(Updated 4:45 pm) Declaring that he’s “not a candidate – yet,” Jerry Brown tried out a potential new theme for his soon-to-come campaign for governor Tuesday:
“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” he told a crowd of more than 800 at an Election Day breakfast in San Francisco. “It may look bad today, but help is on the way.”
While not exactly an ideal kicker for a 30-second TV spot, Brown’s Hegelian synthesis seemed to be an in-progress effort to craft a message that could attract disenchanted and alienated voters living through hard times, by combining a hard-headed analysis of the truly dire problems of California with a soft-hearted appeal to optimism and the state’s historic belief in hope for the future.
“I as much as anyone love to wallow in doom and gloom,” he acknowledged, tempering that tendency with rhetoric about California as “a state of imagination” and call for “some enthusiasm to get it done” during tough times.
Brown propounded his notion at a packed-to-the-rafters event tossed by former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown at the Moscone Center, which also featured Governor Schwarzmuscle and Republican wannabe governors Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner.
The only gubernatorial contender not in attendance was…wait for it…Meg Whitman, who kept intact her Joe DiMaggio-length streak of avoiding all contact with other candidates, having begged off from the breakfast nearly four months ago.
“Her office called and said she would be in the East – and that was an invitation extended in July,” said Willie. “She must have a helluva’ calendar.”
With Gavin Newsom’s sudden withdrawal from the governor’s race (he missed the breakfast reportedly because he has the flu — “don’t know if it’s swine,” Willie said) having cleared the primary field for Jerry Brown, the attorney general was the star of the show, as reporters gathered around him on his arrival, to the detriment of Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who was just starting to speak.
“I’m not a candidate,” Brown said at the beginning of his speech, pausing a beat and then adding, “Yet.” He said there was “no reason to get in too soon” because he is not “one of the more obscure personalities.”
“I don’t want to be coy,” he insisted, “I am raising as much money as I can.”
Reporters asked Brown about the recent controversy involving press secretary Scott Gerber, who resigned Monday following disclosures that he had secretly taped conversations with reporters. In resigning, Gerber issued a statement saying that he and he alone was responsible for and aware of the taping. Whether or not his resignation and mea culpa put the matter to rest remains to be seen; Brown, however, made it clear he believes it is already old news.
“Everything has been pretty well delineated,” he said, adding that “no confidential communications” were recorded.
(Willie Brown — dressed in light plaid Brioni and plum accents — slyly referred to the issue in his welcoming remarks to those at the breakfast: “Welcome to the breakfast club,” he said. “Please be advised that I am recording everything we are doing here today”).
Crusty the General Brown shrugged off suggestions, made by our friends over at Calitics among others, that the lack of a primary opponent would be disadvantageous to him and the party in preventing a robust debate and denying him an opportunity to sharpen his arguments and campaign pitch.
“Well, I appreciate their solicitude. It comes as a change from earlier recommendations in that quarter,” he said. “But whether or not we would be better with a nice bitter primary…would (it) be better for your moral character or better your political standing? It’s always better to take on adversity with a good spirit. But it doesn’t always (translate) to electoral victories.”
But wouldn’t he benefit from going through a primary? “Do you know how many primaries I’ve been in?” he asked. Willie Brown also laughed off the notion that a non-contested primary is a problem:
“I have never in my life felt as a candidate that I would benefit from competition,” he told Calbuzz.
Later, speaking to the breakfast crowd, the onetime “Ayatolla of the Legislature” held up Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai as a politician to emulate because he was able to clear the field and confirm himself.
“I think that’s what Jerry Brown is trying to do,” Willie said, laughing.
He introduced Campbell joking that, when he called him to invite him to the event, “He was in Dinuba, at a Denny’s, talking to an audience of one.”
Campbell got off the best one-liners in a speech he prepared for the event listing the 25 biggest whoppers he’s come to understand in his two decades in public office and 16 months in this campaign. The best of them were zingers at his opponents, but because they’re so inside, most of the audience didn’t seem to get them:
Aimed at Poizner: “Cut taxes and government revenue will automatically rise. (The logical corollary is that government will generate most revenue at a tax rate of zero.)”
Aimed at Whitman: “It’s really better not to have government experience if you’re running for public office.”
Aimed at Brown: “You can raise seven million dollars without really deciding to run for governor.”
Poizner, looking like the Silicon Valley multi-millionaire that he is in his open-collared blue shirt and blue-gray suit, introduced himself to the San Francisco audience and described his background volunteering in the public schools. (Calbuzz knows this not because we heard the speech but because Poizner’s very competent media guy, Jarrod Agen, sent out a quickie partial transcript.)
His closing pitch: “I’m an engineer. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a problem solver. And I want to get together with teachers and educators and business folks, folks from across the political spectrum. California is in a huge crisis right now and it’s time for all of us to get together and implement some common sense solutions like I’m describing here so we can get not only the public schools back on track, so that we can get California back on track.”
Gov. Schwarzenegger, who said he came to the event because “you never turn down Willie,” spoke for a few minutes and then announced: “I’m excited about this audience because I’ve been standing up here four minutes and no one has yet screamed out ‘Kiss my gay ass’” — a reference to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who yelled that remark at Schwarzenegger during a recent Democratic gathering at which the governor made an appearance.