H. Brown: Goodbye to all that, we hope

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Ah, that old school New Left he-man feeling
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS/FOG CITY JOURNAL

In an SF Weekly piece published yesterday, it was announced that progressive political blogger and gadabout H. Brown – an "irascible" man who has attained a specific sort of fame in equal measure for his political connections, his egregious sexism, and his unfortunate alcoholism -- was leaving San Francisco. Where’s he going? The article didn’t see fit to mention. It’s whatever. One can assume Brown’s destination is that netherworld set aside for those whose behavior was enabled by the old school boy’s club blinders of the San Francisco progressive movement, still worn at the dawn of the 21st century.
 
“Last Call For Know-It-Alls: Classic Specimen of Old-San Francisco Bon Vivantery,” the article was called. It was written by a man; if a woman had written it, the title might have been closer to: “I Just Bought an Evil Eye Necklace, Don’t Look at Me You Cursed Troll.”

Do I sound angry? In 2008 at a DCCC, Brown inquired at top volume and in front of an ex-President of the Board of Supervisors if I was the politician’s escort. When said political leader bailed on the situation, Brown interrogated me on camera about my knowledge of local politics. I wrote about it, most names omitted, for the Guardian. In the article’s wake, I received thankful and supportive emails from men and women across the San Francisco political scene. On his part, Brown sent out multiple emails about me to his prodigious correspondence rolls, one in which he shared an communique from his niece calling me an “ignorant cunt,” another in which he addressed an un-cc’ed me about the election night in question: “You tried to make up for your ignorance by wearing revealing clothing. I was mocking you. And rightly so.”
 
Nearly every woman in San Francisco politics has one of these stories. When a male politician was accused of any wrong against a woman, Brown could be depended on to dig through the Internet to find evidence that the victim had been asking for it. Those unwilling to suffer him had to opt out of the hobnobbing happy hours and salons in the homes of city leaders, at which Brown was a constant presence.
 
Ah, old San Francisco bon vivantery. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you don’t have to care about Brown. You do have to care that this man was your Supervisor’s drinking buddy, that he took Speedo-clad swims in the Bay with progressive leaders. You do have to wonder about what that did to the strength of our political movement. And you might want to wonder about the dynamics behind ubiquitous bigots who are tolerated by people who should know better.
 
“If comedy is indeed tragedy plus time, however, Brown will leave 'em laughing for posterity,” wrote Weekly reporter Joe Eskenazi. “Friend after friend recalled anecdotes of offensive, bourbon-fueled behavior invariably culminating with Brown being instructed to "Get the fuck out, H.!" But, always, these were happy memories, if not happy occasions.”
 
None of these friends -- “former supervisors, consultants, academics, political Svengalis, and other city luminaries” – in Eskenazi’s article were women. (The writer, whose work on city issues I do appreciate, told me he did interview women, but apparently none of them said anything printworthy.)
 
Let’s remedy that now with a few female voices. Not coincidentally, most of these bourbon-fueled memories took place in ex-Supervisor Chris Daly’s since-closed Market Street progressive gathering spot, the Buck Tavern. None are happy.
 
“This was the first time I was introduced to H. At a benefit at the Buck Tavern I walked in and there were all these progressive journalists sitting around a table with him. He said ‘you’re the one with the great ass!’ He started asking me if I had family members he could date. I was standing there horrified, I just didn’t know what to say. I’m a mouthy lady, and even I couldn’t think of anything to come back with – not just to him, but to every other progressive journalist who was sitting there listening to him who laughed! I said hi to a few people, and then I left the event.”
- Laura Hahn, president of the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee
 
“Really, I don't give much of a shit about one sad dude calling me a slut and a spy (for Newsom or Pinkerton Guards, depending on the year), but seeing some (not all) progressive men continue to put up with him was pretty demoralizing."
- Anonymous volunteer on several progressive political campaigns
 
“The confrontation started because I came in to wish [ex-Supervisor and then-owner of the Buck Tavern] Chris Daly a happy birthday and have a drink, and H. asked Chris ‘Who the hell is she?’ To which Chris said, ‘She's the President of the Harvey Milk Club.’ To which H began, ‘You're not even gay, are you?’ I replied, ‘I'm queer.’ ‘Queer?!’ he said, ‘What the fuck is that? Some Shona Gochenauer shit? You're not gay. I can tell you're not gay by looking at you. She doesn't know anything about politics. Look at her -- she's clearly just a vanity president.’ He said something about enjoying things because, "that ass isn't gonna last forever, sweetheart. They [the other patrons in the bar] are only standing up for you because they want to fuck you.’"
- Stephany Joy Ashley, ex-president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club
 
