Jerry Brown Runs Again — This Time for Attorney General
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In California, an old political warhorse is running hard in another big race. After eight years as mayor of Oakland, one-time governor Jerry Brown has set his sights on becoming the Golden State's next attorney general. All agree that Brown's name is a household word in California and much of the country, but his challenger in this Tuesday's Democratic primary says Brown represents the past at a time when the state needs to look toward the future.
NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES reporting:
Jerry Brown's campaign headquarters is situated in an inner city, loft-style building that doubles as his home. And from there, he's got a ground-level view of crime, a view, he says, makes him perfectly suited to be California's top law enforcement official.
Mayor JERRY BROWN (Oakland, California): I live in a town where we've had a lot of crime. I live in a building where we've had two robberies, one by knife, one by gun in the last six months on the first floor. So this is no an abstraction, it's not a rhetoric. And as attorney general, I will bring a knowledge and an experience to the enforcement of our laws that's badly overdue.
GONZALES: It's 10:00 o'clock at night, but the 68-year-old Brown is wide awake. He's energized by the opportunity to talk about the nitty-gritty of crime, punishment and a state penal system he says is broken.
Mayor BROWN: The criminal justice system is a mess. The parole system is in a shambles. And places like Oakland are the recipient of an aggressive onslaught of basically domestic terrorism.
GONZALES: The terrorists, says Brown, are the hundreds are unsupervised parolees who are released back into his city every month. Yet he also speaks with tinge of defensiveness. After all, crime has declined in his seven years as mayor. But a recent spike in Oakland's homicide rate has provided fodder for Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who's competing with Brown for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
Mr. ROCKY DELGADILLO (Los Angeles City Attorney): He has said that he wants to do for the state what he's done for the city of Oakland, and I'm not sure we can afford to allow that to happen. I think homicides this year are almost double what they were last year. This is a serious crime wave and I think the response so far has been lackluster.
GONZALES: Brown's critics scoff at the notion that he's been soft on crime. In fact, former City Councilman Wilson Riles, Jr. says Brown disappointed many liberals by taking a Rudy Giuliani approach to lawlessness.
Mr. WILSON RILES, JR. (Former City Councilmen): Where there was no recognition of what the roots of the crime was, but an attempt to basically demonize people in the community and to bring increased police enforcement, as if that was going to solve the problem.
GONZALES: And, Riles says, aggressive cops lead to a police abuse scandal that has cost the city $12 million. That scandal, and Brown's firing of Oakland's black police chief, has strained the mayor's relations with the African-American community, says Riles.
RILES: I'm not going to miss him at all. I'm actually going to be very glad that he's gone and that we will have an opportunity to repair some of the damage that he's done.
GONZALES: But others, such as developer John Protopappas, say Brown has revitalized Oakland and fulfilled his promise to bring in 10,000 new residents. What's more, he says, Brown has lifted the city's self image.
Mr. JOHN PROTOPAPPAS (Developer, Oakland, California): Well, we're going to miss him because he got us to look at Oakland in a different way. Those of us that live here, we've become very proud of being Oaklanders and a lot of that is due to Jerry Brown.
GONZALES: Love him or hate him, everybody knows Jerry Brown. And some wonder what it might be like if he's back in Sacramento sharing the stage with another household name, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. James Lorenz, a former aide who wrote a scathing book about Brown back in the late '70s, says that scenario sounds like a made-for-TV movie.
Mr. JAMES LORENZ (Author): It's the big enchilada, because that will crowd out all the interest in everybody else. They become the two hombres, the dos hombres in Sacramento. If anybody can play off Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's Jerry.
GONZALES: After more than three decades in the limelight, and three tries at the presidency, Brown probably rivals Schwarzenegger in name recognition. And he's not ready to quit politics just yet. Although voters will have the last word on that come Tuesday.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.