In fact, Brown is the prince of a California political dynasty, founded by his father, the former Democratic Gov. Pat Brown.
Brown's early political career reads like a red-carpet roll out. First a minor fiefdom -- a community college board. Then secretary of state. Then, still in his 30s, California governor in 1975.
Since Brown lost a U.S. Senate race to Pete Wilson in 1982, he has assumed the role of wandering prince -- continually reinventing himself, trading on his political connections and then, when convenient, shamelessly distancing himself from them. He can always return. So he went from being state Democratic Party chairman, the ultimate insider, to an independent whose "general thinking doesn't fit the mold of a party" to a Democratic candidate again.
Even as a candidate for Oakland mayor, Brown underwent a complete transformation. At first, he promoted a plan for "Oakland Ecopolis, a Plan for a Green Plan." The mayor's Oakland would mirror a new-age Italian hillside village, disdainful of "mere economic development." His Oaktown: "A baby smiles and a flower grows." And: "Oakland Ecopolis is both far away and very near."
Brown's true talent, however, has been to sense what voters want to hear. By the time he was elected mayor in 1998, he was a pro-development politician with the goal of drawing 10,000 new residents downtown. Better yet, the majority of new downtown housing was privately financed.
Brown also shed the anti-law enforcement tone he used as a talk-radio show host. (Read: "Some people might say that this increase in the prison population is a conspiracy, because it seems to be working almost perfectly for those with extra capacity for sale.") This mayor wanted more cops on the beat.
I voted to re-elect Brown, as he was the best mayor Oaktown had seen in years. Granted, the bar was low.
Still, not all was sunshine in Groovy Oakland. Brown used eminent domain powers to evict good taxpaying businesses like Revelli Tires and Autohouse -- not to accommodate public works, but so that a private developer could build apartments on their land. I credit Brown for his zealous defense of redevelopment, even if I consider the policy outrageously heavy-handed.