Defending his support of a military charter school in Oakland, California, Gov. Jerry Brown once told me, “I believe that had I been sent to the military academy, as my mother and father threatened, I would have been president a long time ago.”
It was a vintage Brown quote – at once self-aggrandizing (reminding me he still thought of himself as a potential commander in chief) and self-mocking (acknowledging that he’d tried and failed in three presidential campaigns).
At the time, 2001, Brown was Oakland’s mayor and I was interviewing him on camera for my documentary “The Celebrity and the City,” which first aired on KQED. The film was a critical assessment of how Brown was faring as mayor – had he delivered on his campaign promises? In a city as politically contentious as Oakland, no politician is universally loved, but overall, voters seemed impressed with Brown: They re-elected him convincingly in 2002 to a second term as mayor.
Now, 12 years later, with Brown winning handily in the primary as the Democratic nominee to continue to be governor, a few key excerpts from the documentary seem especially relevant.
Brown made a political comeback in Oakland, dealt with urban crime, tried to reform Oakland schools and sought to revive the city’s spirit and economy. Watch our Brown playlist here and see all the clips below.
From the vantage point of 2014, what’s most revealing about “The Celebrity and the City” is that it captures the moment when Brown, once mocked as “Governor Moonbeam,” reinvented himself as a pragmatic, can-do, tough-on-crime leader and relaunched his stalled political career. As he told me back then, when I asked if he still dreamed of higher office, “I would say that nothing in my past shows that my ambition is limited. And I’m too old to change that.”
By the time Brown completed his two terms as Oakland’s mayor, he was ready to run for state attorney general and primed to return in 2011, at age 72, to the governor’s office he’d first been elected to in 1974, when he was 36.
Who says there are no second acts in American politics?
The Comeback Kid
Brown makes his political comeback as mayor of Oakland, a city whose fortunes he hopes to revive. He makes three major campaign promises: to reduce crime, improve education and redevelop downtown.
Law and Order
Brown, an anti-death-penalty liberal, reinvents himself as a law-and-order mayor. He faces a scandal in the Oakland Police Department, a high murder rate and the controversial street-party “sideshows” where drivers show off their spinning, screeching cars.
Brown pushes charter schools, including a military academy, as a way to improve Oakland's long-struggling public school system, and he clashes with school Superintendent Dennis Chaconas, who is pushing his own reforms.
Brown promotes his “10K Plan,” an effort to revitalize downtown Oakland by attracting 10,000 new residents. John Protopappas, an ambitious developer and treasurer of Brown's mayoral campaign, pushes construction of live/work lofts and other redevelopment, sparking a debate about gentrification.
"The Celebrity and the City"
Producer and writer: Stephen Talbot
Co-producer: Rachel Raney
Editor: Amy Young
Camera: Fawn Yacker and Howard Shack
Narrator: Anasa Briggs-Graves
Executive producer: Sue Ellen McCann
Produced by Talbot Productions for KQED (2001)