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Kamala's Karma 

She's smart, she's experienced, and she's running for DA. But she's Willie Brown's ex-girlfriend, and her opponents are trying to crucify her for that.

Wednesday, Sep 24 2003

Page 6 of 6

Muller's efforts notwithstanding, Harris is raising plenty of money on her own. According to her finance chairman, Mark Buell, a major Democratic Party fund-raiser, she has banked nearly $400,000 to date. (Hallinan says he's raised $157,000, while Fazio, who had raised $105,000 by the end of June, declines to reveal how much he's taken in since then.)

Buell insists the Harris campaign has "not received a penny from Willie Brown." When informed by SF Weekly that public records show Brown personally gave Harris $500, the maximum individual contribution allowed, Buell's memory suddenly improves. "Oh yes," he says. "My stepdaughter asked Brown for a contribution in a restaurant.

"I was not in communication with Willie, except for the chat I had with him about the race," Buell continues. "He said the best way for Kamala to win is to take Fazio out. So I had lunch with Fazio, but he would not get out." (Fazio confirms this account.)

Buell excuses himself from a telephone interview, saying, "I am going to a lunch for [mayoral front-runner] Gavin Newsom to get a list of people from him to do a fund-raiser for Kamala." Harris supports Newsom's November ballot initiative, Proposition M, which will further criminalize panhandling in San Francisco but provides no new funding for housing or health services for beggars. Her support of the initiative seems at odds with her more liberal stance on other social welfare issues.

Yet Harris doesn't hesitate to play up her sympathy for down-and-outers when raising cash for her campaign.

One evening at Clouds Restaurant, atop Yerba Buena Gardens, she addresses a group of black professionals, telling them, "The most victimized people do not vote, so you have to act on their behalf."

A few nights later, she hits up an all-white Pacific Heights crowd with the same speech. Among the wine-sipping guests is romance novelist Danielle Steel. The hostess, Frances Bowes, whose fortune derives partly from Hula-Hoops and Frisbees, says she met Harris at a benefit thrown by clothier-to-the-wealthy Wilkes Bashford, a longtime Willie Brown crony, in 1994. Bowes and Harris served together on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where Harris started a successful program to bring art into the public schools.

Bowes is particularly impressed by "Kamala's incredible theme, which is to protect young girls that become enslaved to prostitution. She is so vital and impassioned, anybody who heard her would vote for her for president.

"Why, Willie Brown just wrote us a letter on her behalf," she adds happily.

The crowd seems fascinated by Harris, an intelligent woman of color who speaks their language, who knows their first names, and who understands that as liberals, they want to maintain law and order -- but with a certain San Francisco­style noblesse oblige.

One woman asks, "What about people who rent? What will make them go to the polls and hit that button for you?"

"Name recognition," Harris replies, as her staffers collect checks.

Kamala Harris is doing everything she can to make sure she has enough money to buy more name recognition before Nov. 4.

She needs at least another $300,000 to do mailings and radio spots. Her goal is to raise $40,000 a week (not counting Muller's money), which means she has to schmooze literally hundreds of people who can afford those $500 max-out donations.

Asked what guarantee she can make that she will not sell out the interests of her rank-and-file supporters to those of her wealthy financial backers, Harris says with real emotion, "How could I turn my back on my people?

"I believe that everything you put out in the world comes back to you. There are consequences for everything. Karma exists, absolutely."

About The Author

Peter Byrne


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