“As a purveyor of alcohol, I found that the man was a lawbreaking mooch and a pain to deal with.  As a woman, I found him pathetic, insulting, gross, or all three, depending on his mood. The first time I met him he cussed me out for an imagined slight in a way that was actually shocking -- and it takes a lot for cuss words to flummox me. For a time, I simply refused to serve him.”
- Siobhann Bellinger, Buck Tavern bartender
 
“H. is a bully and a sexist. If you want to look at why the progressive movement is failing it’s because it alienates youth, women, and people of color. Deifying somebody like him is shutting women out, the message is they aren’t welcome. It’s not separated from the fact that progressives are really faltering right now with no leadership and very little inspiration.”
- Debra Walker, artist and longtime activist
 
“His behavior symbolized the running joke amongst some progressive men that women were there for their own entertainment to be mocked and harassed with no one blinking an eye. FUCK. THAT.”
- Anonymous ex-City Hall aide
 
These women – and the progressive men who were their allies – were not laughing at the hijinx of a mouthy old man. But people were, and they will be at the party that will be held in honor of Brown’s departure and attended by member’s of our city’s progressive elite.
 
Supporters say the guy’s behavior was a premeditated mockery of San Francisco’s political correctness, that he was an actor in the grand tradition of political theater. But if he is remembered by generations to come, it will be as the embodiment of an age-old archetype: the dude that other dudes keep around because he says the shit they can’t say to people who aren’t them. After all, who can control their own id?
 
Eskenazi compares Brown to F. Scott Fitzgerald and notwithstanding that both are writers, I’d like to posit an alternative historical precedent for Brown’s passionate trolling. Remember Bobby Riggs, the proud chauvinist who taunted tennis legend Billie Jean King until she wiped the floor with him in the widely broadcast Battle of the Sexes match? Man, that guy should have been in politics.
 
Brown was allowed to establish through constant bullying both online and off that only men have the right to feel comfortable in our city’s high-powered progressive circles. As San Francisco continues to cozy up with its new moderate identity, I hope he is remembered less for being a bon vivant and more as a sign that our once-vaunted avatars of progressivism were spending too much time pounding double shots at the Buck Tavern -- while the world changed around them.

Comments

after the pill and before women's liberation

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

being a progressive with courage isn't about being preciously politically correct with every self-identified victim group. But rather with doing the hard painful work of understanding the real injustices in this world and standing up against them.

And a card-playing white female with a trust fund really doesn't cut it in the grand scheme of things.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

No really, thank you for standing up for all the women who've had to deal with this pint-sized jerk. As I see it, the article is not really about him (h.), but more about the progressive males who've have tolerated h. Brown's sexism because they secretly share his demeaning views of women. Oh, and the message that sends to the progressive women in SF. Well, women make up half the world and we vote, so I say it's high time we stopped supporting progressive males who have turned this town into a good old boy's club at our expense (particularly those men who hang out with and tolerate h.'s sexism). btw, just ignore the misogynists trying to put a smart woman in her place. Not worth you time.

Posted by Sofia on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 2:38 pm
Posted by guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 2:59 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

@Guest - That's laudable, as far as it goes, but what happens if you're socializing with someone who repeatedly targets a particular gender in a particular, sexually-demaning way?

Posted by Jym on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

Even if I were the target of such satire.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

For most of us, that's the LAST encounter we have with anyone if they insult us or others. I've been to a lot of progressive functions but haven't heard much insulting or derogatory language at all, but you may cross paths with different crowds. h may be leaving in part because his past actions have alienated some people, which is the way social systems usually work.

If someone gets turned off to politics or to a political group because a crude asshole who fashions himself a bon vivant shows up every so often to ruin their day, they may not have the stomach for rough and tumble big city politics. It's a very large bell curve of individuals in a city like SF and we occasionally run across people who are more than a couple standard deviations from the norm. Part of growing up is learning how to recognize unsavory people and avoiding them as much as possible. At least it's easy to avoid h after meeting him the first time since he rarely holds back, whereas with other people it might take much longer before realizing their unpleasant or unproductive nature.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

not ready for prime time, or even a supporting role. Too bad she had to humiliate herself so profoundly to learn that but sometimes, as with Debra Walker too, an abject degradation is the only route to enlightenment.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

Caitlin is a privileged white professional girl who is probably far better educated than h.brown, if only because of the age difference.

And yet when he playfully teases with here, she gets all coy and bitter and precious, and starts off on a whole political correctness shtick.

Your sympathies are misguided and misaligned. It's identity politics that is killing the left and you are condoning it.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

and I don't mind if you give me shit back" game.

This little game is unfair and stupid because perhaps the victims of this game didn't want to play in the first place?

