are what
obsesses you most. All the jobs were just a way to pay the bills while I
wrote. Journalism is just one form of writing. Politics is just a
subject area for writing.
Oh, I'm very political. I have the usual hippie social
conscience & I've always tried to affect public policy but I mostly just
needed to write. It's only recently that I've tied the obsession to
write with politics.
It's been rewarding. The women? You ain't got enough
MG: I was with you today when you bumped into Gavin
Newsom in the South Light Court of City Hall. You know, the fellow
you're running against for supervisor. I'm wondering if you would
describe the encounter for your readers. It kind of felt like a prefight
weigh-in – à la Tyson vs. Holyfield.
Was that the first time you had met? And what was your impression?
hb: Oh, I've met him. He pretended not to know me
(as you saw) but he knows me. I'll kiss your ass if he hasn't read (or
had staff read) every word I've written about him.
I'm a threat to him & he's the ordained (by the rich)
next keeper of the gate on a budget of 5 billion bucks & double that in
bond cash. If they aren't looking at me, they're dumb. They know I can
take their boy out with one lucky phrase & he knows it too.
Notice that the dailies haven't even listed me as an
opponent. I have over 10,000 readers & they're all wonks. That's a
Today? I just joked with him: "You know, you're way too
tall. Anything over 5'6" is wasted. It takes too much material to cover
you, too much food to feed you." Just “jabbing” at him good naturedly.
He & his masters are tossing me & my people out of town
or I'd have never entered politics. They made a mistake. There are
thousands like me. I'm just the one with the biggest mouth.
MG: Fair enough. But you know, tall guys have a long
reach. He's not going to take kindly to your jabs. Not for long anyway.
hb: What's he gonna do? Get me fired? I don't have a
job. My politics have me pretty much black-listed. He gonna take away my
woman? Ain't got one. Gonna get me evicted? I'm homeless. Get down &
dirty with me? That's what I want.
MG: Hey h., before I forget – can I count on your
support when I run for mayor of Baltimore? I'm going to need a police
chief, you know?
hb: Ho, ho, ho. Closest you're gonna get to
Baltimore is Washington, D.C. When you get there, I'm like Hunter
Thompson. I just wanna be the Minister of Marijuana. You're 37 tomorrow.
You got a bunch of experience for a young dude. We ain't gonna let you
quit at being a supervisor.
MG: Yeah, you're right. Maybe after this supervisor
gig, I can get Mayor Ammiano to make me head of the Housing Authority?
Washington is too far away. Baltimore is closer.
hb: I got a better chance of being mayor than
Ammiano & I ain't got no chance of being mayor.
Yeah, I know, it blows but read em & weep. The voters
already said “no” to Tom big time. His candidacy is strictly a matter of
ego. I'm tired of accepting a candidate on symbolic grounds or whatever.
We get Newsom (& we will if Ammiano runs) … we get Newsom & you won't
notice the difference from Willie Brown. You need to keep your calendar
clear next year. We may force YOU to run.
MG: I told you, h., I got other plans. Besides, you
can't assess an Ammiano mayoral effort based on what you saw last time.
Tom didn't have a chance because he got into the race so late. This time
he'll have a number of supervisors and other officials supporting him,
which will help legitimize him to a wider audience. It will never be the
same as last time.
hb: Dream on! The public already hated Willie &
Willie beat the hell out of Tom.
I hate to be cold but Tom's too “nelly” to win. Wanna
run a gay candidate with a better chance? Run Leno.
Tom's last candidacy was a thing of beauty. It reminded
me of Eugene McCarthy in the 1960s. Very exciting rallies but his base
was too narrow. We never saw McCarthy again. Tom's peaked. He just
doesn't know it. He'll take us down with him.
MG: h., you're wrong. When Tom runs a serious
campaign and folks get to see why he wants to be mayor, why he ever got
into politics, they will see a fellow who is trying to help people –
primarily poor people. They're also going to see a fellow who hasn't
made any money in politics, someone who can relate to the common person
trying to live in this city. My prediction is that it won't even be a
close race. 55 percent to 45 percent. Remember that 49,000 people wrote
his name in.
hb: Against Newsom!!!?? Jesus Christ boy, you are
loyal! I agree that Tom deserves to be mayor, but when the hell did
justice & politics ever go together?
I'd like to see the numbers now. You can bet your sweet
bippy Newsom has had polls done recently. Gavin will have Ed Asner
appealing to the seniors and Gav & his wife will make Willie & his
ladies look like a cheap pimp & his stable.
I see hard times down that road for progressives.
“Common” people? There's a hell of a lot less of them now than when
Willie took over & the people who replaced them all look like Newsom.
