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Old 01-03-2004, 02:49 PM
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Default Jerry Brown wants State Attorney General post

Posted on Sat, Jan. 03, 2004


Brown wants state attorney general post

By Guy Ashley

OAKLAND - Jerry Brown ended his reign as the golden boy of California politics in the early 1980s when he fled to a Zen retreat in Japan and then to India to feed the sick and dying at the side of Mother Teresa.

He regained the spotlight a few years later when he parlayed his status as the twice-elected governor to snatch the job of chairman of the California Democratic Party.

But he left the post abruptly, condemning the party as a driving force in a system corrupted by fundraising. The following year, he ran for president for a third time.

You know the rest of the story: Brown found his legs again as mayor of Oakland, offering a national reputation and famously unconventional vision to stoke optimism in a city long trampled by crime, shuttered storefronts, sagging schools and the flight of residents to the suburbs.

Now, as he nears the halfway point of his second and final term at City Hall, the 65-year-old Brown is plotting his next move.

He wants to be the state's next attorney general. To set up the campaign for 2006, he has shifted into overdrive with a strategy that calls for new approaches to Oakland's decades-old struggle with crime.

"There's just a tremendous agenda for an aggressive and imaginative attorney general that I think I would be uniquely qualified to provide," Brown said in a recent interview.

A 1964 graduate of Yale Law School who reactivated his state bar card earlier this year, Brown says he could refocus the job in terms of environmental protection, enforcement of antitrust laws and the advancement of human rights.

For months he has stumped for reform of the prison and parole system.

He says he wants to overhaul state policies that send convicts to Oakland's streets with neither the support nor basic skills to keep them from returning to crime.

"It's a system with many teeth and not enough coherent purpose."

His experience as a governor and mayor give him the understanding to resolve the diverse issues, he said. The idea of putting Brown back in state office mesmerizes his admirers, while critics cackle at the thought of the former Governor Moonbeam, the longtime death penalty critic, launching the requisite tough-on-crime campaign.

What may matter most in the campaign is how well the mayor does in his attempt to curb Oakland's plague of violence.

Brown says he has already done plenty, from redirecting Oakland police priorities to demanding local programs for the dozens of parolees released in the city each week. The city's programs are becoming models statewide.

"We're making progress. The police are more oriented to using information and they have a tighter connection to the community," Brown said. "We're working with parolees through programs that three years ago didn't exist. And there's been a 50 percent reduction in homicides in the last 4 months."

Maintaining the downward trend in homicides, shootings and aggravated assaults will be vital to Brown's bid for a position that long has required crime-fighting credentials, associates and political observers say.

"It will be the key," said former state Sen. Art Torres, current chairman of the state Democratic Party. "If Oakland sees continued success on the crime front, it will be an absolute benefit to his candidacy. If the trend worsens, he will be called on to explain it."

For the moment, the decline in violent crimes works in Brown's favor, because the trend coincides with a raft of programs begun this fall - ranging from police strategies in crime-ridden neighborhoods to lending a hand to the city's nearly 3,000 parolees.

"The mayor's very focused about this," said police Chief Richard Word. "We've had some very promising results and Jerry deserves some of the credit."

Brown's potential opponents in 2006 are watching. State Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Chula Vista, has launched a campaign to replace Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

He says Oakland's current drop in violent crime won't erase the fact that the homicide rate has surged by almost 62 percent since 1999, Brown's first full year as mayor.

"That is simply unacceptable for anyone wishing to make a serious run at the office of attorney general," Dunn said.

Brown's longtime opposition to the death penalty - and his association with former Chief Justice Rose Bird, the bane of capital punishment advocates - also is sure to come into play in an attorney general campaign. Voters recalled Bird in 1986. She died in 1999.

But Jerry Brown may be among the few candidates who could defy the death penalty test, said pollster Mark DiCamillo.

"People don't know him for his position on the death penalty, they know him as Jerry Brown, a very unique individual," DiCamillo said.

Brown could suffer from a stigma within his own Democratic Party, says Jack Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont.

Longtime Democrats will remember Brown's lackluster stint as state party chairman, his loss to Pete Wilson in the 1982 U.S. Senate race, and the years he spent as an independent after abandoning the Democrats. Brown re-registered with the party earlier this year.

Torres said he sees no problems. "He would be a formidable candidate," Torres said. "I think most people believe, as I do, that he belongs in our party."

Some see Brown's politicking on the prison and parole system as a cynical ploy to build his campaign credentials.

Brown says he's just responding to his environment.

"I have 200 felons living within five blocks of where I live," Brown said. "So I meet them walking to the store or heading to the office every day ... I'm in constant conversation with parolees and probationers ... It's the neighborhood. It's the culture. It's the community."

It's also the harsh reality of Oakland's crime problem, where about 80 percent of the murder victims have felony arrest records.

Brown's programs to put parolees on a noncriminal path include a meeting with about 50 newly released inmates each week to set up services, such as drug treatment, job training and help with obtaining driver's licenses.

With a $1 million grant, the program is moving inside prison, where counselors have begun meeting with inmates up to six months before their release to lay the groundwork for a successful transition to city life.

"If you want to bring down the murder rate, you go where the problem is," Brown said. "And the problem is people with felony records."
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