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Pamela Tom Headshot

Jerry Brown Joins the Race and Hopefully -- the Conversation

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By the time this blog is published, California Attorney General Jerry Brown is expected to have joined the gubernatorial race, officially. Up to now, news reports have focused on Meg Whitman's quest to lead the state and her impressive lead over GOP competitor Steve Poizner. The next few months, leading up to the primary, will focus on the candidates' plans to combat unemployment, create jobs, and reduce California's omnipresent budget deficit. As a journalist, I'm concerned with access.

Up to now, Whitman's team has led a carefully choreographed handling of its candidate. At a February 16 speech to the Commonwealth Club in Lafayette, CA, Whitman only spoke briefly to reporters. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle deemed the event as a "rare public appearance in the Bay Area." Bi-partisan audience members interviewed said they were still undecided on who they would support, but hoped hearing Whitman in her own words, would wipe away the fog of political jargon and lack of concrete answers that dominate Whitman's massive ad campaign. Wouldn't some straight-talk answers to the press do just that? Instead, we learned no more about Whitman after the event that we knew before.

Enter Jerry Brown. The man keeps re-emerging on the political scene. Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Brown served as California Secretary of State in the early 70s. He was our governor from 1975 to 1983. As a Bay Area news reporter, I interviewed Jerry several times when he served as the mayor of Oakland, 1998-2006.

When he first came to Oakland, we had to maneuver our way through his public relations team within the cold walls of City Hall. At the time, the press wasn't on the attack. We were waiting to see what he would do to turn the crime-ridden city around. One of Brown's top priorities was to bring business, and revenue, to Oakland. He planted himself in a condo along the Jack London waterfront and oversaw the area's renovation from dingy industrial to a renewed tourist attraction complete with fine dining and shops. Jack London Square grew, then faltered, and finally the 2008 economic downturn left the promise of Oakland less than what Brown must have envisioned.

Later Brown moved to a penthouse apartment on Telegraph Avenue. We reporters all knew where he lived and when we needed a comment in the evening or on the weekend, we didn't hesitate to knock on his door. He was never home when I knocked but we had access.

In January 2008, I was covering a mudslide in the Oakland Hills. Winter rains had caused a muddy slope to move toward homes below. We drove up to the street above the slide and discovered the muddy torrent originated right next to Brown's house. We set up our camera, lights, and live van in the street and proceeded to prepare for our live report. I decided to see what the neighbors, including Jerry Brown, thought about the slide. As I walked up to his driveway, a lone security guard stood out front. I asked him if Brown would be willing to talk to us about the slide. The guard went inside the house and a few minutes later, Brown emerged. Granted the issue wasn't controversial, other than the question of who the property owner or responsible party of the adjacent lot was -- even so, Brown didn't have to come out. But he did. He agreed to an on-camera interview, stayed and watched while we did our live report, before returning to his home.

The story wasn't something I would put on my resume reel, but I always remembered it because Jerry Brown was part of it. Ever since, I have made it a point to track what he has to say to the media and when he makes himself available.

Brown has remained quiet during the initial gubernatorial campaigning. After Whitman's speech in Lafayette, Brown's campaign manager, Steve Glazer, described Brown's relative absence from the headlines this way: "He's been doing his job as attorney general, protecting consumers and going after bad guys." An elected official actually doing his job instead of campaigning for his next office -- how refreshing!

Now that Brown's candidacy is official, I can't wait to hear what he has to say. Total transparency: probably not. I do predict he will be confidently subdued, not on the defensive, and clearly stating his position as he has done historically with a noticeable avoidance to join any media fray or hype.

At the same time, I hope Brown will be generous with his time, be direct, be accessible. The best way to find out, perhaps, is to seek an interview myself. If I get one, I'll be sure to let you know.