A target group of 35,000 professional women received a mailer that featured the image of a woman saying, "I don't care if Willie Brown is Kamala Harris' ex-boyfriend" and then went on to criticize Harris for accepting "two appointments from Willie Brown to high-paying, part-time state boards . . . while being paid $100,000 per year as a full-time county employee."
To Harris, the mailer was "a backdoor attempt" to rub in her association with Brown. Using an automated phone system called Robocall, Harris responded with two-minute recorded messages to the same demographic group, explaining how on the unemployment commission she wrote legal opinions to help assure the extension of benefits to gay couples, and on the MediCal commission she helped keep a Mission District hospital from shutting its doors. Most voters hang up on Robocall, campaign manager Jim Stearns says, but 97% of Harris' messages were played to the end. The attack backfired, and Harris beat Fazio by 3% to force Hallinan into a runoff, which she won with 56% of the vote, a tally that also exceeded that of newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom.
"Is that going to be part of the story?" Harris says when asked about her old romance with Brown. She prefers not to discuss her personal life, past or present. Brown, who is rarely reticent, did not return several phone calls. Lateefah Simon says: "Kamala's in love with her work."
Politicians who work hard and succeed in San Francisco--such as Feinstein, Brown, Pelosi and outgoing Senate President Pro Tem John Burton--have a knack for ascending to more prominent leadership roles. DeLeon, the political scientist, explains this in Darwinian terms: "So many San Francisco politicians rise because the city is so diverse and the politics are so ruthless. To survive, you have to be extremely skilled."
On the other hand, the Bay Area is a political bubble. Most Californians, surveys show, remain solidly in favor of the death penalty, so Harris' opposition may ensure that her political future remains in that insular environment. Arthur Bruzzone, a San Francisco Republican who once hosted a local political TV talk show, argues that San Francisco has now tilted too far to the left to be a good launching pad. Time will tell whether Newsom's stand on gay marriage or Harris' "smart-on-crime" crusade will help them statewide, or beyond California. "What's political poison in one decade can be political dynamite the next," Stearns says.
Harris is too smart to discuss ambitions beyond her present occupation. But in her inaugural address, she spoke at length of her admiration for a San Francisco politician who had become district attorney 60 years earlier. She described how Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, best remembered as California's governor from 1959 to 1967, transformed a weak district attorney's office into a strong one and how he protected the rights of minorities and organized labor before being elected state attorney general. Pat Brown, she also noted, had been inspired by the example of Earl Warren, who had been Alameda County's district attorney before becoming California's attorney general, governor and finally chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court during the historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.
If an appreciation for history translates into a sense of destiny, Harris won't say it. A show of pride would be bad karma. Whatever the future holds, the track record suggests that Kamala Harris will be multi-tasking, bringing her own sense of right and wrong to the criminal justice system. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done," she says. "A lot of work."