Over the objection of Gov. Jerry Brown, lawmakers today overwhelmingly approved renaming a stretch of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.
The proposal to rebrand the western span of the bridge, which does not require the governor's signature, faced stern opposition from a trio of former San Francisco supervisors. They noted it violated several legislative rules, among them that the subject must be deceased.
Willie Brown, once known as the "Ayatollah of the Assembly," is very much alive.
Critics also objected because the lawmaker carrying the resolution, Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, does not represent the district housing the facility in question.
Still, Hall's proposal received strong support from the Legislature. The Senate passed the resolution 26-7 Thursday morning after the Assembly voted 68-0.
Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, compared Willie Brown to the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Ervin "Magic" Johnson. Wright recalled stories people told of Willie Brown never wearing the same suit -- a Brioni, no less -- more than once.
Wright remembers asking Willie Brown why he didn't correct them.
"He goes, 'I wouldn't stop them if it sounds good to them,'" Wright said.
"Every time you cross that bridge going from Oakland or to San Francisco, either way, and you look at a little sign that will say 'Willie L. Brown Jr.,' I hope that you'll think about a kid who came here with nothing but a pillowcase with stuff in it," Wright said.
"He shined shoes. He put himself through college with no money. He put himself through law school with much less than that. (He) became an Assembly member in a district where the African American population was less than 10 percent. (He) became mayor of a town where the African American population was about 10 percent.
"Every place Willie went he made it better."
The resolution touted Willie Brown's contributions to area transportation, affordable housing and higher education, saying he "is widely regarded as one of the most influential politicians of the late 20th century, and has been at the center of California politics, government and civic life for an astonishing four decades."
Much of the criticism came from outside the Legislature.
The San Francisco Chronicle, where Willie Brown is a regular contributor, ran an unsigned editorial under the headline "Willie Brown Bridge? Wrong man, wrong time."
Jerry Brown earlier in the week said through a spokesman that he opposed renaming the bridge for Willie Brown because "the iconic Bay Bridge should keep the name it has had for nearly 77 years, a name that lives in the hearts and minds of all Californians."
In their letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, former supervisors Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez and Quentin Kopp wrote that naming the bridge for Willie Brown was inappropriate and does not reflect a community consensus.
On Thursday, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, said Willie Brown deserved to have the bridge named after him. However, he used the example of former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a civil rights fighter who recently stepped down amid a sexual harassment scandal, as reason not to name a facility after a living politician.
"The day he passes, I will support naming the East Bay bridge for Willie Brown," Anderson said. "Because he deserves it. He is clearly a huge figure in California history."
Money for the signs will be raised privately.
PHOTO: Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown arrives at the California Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Dec. 14, 2010, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua