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Brown sworn into office, quirks and all

January 09, 2007|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly a quarter-century since his last go-round, Jerry Brown returned to statewide office Monday, still rippling at age 68 with the restless zeal that marked his colorful 1970s tenure as California's indefatigable "Gov. Moonbeam."

The old gubernatorial Plymouth and floor mattress in a rental apartment are long gone, but Brown took the oath of office as attorney general with a few quirks up his sleeve.

There were the Gregorian chants to launch his inaugural ceremony under the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall. By his side sat Brown's beaming wife, former Gap executive Anne Gust, whom the new attorney general has named a de facto chief of staff.

And there was his decision to keep an Oakland address.

Brown has no plans to move to Sacramento or frequently hold court in the capital, saying he will spend most workdays in the attorney general's satellite office in Oakland, the city he served the last eight years as mayor.

Pundits who delighted at the prospect of Brown rubbing elbows and egos with freshly reelected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger instead have a different reality: Sacramento may not be big enough for both Jerry and Arnold.

For his part, Brown vowed repeatedly during and after the short ceremony -- presided over by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom -- to work effectively with Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to enforce the state's laws "vigorously and with common sense."

Newsom cited Brown's storied two terms as governor, his second act as Oakland mayor and the political vigor that propelled him to the widest margin of victory of any statewide politician last November. All are proof, Newsom said, that the attorney general is "unique in every capacity."

Brown's niece, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kelly, administered the oath of office after quipping that Brown "inspired and challenged" the clan's younger members, even though a casual conversation with the venerable politician often "feels like an oral argument."

During a short speech, Brown stuck to familiar campaign themes, promising to fight crime, vigorously enforce the rights of workers, and protect and promote the state's new environmental laws to curb greenhouse gases.

Turning to his wife, who will be an unpaid advisor to the attorney general's office, Brown advised the audience of 500 supporters that "if you can't get in to see me, see her."

After basking in applause and then wading through a crowd of admirers, Brown paused long enough to play down his plan to stay in his fourth-floor Oakland loft and work out of the field office.

He'll be all over the state, Brown said, "based on the need."

"I expect to be spending time in L.A., San Diego, Fresno and Sacramento," Brown said. "Wherever the problems, I'll be there."

Pundits agreed that Brown would be a different kind of attorney general.

"Jerry Brown is going to live life both personally and politically on his own terms," said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor. "He's at a point in life where he's comfortable with who he is."

Conservatives, meanwhile, saw more cynical motives in Brown's decision to not set up camp in the Department of Justice's high-rise Sacramento headquarters.

Ken Khachigian, campaign strategist for Brown's vanquished Republican opponent, Chuck Poochigian, suggested that Brown wanted to remain in Oakland to avoid the scrutiny of "nosy Capitol reporters" while still being able to tap into the Bay Area's far bigger TV media market on his own terms.

"All this is very calculated," Khachigian said. "He doesn't want to be lumped in with any Democratic rivals, let alone Schwarzenegger. It gives him better access to the big national TV news bureaus. He'd rather be on CNN or Fox than be mired in the Sacramento bureaucratic scene."

Brown walloped Poochigian, a former state senator from Fresno, by more than 18 percentage points to win an office once held by his father, former attorney general and governor Pat Brown.

The big victory marked another step in what has been a remarkable political comeback.

Elected governor in 1974, Brown was one of the youngest state officeholders ever and the heir apparent to a political dynasty. But he suffered plenty of defeats. He made three unsuccessful presidential runs and lost a bid for U.S. Senate.

Over the years that followed, Brown mostly shrugged off hands-on politics, working with Mother Teresa, studying with Japanese monks and serving a stint as a talk radio host in the Bay Area.

He returned in 1998 as Oakland's mayor, recasting himself as a practical politician bent on fighting crime and curbing urban blight.

Brown's inauguration was one of several Monday.

In San Jose, Republican Steve Poizner chose the backdrop of Silicon Valley's Tech Museum of Innovation to be sworn in as insurance commissioner. Debra Bowen took the oath as secretary of state in Sacramento, while fellow Democrat Bill Lockyer's inauguration as state treasurer featured former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown as master of ceremonies.

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