RICHMOND -- Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown urged a group of African-American clergy and elected officials to do all they can to drive their communities to the polls in November to support national and local candidates and defeat a controversial local tax measure.
"Make sure every person you have any influence on goes to that ballot box and says yes on Obama," Brown said at Saturday's clergy breakfast briefing at Mount Zion Baptist Church. "And continues the quest to get Richmond back in the category of being the leader on the chief executive side."
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is not up for re-election this year, but three City Council seats are, and Brown made clear that he hoped victories in 2012 would build toward returning an African-American to the mayor's office in 2014.
"I want to be very much part of, and around, when you finally get your mayorship back," Brown said.
Brown's remarks were part of a wide-ranging keynote speech. More than 60 prominent pastors and other clergy members from the across the city turned out, as well as elected officials and City Council candidates.
Although it was his first visit to Mount Zion, the 78-year-old icon and longtime speaker of the state Assembly displayed familiarity with the city, its political history and current divisions.
"I've been watching closely, and I intend to come back as often as I can," Brown said.
Brown's remarks Saturday were wide-ranging.
"If you want to address my health, you ought to be adding something to my paycheck," Brown said. "You aren't going to make me healthier by adding another penny to the things I have to buy."
Although they have shrunk as a portion of the local population in recent decades, Richmond must build on its legacy as a "pioneer in electing black officials" after Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s. He railed against the current political coalition, backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and told supporters that he felt more disdain from progressives than conservatives when he led San Francisco.
Brown praised Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Booze, whom he called "the most resilient cat I know."
Bates called Brown "the Godfather of black politics in the United States."
Brown said the African-American clergy must remain a political force at all levels of government to improve poor and minority residents' lives. Brown said U.S. history offers an indisputable lesson that rights and progress must be forced by political action.
"Every great change has come when we have had a seat at the table," Brown said.
On the national stage, Brown said, President Obama has encountered an intractable foe in the Republican Party.
"Clinton and Obama can't say it, but I am going to," Brown said. "They hate Obama because he's black."