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The Last of the Burtons? 

They have dominated state and local politics for 50 years. Now, for the first time, the future of their "family business" is in doubt.

Wednesday, Feb 6 2002
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Page 5 of 5

Being in charge means raising millions of campaign dollars every year from thousands of lobbyists and businesspeople. Taking campaign donations from, and owning stock in, companies that do business with the Legislature -- as Burton does -- is not illegal, though it might suggest at least a conflict of interest. The possible public perception of de facto conflicts of interest does not seem to concern Burton, who has been known to charge as much as $43,000 for a single phone call on behalf of a developer.

His brow beetles and his voice thunders when the question is raised. "If something looked like a conflict of interest, I would recuse myself. I can't remember ever recusing myself. People can criticize what they want. I want people to criticize my voting record. If somebody for whatever reason gives me money that is actually against their best interest, I would assume that's their problem. I don't give a fuck."

Like it or not, the public's perception of Burton's integrity is his problem. Provided, of course, he wants to keep the family business alive and out of the hands of a new generation of politicians who, like Adachi, owe him nothing.


"I did not raise her to be a politician," says Michele Burton, Kimiko's mother. "Obviously she had that influence in her life from her dad."

John and Michele divorced nearly three decades ago. She never remarried. She works as a health care consultant out of her home on Potrero Hill. John has a house nearby. Kimiko and Emilio live down the street. Michele volunteered to be interviewed because she is ticked off at the "negativity" issuing from the Adachi camp.

She talks about how Kim was raised in a politically progressive atmosphere: taught to march for peace, taught not to eat grapes. She got the first clue that her daughter wanted to be a politician when Kimiko was appointed as public defender last year.

"I had been in denial before that," she laughs. "I was the only person surprised."

"Our electoral process is better than a dictatorship," she muses. "But it's not something I like to see people I love go through."

Campaigns, she says, bring out the mean spirit in people. Campaigns invade privacy. She is mad that Adachi stole the Web domain name "kimikoburton.com." (A visitor to that site is automatically linked to a newspaper article describing Kimiko's appointment by the mayor and her firing of Adachi.)

Michele does not understand why being associated with Willie Brown and John Burton is seen as a bad thing for her daughter.

"Kimiko is lucky to have John in her corner. She is proud of him and vice versa."

Politics has, at least indirectly, shaped the course of Michele's life. And now her only daughter has put herself in harm's way -- smack in the middle of a negative campaign that, Michele believes, is bound to get messy.

"Maybe Jeff Adachi hasn't even started. It's hard. He's throwing the Willie Brown thing at her. He's throwing the John Burton thing at her. And the campaign is just gearing up.

"Jeff Adachi is trying to turn into liabilities what I think are advantages," Michele says. "What wouldn't he give to have John Burton as a father!"

About The Author

Peter Byrne

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