MG: I see an opportunity to move on to another
subject here. Before the Newsom encounter, I saw you talking with Joe
O'Donoghue. What are you guys up to?
hb: Joe & I are both a couple of hard-assed hot
heads. It gives us some common ground. The man is a great writer. He's a
marvelous speaker. I just wish he worked for “my side.”
He was passing out his latest statement to the press
concerning his latest confrontation. People bait the guy now. This
Salinas clown on the Planning Commission was using Joe to get some
publicity. You wanna get in every paper? Pick a fight with Joe.
I was trying to get Joe to set up a regular benefit
fight bill at the Irish Center. Two politicians or other public figures
for the main event and some kids & maybe a semi-pro doing 3 rounders to
warm up the crowd. Put big oversized gloves & head gear on the
politicians so no one gets hurt & go for it. Joe had the same idea years
ago. He even had a ring ready to set up across from City Hall or
something like that.
It would be great. Pick match-ups. Say … how about Chris
Daly against Gerald Green? Barbara Kaufman against Sue Hestor? The
possibilities are endless. Personally, I want to fight Mabel Teng.
MG: h. you're trying to bait me, I'm not going
hb: OK, I don't wanna fight Mabel. She's just the
smallest one I could think of. Hey, politics can get pretty boring
around here. Two hundred years ago, the vice president of the United
States and the secretary of the treasury got into an argument. They went
across the “street” & fought a duel. The VP shot the secretary dead & no
one blinked an eye.
I'm not advocating that. Joe's my political enemy but
he's a good guy. I don't give him any slack but I think he's good for
the scene. I've got pretty San Francisco basic values: do anything you
want, just don't bore me.
MG: I have to weigh in on Joe's side of the dispute
with Jim Salinas. I know both these guys and frankly I think Joe can
take him. If he wanted to of course.
hb: No doubt. Joe says in Ireland they have what
they call "the Belfast kiss." Someone insults you, you take a crack at
em and they at you, and the next day you're friends again. Here, a
little argument can play in the press for years. Look at the mayor &
See, I'm doing it. Keeping petty shit in the news. Joe
says kids kill each other nowadays because they don't have the fighting
outlet we used to have. He's right. When I went to the Boys Club at 8 or
10, the first thing they did was lace on a pair of gloves & throw you in
the ring. Nobody shot each other.
MG: Can h. brown take Joe O'Donoghue?
hb: Not even in my dreams. He's tall. He's powerful.
He's mobile, agile & hostile. I'd take a crack at Newsom but O'Donoghue?
MG: I want to ask you about your favorite
journalists. Who do you like to read? Do you bother with Ken Garcia, for
hb: I read absolutely everyone. Writers are like
ball players. Or painters. They hit hot streaks. The last few months I
think Matt Smith has been doing the best pieces. I don't like his
politics but his investigative journalism has been powerful. Garcia is
lazy. His column reads like he spends most of his time hanging out in
Golden Gate Park. Seriously, half his shit is party-line from the Rec &
Park Commission & those people are no good for parks or recreation.
MG: How about Frank Gallagher?
hb: He's a hired gun. I'm just a gun. He & I both
have very definite agendas. I like his stuff because he's vicious and
completely without conscience. He tells half the truth, half the time.
Kind of like my last wife.
MG: What about the SF Bay Guardian writers?
hb: Hey, you need another bourbon?
MG: It's about time. I was wondering when you were
going to offer.
hb: Here (pours – lots).
Hmmm, da Guardian. The Call is a better paper but it's
tiny. The Guardian has the best stable of writers by far. Redmond has
got scope but he doesn't do enough writing for me. I'd like to see a
book on SF politics from him.
I'd love to write for them. Spice up their shit. I
approached them & they told me to stick it up my ass. I took it as a
compliment of course, but still, I wish they'd reconsider. The Guardian
is simply the only progressive paper in town that makes any money. The
big outfits have too homogeneous an offering politically. Only the Call
& the online Sentinel will print really divergent views & I got too racy
for the Sentinel.
I think there's a niche there for a rag that publishes a
range from Gallagher to h. brown. It would sell. I'm thinking of getting
my buddy Gavin Newsom to borrow 80-100 million from Gordon Getty to
start our own newspaper. We can call it the San Francisco Bull Dog. A
“Bull Dog” in newspaper lingo is the first run of tomorrow's paper, run
late afternoon for editing at majors. We'll do half politics & make the
other half of the paper just pictures of Gavin & Gordon in evening wear
partying with their friends.
MG: Tell me what happened with Pat Murphy? You guys
seem made for one another. You know, Hansel and Gretel, Carson and
McMahon, Clinton and Gore.
hb: He got tired of editing my obscenity.
MG: That's it?
hb: He found out I was an alien from Mars.
MG: That's funny, he told me you were from Saturn.
hb: Naw. That's Gallagher. He drives one too.
