How did Kamala Harris get ahead?

Willie Brown, the longtime kingpin of San Francisco politics [UPDATE: make that California politics], thinks that part of the answer may be the political favors he did for Harris when they were having an affair and thereafter. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the ex-San Francisco mayor states:

I’ve been peppered with calls from the national media about my “relationship” with Kamala Harris, particularly since it became obvious that she was going to run for president. Most of them, I have not returned.

Yes, we dated. It was more than 20 years ago. Yes, I may have influenced her career by appointing her to two state commissions when I was Assembly speaker.

And I certainly helped with [Harris’s] first race for district attorney in San Francisco. I have also helped the careers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a host of other politicians.

More than 20 years ago, when Brown and Harris dated, Brown was in his very early 60s. Harris was in her very early 30s. Brown was married, Harris was not.

When the relationship began, Brown was Speaker of the California Assembly. While the relationship was ongoing, he was elected Mayor of San Francisco. (In the picture on the home page that accompanies this post, that’s Harris placing the “da mayor” hat on Brown at his victory rally). Reportedly, the two broke up shortly after that.

Brown placed his mistress on the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the California Medical Assistance Commission. These part-time posts reportedly supplemented her prosecutor’s salary with nearly $100,000 in extra annual pay. They also helped her build her resume.

In addition, Brown undoubtedly gave Harris access to important political players. To top it all off, he gave her a 1994 BMW.

What to make of this? Harris having an affair with a married man won’t shock many consciences these days. Harris benefiting from her relationship with a powerful man probably won’t either. Hillary Clinton benefited far more from her relationship with Bill Clinton (to be fair, though, that’s a marriage not an affair).

Would Harris eventually have clawed her way to national prominence without the favors Brown did for her during the period in which they were lovers? One would have to know considerably more about her career and about California politics than I do to form a sound opinion about this.

What Harris’ case illustrates is that women often benefit from relationships with older, powerful men like Willie Brown. Nothing could be more obvious. Yet in the #MeToo era it’s worth pointing this out.

In an alternative universe, Brown might not have endorsed Harris in her first race for district attorney. Harris might have been disappointed that her two California commission posts didn’t yield more in the way of political opportunities.

In this scenario, Harris might have cast herself as Brown’s victim — an attractive young woman lured into a sexual relationship with an older, not particularly attractive but powerful man by the promise of benefits not conferred. That’s the stuff of #MeToo victimhood.

Harris “paid her money and she took her chances.” She came out a winner. Others who pay the same money come out losers. It’s called life.

I don’t think Democratic primary voters and caucus goers will hold Harris’ affair with Brown against her. And if Harris is the Democrats’ nominee, she won’t lose the morality sweepstakes to Donald Trump.

However, there will be folks, including me, who think the Brown-Harris affair provides insight into Harris’ character.

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