What class and status has to do in regards to this game is a mystery. The class obsession of progressives, even inside the movement is so weird.

All across the political spectrum you would be considered a loser.

- Matlock -

Posted by guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

Spending years obsessing about it and then trying to disparage the guy when a warm and witty article is written about him by your sibling paper isn't one of them.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

When I don't have to deal with crazy people any more it's a relief to see them gone. There's a somewhat now popular sex blogger I know that got fired from a job I had years ago, everyone was glad to see her go, including the other sex positive types. I've had urges to post on her blog about her past batty pathological lying antics, doing so would have made me the small one I felt.

This essay is a bit of stewing the pot, perhaps it is an attempt to call out progressives as enablers or just some last word type thing.

It would have been best to let dude wonder off on his own.

Still, there is no excuse for some behavior.

Matlock

Posted by guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

The issue is now why they raised it as they did instead of just doing what most people would and let it go.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

revealed by this snide personal attack on h.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

Attempting to turn the world upside down to be an apologist for an asshole makes you an asshole.

No one showing up to some event signed on to get abused by a stunted man child. It's odd that Brown would take out his inability to get along on co-believers, most likely any other group would dump him for good or pound him like a nail... idiots Daly and Mirkarimi still going strong though.

The various card playing of the left is wearing, it's not playing any card to say stupid comments made towards women are stupid. All across the political spectrum dumb sexist comments are looked down as stunted.

If what the author says is true about Browns comments then there is no excusing it. having read his shrieking posts here and elsewhere and having seen his shrieking youtube videos I'm inclined to believe the author.

Don't attack the messenger, people should ask themselves why they act as an apologist for their pals idiotic antics?

Posted by guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

stupid comments to people. I've heard more dumb bitchy crap from women than I can throw a stick at and yet somehow political correctness has gotten to the point where a woman can get away with this but there is zero tolerance to a guy taking a risk and telling his truth.

Maybe the left needs to lighten up, stop taking itself so damn seriously, and try and deal with things as they are rather than how they want them to be.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

Agreed, but H. Brown is a first order swine to men and women alike. To focus only on his disgusting sexism is almost doing an injustice to the whole individual. This wretched waste of human flesh had a plethora of despicable personality traits. It's a shame to put so much focus on just one.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

Can't forget me, huh?

I'd like to challenge the entire Guardian staff, past and present to a debate. Me, versus all of you. The topic will be: 'The Class of 2000'. You pick the time and venue and buy the booze and smoke. We'll make it clothing optional so's George Davis will feel comfortable.

Let me close with my long-time theme song for your listening pleasure:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81lGk-_HyE4

lemme know,

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

Not interested, H, goodbye

Posted by steven on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

Which means I am also permanently entertained.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

Fresno?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

Thank you, Caitlin. Excellent piece.

Posted by Brock Keeling on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:04 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

Glad you got that off your chest, Caitlin. Are you back for good, or was this just a hit and run that had been festering on your hard drive?

Posted by Chromefields on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

Almost as if she's been chewing on her humiliation for all these years.

What's she working at these days anyway?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

But I think you've done a pretty effective job culling the nuance and balance -- let alone, humor -- from my original piece.

http://www.sfweekly.com/2014-01-22/news/harold-h-brown-tenderloin-halls-...

Best,

JE

Posted by Joe Eskenazi on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

I don't think anybody's laughing, Joe, or even understanding whatever point you thought you were making with this piece. 

Posted by steven on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

I'm a neutral on this matter since I am on the right-wing of the political spectrum.

But I fail to see the problem with this earthy, lighthearted reflection on a quirky progressive character.

Can't we all just get along?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

Does he run some sort of blog, and why does everyone care so much what he says?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

SFBG, and so Steven's rearguard action here is to try and discredit a Weekly writer by some implausible accusations of political incorrectness by a woman who was fired by SFWeekly's bosses.

All while attacking a man who is almost 70.

This is a new low for SFBG.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

That's genuinely funny.

Posted by generic on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

I guess the kudos can be chalked up to corporate cross-marketing.

*lillipublicans, real or fake? Reader must decide.

Posted by lillipublicans* on Jan. 24, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

It was very cutely written, but for me and many others, it was not the moment to choose subtlety.

Posted by Caitlin Donohue on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

H Brown should be relegated to the dustbin of history, like Warren Hinckle, Arthur Evans, August Longo, Joefire, and various other vermin that have infested the city at one time or another.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 24, 2014 @ 9:00 am

Now all we have is humorless formulaic bots parroting out cliches of political correctness masquerading as liberal politics.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 7:17 am

Yep, Caitlin, what's most important of all are the feelings of journalists and political activists first and foremost. Nothing else really counts.

