SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - San Francisco's first African American mayor continues to make his mark even fifteen years after he left office. Willie Lewis Brown Junior knows how to command the stage.
"When somebody says I'm black and I'm proud, you're right," Brown told an audience of hundreds during a luncheon in San Francisco celebrating Black History Month
The 84-year-old is still in demand for speaking engagements. He sat down with KTVU'S Amber Lee for a one-on-one interview. Brown told her what he considered to be his greatest accomplishment.
"I have survived in the turbulent world of politics, particularly for a person of color," said Brown.
It's an achievement that came with challenges. Brown grew up in Mineola, a small East Texas town. he was the son of a maid and a railroad porter. He said he was kicked out of college for being outspoken.
"My mother was totally and completely embarrassed," said Brown.
She sent him to live with his uncle in San Francisco.
"I fell in love with the city and some parts of the city fell in love with me," he said.
In 1996, Brown became San Francisco's 41rst mayor and arguably it's most colorful. When he took the oath of office, the ceremony was more like a coronation for a king than an inauguration. He even received a congratulatory call from the White House.
"They put me on hold...the nerve," said Brown. Minutes later, then-President Bill Clinton came on the line. While on stage, Brown said into the phone, "How are you Mr. President?" The president could be heard replying, "I'm great." To which Brown replied, "You should be here with us. It's incredible. There's no snow and no Republicans," The audience roared with laughter.
Brown said the job of mayor in the city he loves suited him better than his three decades of serving in the California State Assembly. He said he was able to accomplish what he set out to do during his two terms.
"I got the Giants facility built. I got Mission Bay done. I got the Embarcadero the way that it is now," said Brown.
He faced criticism and controversy during his time in public office In 1998, during a news conference about the future of the 49ers, protestors interrupted the mayor by throwing pies in his face. Brown tackled one of them until police arrested the suspects. Grit, resiliency and a strong work ethnic have served him his whole life. To pay for his college education. no job was too small.
"When George Moscone and I were in law school together, we worked as janitors at Hastings College of Law. No other two janitors became mayors of San Francisco working at Hastings. So clearly the quality of work, there is dignity and there are lessons. And I learned them all," said Brown.
The master of politics mastered the ability to survive.
"I just want people to think about and remember me with a smile," said Brown with a big smile.