Willie Brown launches leadership center
November 9, 2007 11:07 AM
Former San Francisco Mayor and SF State alumnus Willie Brown, Jr. is establishing a center for training future civil servants at the university.
Steve Kawa, who worked under Brown during his two terms as mayor and was Mayor Gavin Newsom’s chief of staff from 2004 to Jan. 2007, is in place as the executive director of the new Willie L. Brown, Jr. Leadership Center.
“There is a huge demand, and a growing demand, for well-educated and well-trained public servants in all fields,” Kawa said. “How does city government find those folks?”
“Our hope is that through our work here we will help develop a curriculum that will…help [students] become public servants somewhere in California,” he said.
Brown, who graduated from SF State in 1955 with a political science bachelor’s degree, became San Francisco’s first African American mayor in 1996, serving until 2004. Prior to that, Brown held the office of Speaker of the State Assembly.
He has drawn both praise for his public works projects and criticism for what has been called a patronage system of appointments.
“I think anybody who had to live under the public microscope for 40 years would be deemed controversial,” Kawa said.
But even some who have been critical of Brown have indicated that the center is a good thing. “Frankly, it has been nothing but positive,” said Kawa. He also indicated that S.F. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who unsuccessfully challenged Brown in the 1999 mayoral race and has been one of the former mayor’s critics, will visit the center as a speaker.
The Brown Center’s first goal is to connect promising upper division students with local governments through internships—and internships that offer substantial experience. The program is slated to begin with 40 students in Summer 2008.
“Students have this great desire to have internship opportunities,” Kawa said. “But opportunities that benefit them. I am not going to send SFSU students into internship experiences that aren’t meaningful.”
It won’t be a hard sell, Kawa said, to get government offices to accept student interns. As the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement age, they are looking to the next generation for successors.
The center’s focus will be on local and regional government, making it the first such program at a major university, according to center promotional materials.
“Look how issues are being dealt with in our country,” Kawa said. Local governments, he argued, are taking the lead on major issues confronting the United States.
In addition to the interning program, the center plans on hosting a series of political leaders and commentators. This program will draw on Brown’s many contacts in the political world.
“We have an historic race next year for president, we have the odd-numbered seats on the board of supervisors—I want the Brown Center to be the place where people get involved in their democracy,” Kawa said.
Brown is also donating his collection of papers and videotapes to the archives of SF State’s J. Paul Leonard Library. The collection consists of “about 200 boxes” of material, according to Kawa.
The former mayor may be teaching a course himself as an adjunct faculty member. Kawa said he is working “hand in hand” with university officials to make that happen.
“He definitely wants to come out here and teach,” Kawa said. “I had seven years with Mayor Brown and every day was like a semester to me. He is the personification of leadership.”
Joel Kassiola, dean of the college of Behavioral and Social Sciences, is assembling a “working group” of faculty to work with the center, Kawa said.
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