The real life consequences of progressive decay on thousands of families are immaterial, really, when activists have their self esteem threatened by a drunk.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 24, 2014 @ 9:12 am

It had to happen eventually.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 7:18 am

@marcos - You don't see discouragement of participation by women as an agent of progressive decay? She chose not to repeat the points in her earlier piece, but I thought that point came across very well: "Convince all the young women and other people who are not the face of power in this country that they have no place and they will find a different place, and your slate will be all the dumber for it"

Posted by Jym on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

deflecting any such comments, rather than sulking into a hissy fit and then spend years ruminating on the fact that some guy didn't genuflect to her hallowed femininity.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

Lest you forget, Caitlin wasn't the offender here. Brown was. What Caitlin should or should not have done is irrelevant. Brown had no business being the ass that he was.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

slapdown that she got?

Based on her snide piece here, she has probably done other nasty acts, and h. just gave her what she had coming.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 5:59 pm

h Brown used offensive language, he did not commit any offense. There is a distinction.

There are asses in the real world. Either accept with as fact, try to change people, but please, don't whine about it, because whining is not going to change anything.

How does Caitlin's piece concretely contribute towards changing people's conduct? My reading of it does not lead me in that direction. It seems like it is a very personal piece that meets personal needs and the personal needs of people who think like Caitlin, who think that sexist language is bad and that the most important issue to address is one of personal offense at bad language.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 31, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

Jym, First, like my descent into abject cynicism, h brown descended further into the alcoholism that made him unbearable as a result of progressive decay. Both he and I laid out how they were going to fail before hand and they failed pretty much how we said they would. Along with hundreds of other San Franciscans, we volunteered tremendous hours, blood, sweat and tears, to the progressive political project only to see the professionals fuck it up and blame us for their failure.

The people who were the most offended by h brown have problems getting along outside of their narrow circles. There are 20% of women, people of color and queers who get worked up into a froth over this. Most just roll their eyes at this kind of pathetic offensive behavior and move on away from the offender. I doubt that the messaging of since h brown is a friend of progressive pols therefore whatever h brown does might as well be being done by progressive pols is very convincing.

Over the years before the final descent, he was associated politically and personally with many women who had no compunctions on calling him on his shit in real time, which he respected at the time. Hell, I've called him on his abusive sexism.

When progressive political operators put their own sense of self esteem before moving their policy agenda and play cards left and right for political advantage, they only get as much credibility as policy wins they've got racked up. When they ignore the consequential abuses and outbursts of Ammiano, Haaland, Daly, Quezada, Shaw, Olague and Mirkarimi because these people are within the progressive family yet pile on h Brown, we gotta ask qui bono, what is progressive about one standard for people with power and another standard for everyone else.

There are plenty of examples of abusive assholism on the part of the corporate political class...

So are you all going to buy a tropical island with your RNC settlement?

Posted by marcos on Jan. 25, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

@marcos - RNC settlement doesn't actually defray the cost of wrist injury from being plasticuffed for hours, which hobbled my employment for the next year or so. Fortunately I had a progressive community that kept me housed during that time, which I spent working on legal defenses and offenses.

I never heard one sexist remark in that whole time, even from working-class people in their 60s and 70s. Imagine that.

Posted by Jym on Jan. 28, 2014 @ 11:32 am

And you think you get to lecture us?

Parasite.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 28, 2014 @ 11:45 am

There are people who have turned a blind eye to sexism among San Francisco's progressives. Joe Eskenazi isn't one of those people.

http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2012/10/julian_davis.php

Posted by generic on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

left. Brown is of a different generation that pre-dated political correctness. He told it like it is and, for anyone over 50, that was how they were raised. At nearly 70, he's not going to change and certainly because some girl can;t think of a comeback.

All you had to do was smile and then move on or change the subject. not wait years to do a half-assed hit piece.

The sad fact is that the only achievement by the left in SF have been from men. Female progressives are generally a ragbag of frumpy, chubby middle-aged bad-tempered women with no wit and lightness of being. Sad but true. And Brown called it.

You'd have been better off taking your lumps rather than making a snide attack on a man in his golden years and enjoying life. If you cannot write without coming across like a sullen bitch, then don't write at all.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

And you obviously lack courage, since you won't even sign your name to that.

It doesn't matter, really. Your words and arguments are as anonymous and bland as your identity. I've seen every line up there recycled over and over again over the years. How many times do we have to see bigots and misogynists trying to ennoble their own prejudices by casting them as "political incorrectness" as if bullying and misogyny were actually blows for freedom?

FFS, if you're going to hurl invective, have the courage to sign your own name and invent your own arguments.

Posted by Chris Hall on Jan. 23, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

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