Accusations that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) had an affair with a married man have hovered around her since the 2000s, back when Harris first made a run for public office.
These rumors stem from a relationship Harris had with former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, but what it had to do with the beginning of her political career has been largely misrepresented.
Kamala Harris was elected to serve as the district attorney of San Francisco in 2003. In 2010, she was elected to serve as California’s state attorney general. Harris held that role office until she was elected to the United States Senate in November 2016.
Throughout her career, rumors that Harris had an affair with a married man (Willie Brown) and used it to launch her political career, have followed. We’ll take a look at the facts and provide a brief overview of the situation.
The Kamala Harris-Willie Brown connection
Kamala Harris and Willie Brown had a relationship in the mid 1990s. At the time, Harris was working as an attorney in various city offices. Brown, who is nearly 30 years older than Harris, had been elected mayor after serving in the state legislature for more than 30 years.
Willie Brown has led an eccentric, outspoken life, and his exploits with women have been well-documented. In 2001, news broke that Brown had impregnated his top fundraiser, for example. However, the claim that Kamala Harris had “an affair” with Brown, implying not only that they had a relationship but that it was furtive and seedy, doesn’t check out.
It’s true that Brown has technically been married since 1958. However, Brown and his wife separated amicably in 1982 — more than 10 years before his relationship with Harris began — according to a 1984 New York Times profile of Brown.
So again, claims that Kamala Harris had an affair with a married man just don’t check out.
Did Kamala Harris use her relationship with Brown to launch her political career?
Kamala Harris and Willie Brown made no effort to hide their relationship in the early 1990s. When Harris first ran for public office in 2003, long after the relationship ended, her previous relationship with Brown didn’t help her chances — it actually hurt them.
Harris’ opponents, incumbent District Attorney Terence Hallinan and local attorney Bill Fazio, turned her previous relationship with Brown into a campaign issue, arguing that Harris could not be trusted to hold Brown accountable as DA because they had been previously involved:
Hallinan and Fazio aren’t attacking Harris’ platform (which they both profess to generally share) or professionalism (each admits that Harris is a competent prosecutor). Rather, they are knifing her with innuendo, saying her ties to the outgoing mayor would cause her, as district attorney, to look the other way should her former beau or his political minions ever be credibly accused of committing crimes in office.
The charge that she is Brown’s puppet — that she’s guilty by association with a mayor who has not been found guilty of anything — infuriates Harris. Though in third place in recent polls, she’s a political comer. She’s whip-smart, hard-working, and well-credentialed to be San Francisco’s top criminal prosecutor. She’s hauling in campaign cash like there’s no tomorrow. And topping it all off, she’s a beautiful blend of East Indian mother and African-American father who may draw votes particularly well among women and minorities. If she manages to come in ahead of Fazio in the Nov. 4 election, and if Hallinan fails to win more than 50 percent of that vote, she’ll face the district attorney in a December runoff. In a high-profile sprint against an aging incumbent, Harris — with her brains, connections, and buppie glamour — might just emerge victorious.
If she can just get out from under this damn Willie Brown thing.
Willie Brown was a lame-duck mayor at that point. Kamala Harris said it didn’t make sense for her to criticize the outgoing mayor just to appear independent. She added:
I refuse… to design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown for the sake of appearing to be independent when I have no doubt that I am independent of him — and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me.
His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing.
In any event, the smear tactics did not work. Harris won the 2003 election. But smears that she had had an affair with a married man and used it to launch her political career (implying heavily that she could not have done it on her own) followed Harris to the national stage.
Brown himself leapt into the fray in late January 2019 with a brief commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle just after Harris announced that she would be running for president, appearing to take credit for helping start her career:
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 her 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.
The difference is that Harris is the only one who, after I helped her, sent word that I would be indicted if I “so much as jaywalked” while she was D.A.
That’s politics for ya.
Although this only reiterated claims Brown and others have made in the past, it was treated by some as though it was new evidence.
However, given everything we have covered in this article, we’re still calling these claims “mostly fiction.”