WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Former San Francisco mayor and longtime Democratic powerbroker Willie Brown will receive the National Newspaper Publishers Association's Legacy of Excellence Award this Friday, June 27, at the NNPA's annual convention in Portland, Oregon.
"Mayor Willie Brown's name is synonymous with excellence," said NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant. "He spent three decades in the California State Assembly – half of that time as speaker – forging coalitions and working tirelessly on behalf of Blacks and other disadvantaged groups."
Born in the small East Texas town of Mineola in 1934 during the Jim Crow era, Brown moved to California at the age of 17 to live with an uncle. He worked his way through San Francisco State University, graduating with a degree in liberal studies and earned a law degree from the University of California. Along the way, he held a variety of jobs, including working as a janitor and as a doorman to pay for his education.
He was elected to the California Assembly in 1964 and rose to speaker in 1980, a position he maintained until 1995. No speaker served as long before Brown and thanks to a 1990 term limitations law, none are likely to serve as long in the future. In 1996, Brown won the first of two terms as mayor of San Francisco.
Brown was one of the most powerful speakers in the history of California, nicknaming himself the "Ayatollah of the Assembly." But even the "Ayatolla" was not invincible. While a state lawmaker, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease characterized by a gradual loss of peripheral vision, sometimes resulting in blindness.
He has not let the disease limit his activities, working as a radio host and making several cameo movie appearances. His reputation extended far beyond California. He was as well-known for his flamboyant style of dress as his political clout. Some days he would change clothes three or four times. Many of his tailored suits were made in Europe and he capped off his fastidious dress with hats. He was a target of several FBI stings, none of them successful.
In Portland, most of the NNPA sessions will be devoted to training, covering such areas as pitching corporations for advertising and sponsorships, digital technology, marketing and event planning.
"Everyone has put a lot of hard work into this upcoming convention," Campbell stated. "We're excited about going to Portland and even more excited about the exchange of knowledge that will take place at our convention."