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San Francisco's political cognoscenti are buzzing over a lengthy article in the current issue of Washington Monthly that details how Willie Brown, the city's former mayor, continues to pull strings on behalf of his favored politicians and, apparently, his legal clients.

Or as the magazine itself describes the article's premise: "San Francisco's ex-mayor Willie Brown has pioneered a new way to control a city without breaking a sweat -- or running for office, or getting elected, or disclosing his clients, or making anyone particularly mad."

The article's writer, Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, says Brown, who also was the longest-serving speaker of the state Assembly, refused to be interviewed and keeps his list of legal clients a secret. She describes how Brown pulled strings to make an obscure city bureaucrat, Ed Lee, San Francisco's mayor after Gavin Newsom - another Brown protégé - resigned to become lieutenant governor.

However, Stevens writes, Lee has sometimes showed independence from Brown and on one occasion, incurred sharp criticism from the former mayor in his San Francisco Chronicle column. She also suggests that the Chronicle goes easy on Brown because of their relationship. The article also describes how Brown helped Kamala Harris, whom it describes as a former girlfriend, become district attorney of San Francisco and later California';s attorney general.

What makes the article - easily the most extensive examination of Brown's post-mayoral life - even more intriguing to political insiders is that it was published in the Washington Monthly, which is closely tied to Brown's own Democratic Party and California's influential Tsakopoulos family.

The family patriarch, Angelo Tsakopoulos, is a wealthy Sacramento developer who is one of the nation's most steadfast contributors to and fundraisers for the Democratic Party. Markos Kounalakis, Tsakopoulos' son-in-law and an executive in one of his development companies, rescued Washington Monthly from going out of business more than a decade ago, served as its publisher until recently and is now listed as "president and publisher emeritus."

Kounalakis took leave from the magazine to accompany his wife, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, to Hungary, where she is the Obama administration's ambassador, and its editor, Paul Glastris, says Kounalakis exercises no editorial control over its contents.

The Tsakopoulos family also is closely connected to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic congresswoman from San Francisco who is Democratic leader of the House. Her husband, Paul Pelosi, has been a sometime investor in Tsakopoulos developments.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. to clarify Kounalakis' position with Washington Monthly.


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