News & Views from 465 California Street

Political Animals

Clint Reilly
Oct
27
2009

My friend Joe Scott writes a popular blog on politics called “The Body Politic.” In some ways, it is a natural outgrowth of his renowned newsletter from an earlier era, “The Political Animal.”

A former political writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Scott cites a famous quote from Aristotle as his inspiration:

“Man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal. For nature does nothing without purpose, and man alone of the animals possesses speech.”

Rereading the quote on Joe’s blog, I was reminded that political animals are a breed apart. They eat, drink and breathe politics 24/7. Some are junkyard dogs but others are lions who make the human race proud.

Long-time political writers Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine recently launched their own political website. These two cats are political animals par excellence. The Harvard-educated Roberts rose from his perch as political editor of the San Francisco Chronicle to become the paper’s managing editor.

Trounstine was the cagey political editor of the San Jose Mercury News who hated to get the story wrong almost as much as he salivated to get the story in the first place.

Writing out of a love of the game – only part time between other gigs – these combined 60-year veterans of state and national politics have already become the go-to source on Arnold, the underworld of the Capitol, the 2010 gubernatorial aspirants, initiative wars, the ups and downs of insiders and the rise and fall of political consulting careers.

You can get a ringside seat by punching in CalBuzz.com on your Blackberry or iPhone.

A look into my rear view mirror reveals Gary Condit in the back seat of the red Jaguar I drove in 1989.

That year, I ran Gary’s special election campaign for Congress to succeed the incumbent Tony Coelho. Coelho had abruptly resigned along with then-House Speaker Jim Wright under a cloud.

Condit was an independent Democrat with matinee idol looks who later became a leader of the Blue Dogs – the moderate Democrats in Congress. Appropriately we ran Gary as “His Own Man.”

On Election Day, he beat old-school former state senator Clare Berryhill without a runoff. But even then we could see that the married Condit had a wandering eye for young female staffers and aides. Later he would become the prime suspect in the disappearance and death of Chandra Levy, a congressional intern.

Although he was completely exonerated, Condit’s acknowledged affair with Levy put him on the front page of the National Enquirer and destroyed his career.

Richie Ross casts a long shadow in the Capitol. A big time political consultant who once served as Chief of Staff to Speaker Willie Brown, Ross began at the bottom as future San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos’ gopher when I met him in the 1970s.

But Ross was different than the usual campaign hack. He had a genius for creative slogans, slick brochures and media that moved numbers.

Like me, Ross was a political consultant before the term was invented. Then, consultants were hired two months before the election, paid a few bucks and discarded at midnight on election night. Those days are gone.

Ross helped Indian tribes legalize casino gambling, passed the initiative that guarantees that 40 percent of tax revenues goes to public schools, helped launch the careers of countless notable legislators and elected such statewide leaders as Treasurer Bill Lockyer. Not much happens in Sacramento today that Boss Ross doesn’t touch.

At one time Ross worked for Speaker Leo McCarthy, who later became Lieutenant Governor of California. McCarthy was a true gentleman who also happened to be consumed by the power of politics to improve lives.

I knew him as Speaker, but it was when he joined the Board of Catholic Charities CYO with me that I truly understood his passion for social change. Few legislators have ever done as much for seniors as Leo.

The Leo McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco is a living tribute to all the political animals who roam the world making a difference.

My friend Joe Scott writes a popular blog on politics called “The Body Politic.” In some ways, it is a natural outgrowth of his renowned newsletter from an earlier era, “The Political Animal.”

A former political writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Scott cites a famous quote from Aristotle as his inspiration:

“Man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal. For nature does nothing without purpose, and man alone of the animals possesses speech.”

Rereading the quote on Joe’s blog, I was reminded that political animals are a breed apart. They eat, drink and breathe politics 24/7. Some are junkyard dogs but others are lions who make the human race proud.

Long-time political writers Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine recently launched their own political website. These two cats are political animals par excellence. The Harvard-educated Roberts rose from his perch as political editor of the San Francisco Chronicle to become the paper’s managing editor.

