Kamala Harris can thank San Francisco’s wealthiest for getting her political career started: Report

August 12, 2019

For all her underdog stylings, Kamala Harris is very much a product of the liberal elite.

From her campaign staff to her super-rich donors, Harris has literally drawn from Hillary Clinton’s campaign infrastructure. But long before she was running for president, the former prosecutor launched a political career with a little help from rich, privileged friends in San Francisco, Politico reports.

Born the child of immigrants in Oakland, Harris has played up her humble origins on the campaign trail. But from 1994 to her rise to San Francisco District Attorney (DA) in 2003, Harris gallivanted with the high and mighty, attended ritzy fundraisers, was the subject of high society newspaper gossip, and formed connections that she would later use to build her political network.

Getting her career off the ground

Harris’ debut in San Francisco high society came in 1994, when she was the Deputy District Attorney of Alameda County and girlfriend of California power broker Willie Brown.

Their relationship was announced publicly by San Francisco gossip columnist Herb Caen, a widely read chronicler of the upper crust and friend of Brown, who introduced Harris as “attractive, intelligent, and charming,” and “a woman, not a girl” in his columns. In the 1990s, Harris became part of the “in” crowd with Brown’s help, sources told Politico.

“I met her through Willie,” John Burton, former San Francisco congressman and chairman of the California Democratic Party, told the outlet. “I would think it’s fair to say that most of the people in San Francisco met her through Willie.”

However, others said that Harris’ rise was all her own work.

“Kamala Harris was plenty capable of impressing anyone she met…all on her own,” said San Francisco political consultant and former Brown press secretary P.J. Johnson, “and did so frequently.”

Harris and Brown broke up after he was elected mayor of San Francisco in the mid-1990s, but Harris’ rise in San Francisco’s social scene didn’t stop there. She became involved in the city’s culture-activism-nonprofit network, joining the boards of the city’s Museum of Modern Art and groups to fight domestic violence, attending fundraisers and galas for the arts, hobnobbing with fashion designers, and the like.

Gossip columnists in the Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and the Nob Hill Gazette followed her rise and gushed about the “super-chic” up-and-coming attorney.

Child of Oakland, or ‘Frisco?

By the early 2000s, Harris had become a “socialite with a law degree,” as donor Mark Buell put it. In 1999, Harris was among 168 guests at the lavish wedding of Vanessa Jarman and oil baron Billy Getty. Harris, then a 34-year-old working in San Francisco’s DA office, “cruised through the reception,” a Chronicle caption read.

Three years later, Harris had accumulated enough social capital to launch a successful bid for DA of San Francisco. The ambitious politico met with Buell, whose stepdaughter was friends with Harris. Buell, husband of Democratic donor Susie Tompkins Buell, signed on as finance chair for Harris’s DA campaign, and they put together a finance committee of “young socialite ladies,” including Vanessa Getty and other high society women.

“So we put together a finance committee that primarily was young socialite ladies,” he recalls. “I said, ‘No one has ever raised more than $150,000 for a DA’s race, totally. I want this group to raise $100,000 by the first reporting period.’”

By the end of 2002, she had raised $100,000, a fifth of which had come from the ritzy Pacific Heights. As Harris’ DA campaign picked up, she boasted that she was collecting money in “every ZIP code” in the city, but she had the stalwart backing of the city’s wealthiest names, Los Angeles Magazine reports, including “a slate of Fishers (founders of the Gap) and Schwabs (as in Charles).”

Harris won her election in 2003, and the political network that she built in San Francisco continued to support her subsequent political campaigns for attorney general of California, the U.S. Senate — and now president. Fast forward to 2019, and Harris is very much running a corporate Democrat style campaign in the mold of Hillary Clinton, drawing from the same San Francisco donor network that supported her rise as a prosecutor, according to CNBC.

As she seeks the White House, Harris is playing up her origin story as the “child of Oakland” — but it looks like her career is more the product of ‘Frisco.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.