Brown Stumbled in 'Wilderness,' Associates Say : Politics: Some believe candidate failed to use travel and study time to address his shortcomings. He lacks organizational skills, they contend.


As Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.'s Democratic presidential campaign struggles toward the primary season's finish line in a series of stinging defeats, some of the former California governor's associates have concluded that his years in the political wilderness did not, as they hoped, teach him to deal effectively with some of his problems as a public figure.

In their view, Brown failed to develop the consistency, discipline and organizational skills during that period that might have made his presidential bid this year more successful or allowed him to better lay the groundwork for a grass-roots organization that would carry on in future years.

Brown continues to maintain that he is on track toward creation of a "moral movement" that will last well beyond this year's presidential campaign, no matter the outcome of the 1992 race.

In a recent Times interview, he said it was his so-called "wilderness" years from 1983 to 1989, following his second gubernatorial term, that enabled him to discover through travel, studies and writings a way to integrate his Roman Catholic religious values with political action that could lead to a more just governmental system for this country.

"I began to see how they could come together--social and economic justice rooted in the tradition I had trained for," said Brown, who has expressed many idealistic themes in his current campaign. And Brown's father, former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr., said he is sure the "wilderness" years were of value to his son.

"Jerry seems so much more likable and intelligent now, and his answers seem more clear and concise," he said.

But others who followed parts of Brown's odyssey through several unfulfilled or half-fulfilled projects--a political action committee, a "Commission of Industrial Innovation," a magazine, an unfinished book and, when he decided to resume an active public career, a shortened term as state Democratic Party chairman--question the extent to which he has overcome previous shortcomings.

George Cappanelli, who worked eight months as Brown's political manager last year when he was considering running for the U.S. Senate, said he concluded that his former boss has failed to resolve serious internal conflicts and thus would be ineffective as a future leader.

"Bar none, Jerry is the single most ineffective leader I have encountered," Cappanelli said. "What he can do to the organization of a simple meeting is unbelievable. He still just cannot manage people."

Brown, saying that "Cappanelli was fired because he couldn't raise any money and couldn't get organized," called his remarks "sour grapes."

Cappanelli responded that he resigned.

Wally Maguire, a longtime Brown advance man and political consultant, said Brown "is not ready to organize. You have to allow people to help. I really don't believe Jerry has even to this day gone that far. . . . His candidacy is so disorganized even now."

Maguire added: "I was meeting with him on a weekly basis. I just got so discouraged I stopped doing it."

Cathy Calfo, executive director of the California Democratic Party during part of Brown's tenure as its chairman from 1989 to 1991, said she left her position after it became clear to her that he had become disillusioned with his plan to focus on grass-roots political organization.

It became evident, she said, that this would have cost an enormous amount of money, and at the time, it seemed the funds could only be raised from big donors who were not interested in such an effort. After a year, Brown abandoned it.

Calfo remains a Brown admirer. "He's a great idea person," she said. "Very inspirational. One of the best political speakers I've ever heard. I think he has a rare ability to inspire people."

Brown's predecessor as party chairman, Los Angeles attorney Peter Kelly, views the time and money spent on the grass-roots organizing effort as a mistake, given that the project was ultimately aborted.

"My own feeling is if (Brown) had taken that money and put it directly into (the 1990 campaigns for statewide offices), the state's Democratic Establishment would have anointed him for one of the U.S. Senate seats," Kelly said. "Instead, all that money was wasted."

Brown's decision to seek the party chairmanship caught some by surprise. But Richard Maullin, a pollster, political consultant and former Brown aide, said that from the time Brown lost the 1982 Senate race to Republican Pete Wilson, "he was always looking for the right moment and right vehicle for active re-entry into the arena of public discussion."

Maullin added: "The experience of losing to Wilson, I can't underestimate the sheer impact of it. It had the effect of setting him wandering in the desert, looking for the promised land, and wander he did. . . . One couldn't count the conversations he had with social and political leaders."

Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspectives Quarterly, the magazine Brown helped found but later left, traveled with Brown to Mexico, the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, among other places. He said that the host countries usually paid the transportation costs for Brown and his party.

An exception was Brown's sojourn in Japan at the end of 1986 and the beginning of 1987, which he financed himself. As part of the trip, he performed some chores for the Los Angeles law firm with which he was on a $50,000 annual retainer, Reavis & McGrath.

In Japan, Brown worked on an autobiographical book that he described as aimed at "writing for myself . . . looking at my experience, both in politics and before, trying to understand more deeply the principles that best describe what I've tried to do in politics."

The book remains unfinished. Gardels remarked: "Jerry wanted to have all the answers. . . . And Jerry is more a man of action than a writer. He's much more in his element now (on the campaign trail)."

The political action committee that Brown formed, the USA Committee, raised money in the 1980s to contribute to several campaigns, including the successful reelection bids of Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) and Bill Bradley (D-N.J.).

Although the committee still exists, it has been inactive in recent years, and Brown talked of it in an interview in the past tense. Calfo and others believe that in the future, Brown will try to raise money using toll-free phone lines similar to the type he has used in his presidential campaign, not through PACS.

Brown's years out of power were marked by some dramatic changes of ideological position. As part of reconciling his switch from advocating an "era of limits" philosophy during his early days as governor to later extolling economic growth, he formed a National Commission of Industrial Innovation and promoted high-technology development.

But the commission faded from public view and, even before beginning his presidential campaign, Brown de-emphasized the high-tech element of his policies. Instead, he started quoting pioneer labor leader Samuel Gompers:

"His motto was 'more,' and I think we can aspire to more."

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