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Kathleen Brown: She Too Wants a Chance to Lead

March 13, 1989|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

"I am not my father," Kathleen Brown begins. "And I am not my brother."

True enough, there are the bloodlines. She is the daughter of former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and sister of former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.

But at age 43, as she starts her run for the office of California treasurer, her first statewide campaign, be careful what you color her.

"I am a different shade of Brown," she says with cool practice, even before you ask.

In the 1950s and '60s, Pat Brown, was the builder-governor of California who made the ground all but shake from the concrete pouring out freeways and buildings--pouring out dreams of bigness and greatness. In the 1970s, Jerry Brown, the conserver-governor, made the Establishment shake in anger from his challenge to freeways and the whole notion of bigness as a path to greatness.

A Blending of Both

Now at the dawn of the 1990s, Kathleen Brown wants her chance at state leadership on the promise to meld into a contemporary political alloy the exuberant growth of her father's era with the flinty conservancy of her brother's.

Almost without trying, she has become the talk of Democratic circles. Party regulars who have seen her only once in 15 years swear to the heavens that she is one of their most promising up-and-comers, someone with boundless potential.

"My father didn't pay heed to the environment. My brother paid attention to the environment but didn't plan for those who were moving here. I want to do both. It's really the Yin and Yang of the Democratic Party," she says.

To witness her in action, Brown was followed from the reeking sewer plant at Playa del Rey, which she supervises in her role as a Los Angeles Public Works commissioner, to bucolic Monterey for a reunion of classmates from her prep school days. Along the way, there were the usual assortment of speeches and fund-raisers that form the foundation of a statewide campaign.

Never has someone brought such a legacy to the task of seeking statewide office.

You can see it in her face. She has her father's easy smile and her brother's deep, intense gaze. The sharp Brown nose is unmistakable.

You can see it in the way she moves. She bores into the center of any crowd and plays to the camera with the natural ease of someone who grew up knowing of flashbulbs and fishbowls and glad-handing.

Life in the Mansion

As a child, she painted toenails on the feet of the antique bathtub in the governor's mansion and listened to the family's background chatter about fabled friends and foes, men like John F. Kennedy, Adlai E. Stevenson, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan.

"I thought people always had sirens on their cars," she says with a laugh.

A favorite story is a reminder to herself and her listeners about the anything-can-happen vagaries of politics. The time was 1966 and her father was sitting at a table with his advisers, planning his campaign for a third term. The elder Brown feared he would have to face Republican George Christopher, the mayor of San Francisco.

"They sat there and said if only the Republicans would do them a favor and nominate that actor fellow Ronald Reagan, it would be a pushover," she recalls, rolling her eyes.

Republicans did, of course. And they dashed Pat Brown's career, except as patriarch.

Unlike Pat's son, Jerry, the eccentric whose interests never strayed far from the throb of politics, daughter Kathleen arrives on the ballot from a roundabout path.

She was born on the cusp of social change for women. Some of her college friends headed out for the wonders of careers. Others wanted the satisfaction of being homemakers. Brown chose both lives, one after the other. She changed her name along the way to separate the eras. Old friends from college and her housewife days call her Kathy. Today's career associates call her Kathleen.

"She always had balance," explains Sister Carlotta, who oversees the exclusive Santa Catalina Catholic girls prep school in Monterey. Here, Brown was boarded for her final two years of high school. She says it was to shield her from what the family knew would be a bruising 1962 gubernatorial campaign between Pat Brown and Nixon.

You could call hers a balance of the common and uncommon.

Like countless other 40ish mothers of today, Brown was called on to sacrifice for the men in her life. Twice she pulled up stakes and followed husbands from Los Angeles to the East Coast.

Sold Neckties

In 1966 she left Stanford University and went to Massachusetts so her first husband, George Rice, could attend law school. For pin money, she sewed and sold men's neckties under her own label. She went by the name Kathy Brown Rice.

The two returned to Los Angeles and Brown first plunged into elective politics, winning a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education in 1975. She was reelected in 1979. And also divorced. The couple had two daughters and a son who now range in age from 23 to 17.

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