MG: Let's get serious again. What do you think of
hb: Hmmmm. I watched him give his budget speech
today & it was one long lie. He's firing a hundred laundry workers when
he could make the same savings dumping a few of his “special”
assistants. A few years ago someone asked him about the city gentrifying
and he replied, "That might not be a bad thing." Really. Hey, most of us
voted for him for most of his career. We fucked up. He sold us out.
MG: Actually, I thought the speech was rather short.
Thirty minutes. Hell, I've heard him give longer speeches at ribbon
hb: He didn't seem comfortable, did he? Jim Meko
(writes for the Sentinel) said he still has nostalgic feelings of
affection for Willie & so do I. When he lets his hair grow too long & I
see the gray, I feel older too. If his face looks a little swollen some
mornings, I worry about him. Honestly. Da Mayor is the most entertaining
figure on the San Francisco political scene in my 22 years here.
MG: Can h. take Willie? I mean, Chris didn't fare
hb: Daly won big. He made headlines. I can't beat
any of these guys. At anything. I'm just an old geezer having fun.
MG: But I thought there were a bunch of witnesses.
Didn't Willie knock him down, or something like that?
hb: Naw. Daly told the mayor he was full of shit and
Willie came out of his chair to go after him. That's what I hear anyway.
He lost control. Kind of a metaphor for his political career. Daly had
just buried Willie's hand-picked candidate 8 percent to 18 percent or
something. Chris represented all of us. Willie lost control
politically & then personally.
MG: I'm kidding. I know what happened.
Okay, let's change the subject. What happened to that
girl you were with, the one with the broken foot, what was her name?
MG: Yeah. What happened to her?
hb: Well, let's see. It's 2:04 am. Happy birthday,
by the way. You're 37 years & 2 hours old.
She's asleep downstairs in Ania's crib now. She's
single. I can fix you up.
You want some more bourbon?
MG: Yes, thanks. But I heard the foot thing was your
fault. Sorry to bring it up. Jim told me about it.
hb: Yeah, people get hurt around me. I've been
blamed for the Kennedy thing and I made a bundle off Enron.
Actually, truth (as they say) is always stranger. She
was dancing up a storm at my birthday party. They started doing one of
those Russian dance things where you squat & kick your legs out. She
kicked a Buddhist monk in the shin. Honest. No shit. Broke her foot.
She's still hobbled but she gets out.
MG: Do you have some ice? Oh, yeah. Thanks.
You know I meant to say earlier when you were mentioning
the Bay Guardian writers … my favorite is Amanda Nowinski. I think she
is absolutely brilliant. I wish she just wrote politics. No, scratch
that. I love reading her interviews with all the DJs that come through
San Francisco. You don’t have to know a damn thing about music to
appreciate the interviews. Do you know her stuff?
hb: Naw. I only read the first 20-25 pages of the
Guardian. Just the purely political stuff.
This bourbon ain't bad. Usually I just get the cheap
Nowinski … I'll read her tomorrow.
MG: h., did I tell you I had a blue bird land on my
head a couple of weeks ago? Seriously, I was walking down McAllister
Street on a Saturday or Sunday. The bird just landed on my head, then
jumped down to the ground and stared at me. I mentioned it to Rob Lee,
who came by the art party we just had at the office. He writes a column
for the Chronicle. I've never read it, but I think it's about
environmental/nature stuff. He said it was probably a Western Scrub Jay
or something like that. Said it has a lot of blue in it. Anyway, what do
you think it means?
hb: Apparently, from the air, your head looks like a
MG: Come on, h.! You're supposed to say it means I'm
going to come into great wealth or something like that.
hb: I am superstitious. I'm very familiar with jays,
being from Missouri. They're not friendly like that at all.
Hey, I'm a hippie. It was a message. Of course, the
message could just be, "Stay the hell away from my tree!" You like
MG: Not really. It could just mean I need a haircut,
hb: Yeah, that's probably it.
MG: What kind of bourbon is this?
hb: Jim Beam, boy. I started drinking this stuff
when I was twelve years old. It can get you in trouble.
MG: h., I got to get some sleep. Got a couple of
committee meetings tomorrow, you know?
hb: You can crash here if you like.
MG: Thanks, but I just turned 37. I need to be in my
own bed tonight.
hb: You, sure. I can try & hook you up with that
MG: Thanks h., but I'm going to have to pass.
hb: It's your loss, buddy.
MG: How about one more drink? And you're invited to
a small get-together at my office tomorrow. You know, ’cause it's my
birthday. Come by after 5 pm.
hb: I'll be there. I'm serious though, man. I know
you got no fear, but this shit of walking home in the middle of the
night through the Tenderloin & Western Addition & the Mission ain't a
good idea. Crash on the couch & I'll wake you in a couple of hours when
I get up to take out the trash.
You think Newsom is lying awake worrying about me?
MG: I don't know. Let's give him a call.