Trounstine was the cagy political editor of the San Jose Mercury News who hated to get the story wrong almost as much as he salivated to get the story in the first place.

Writing out of a love of the game – only part time between other gigs – these combined 60-year veterans of state and national politics have already become the go-to source on Arnold, the underworld of the Capitol, the 2010 gubernatorial aspirants, initiative wars, the ups and downs of insiders and the rise and fall of political consulting careers.

You can get a ringside seat by punching in CalBuzz.com on your Blackberry or iPhone.

A look into my rear view mirror reveals Gary Condit in the back seat of the red Jaguar I drove in 1989.

That year, I ran Gary’s special election campaign for Congress to succeed the incumbent Tony Coelho. Coelho had abruptly resigned along with then-House Speaker Jim Wright under a cloud.

Condit was an independent Democrat with matinee idol looks who later became a leader of the Blue Dogs – the moderate Democrats in Congress. Appropriately we ran Gary ran as “His Own Man.”

On Election Day, he beat old-school former state senator Clare Berryhill without a runoff. But even then we could see that the married Condit had a wandering eye for young female staffers and aides. Later he would become the prime suspect in the disappearance and death of Chandra Levy, a congressional intern.

Although he was completely exonerated, Condit’s acknowledged affair with Levy put him on the front page of the National Enquirer and destroyed his career.

Richie Ross casts a long shadow in the Capitol. A big time political consultant who once served as Chief of Staff to Speaker Willie Brown, Ross began at the bottom as future San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos’ gopher when I met him in the 1970s.

But Ross was different than the usual campaign hack. He had a genius for creative slogans, slick brochures and media that moved numbers.

Like me, Ross was a political consultant before the term was invented. Then, consultants were hired two months before the election, paid a few bucks and discarded at midnight on election night. Those days are gone.

Ross helped Indian tribes legalize casino gambling, passed the initiative that guarantees that 40 percent of tax revenues goes to public schools, helped launch the careers of countless notable legislators and elected such statewide leaders as Treasurer Bill Lockyer. Not much happens in Sacramento today that Boss Ross doesn’t touch.

At one time Ross worked for Speaker Leo McCarthy, who later became Lieutenant Governor of California. McCarthy was a true gentleman who also happened to be consumed by the power of politics to improve lives.

I knew him as Speaker, but it was when he joined the Board of Catholic Charities CYO with me that I truly understood his passion for social change. Few legislators have ever done as much for seniors as Leo.

The Leo McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco is a living tribute to all the political animals who roam the world making a difference.

Comments (4)

  • Clint,
    Interesting and educational column on political “consultants.” You obviously
    have been there and done that……….and made tons of money doing it.
    I am hoping you will have the character of your convictions and tell your readers
    you will sign up for the public option—which is certain to pass—and if you
    don’t, then, justifiably, you will be referred to as a hypocrite on this one issue.
    We look forward to your announcement.
    Hank R

    Posted by: Hank R. | October 27th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

  • Mr. Reilly had previously written an article titled “Save the Public Option” . If you do your homework, he’s also been a lifelong Democrat and given to many charities and even created some of his own.

    http://www.clintreilly.com/save-the-public-option/

    You really should sign up to run again and bring some integrity back into our political process. We are in need of elected leaders with knowledge and know-how to redirect the wayward ship on the correct path.

    I really mean that.

    Don Nguyen

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | October 28th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

  • Agreed Don, it is obvious by reading Clint Reilly’s Columns that he’s completely in support of “the public option”. If one were to follow Reilly’s charity work and contributions, you would see that he has given generously to health care for the disadvantaged. So Hank R. you’re out of line here.

    Posted by: sophie calloway | October 28th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

  • Leo McCarthy was a good man. And his Center at USF is doing great work. This year Alice Waters, the “slow food” champ, is being honored for her good work. Here’s the link http://www.usfca.edu/ca_prize/

    Posted by: Rutherford Johnson | October 28th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

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