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Willie Brown

Name at birth: Willie Lewis Brown, Jr.

Willie Brown was the colorful and powerful mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004. The job capped a political career which included 31 years for Brown in the California Assembly, 15 of them as the Speaker. Born in the small Texas town of Mineola, Brown earned a bachelors degree from San Francisco State in 1955 and a law degree from the University of California in 1958. He began to practice law in San Francisco but soon went into politics as well; a Democrat, he was elected in 1964 as a state representative from the the inner-city 13th Assembly District, becoming the first African-American to represent the district. In both business and politics, Brown became known for his considerable personal flair: handsome suits and hats, fiery speeches, and a jovial good humor that helped disguise his political savvy. Brown was Speaker of the California State Assembly from 1980-1995, a stretch that made him the states longest-serving Speaker ever and welded into place his reputation as a tough political operator. Forced out by newly-enacted term limits, he ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1995 and defeated incumbent Frank Jordan. He took office in 1996, was reelected in 1999 and stepped down at the end of his second term in 2004. His 2008 autobiography was titled Basic Brown.

Brown married the former Blanche Vitero in 1958. They had three children: Susan, Robin, and Michael. The couple have been separated since 1976 but have never divorced… Brown also has a daughter, Sydney, by political fundraiser Carolyn Carpeneti. Sydney was born in 2001, when Brown was 67 years old… Brown was succeeded as mayor by another Democrat, Gavin Newsom.