PHILADELPHIA -- Former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. formally opened his long-shot presidential campaign yesterday with a carefully calibrated blast at the "Incumbent Party" in Washington.
In strident terms, the Democratic contender said that power-hungry politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, had forged "an unholy alliance" with greedy private interests in their endless quest for campaign contributions.
"The hour has rung for us, 'We the People,' to rise up and take back our democracy and our government," Mr. Brown said in an announcement speech that used the faded red-brick bell tower of Independence Hall as a backdrop.
To loud applause, Mr. Brown endorsed term limits on members of Congress in a speech that was otherwise almost devoid of specific proposals.
Once among the most innovative idea men in U.S. politics, Mr. Brown's strategy this time rests on an audacious, and seemingly contradictory, gamble: that a 53-year-old career politician can harness the anti-politics mood that has rolled across the nation this year.
"If you don't believe this country is angry, all you've got to do is look at Louisiana," said Patrick Caddell, the campaign's top strategist, citing former Klansman David Duke's success in tapping the alienation and resentment of middle-class voters in his campaign for governor.
With little money in the bank, Mr. Brown apparently intends to wage a guerrilla-like campaign against his Democratic rivals, most of whom he condemns by implication in his attacks on the congressional pay raise and contributions by political action committees.
Mike Ford, a Democratic campaign veteran and Brown adviser, said the Iowa caucuses are "a great opportunity" for the Brown campaign. Other Democrats have shown little interest in Iowa, where the delegate process begins next winter, because
home-state Sen. Tom Harkin is heavily favored to win there.
Mr. Brown's past campaigns have made his name more familiar to Americans than any of the other five announced candidates in the Democratic field. But beyond that temporary advantage, he starts out with significant liabilities, including little, if any, paid staff to assist him.
There was a certain haphazard quality to his announcement ceremony, held at a busy tourist attraction on a glowing fall day. Most of those ringing the lectern were there by chance, such as the 21 members of Elizabeth Infussi's eighth-grade class from St. Stephen's School in Bradshaw, Md., who happened on the scene while on a field trip.
In his speech, Mr. Brown sharply criticized the news media for their role in perpetuating political corruption. But at the same time, he became the only presidential contender this year to declare his candidacy outside his home state, choosing instead the Northeast corridor, a convenient day trip by train for the nation's Washington-based political press corps.
Mr. Brown, who studied for the Catholic priesthood in a Jesuit seminary, entered the race with a mea culpa for his "faults and flaws" as a lifelong politician. His last job was as chairman of the California Democratic Party, and he has personally raised more than $20 million in a career that began in the late 1960s.
Critics, while acknowledging that he may be on to something with his assault on the political system, call Mr. Brown an opportunist whose candidacy is a cynical exercise in the sort of protest politics that former Alabama Gov. George Wallace practiced in his 1968 presidential bid.
But the candidate's top adviser defines the campaign as Mr. Brown's own "declaration of independence."
"Who better to explain what's wrong with politics than someone who's been in it and confessed his sins in it?" asked Mr. Caddell, anadviser in the presidential campaigns of George S. McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
True to his reformist faith, Mr. Brown has imposed a $100 limit on campaign contributions, an "innovative idea," in the view of Bill Battoff of Philadelphia, one of the Democratic Party's largest contributors, who attended the ceremony.
Ironically, that decision may force the candidate to spend more time raising money than his rivals. Mr. Brown's travels will be closely linked to fund-raising, and everyone who comes to hear him speak will be asked to give $100, Mr. Ford said.
That was true even of the announcement ceremony. TV actor Ralph Waite of "The Waltons," who introduced Mr. Brown, deplored the incessant demand for "money, money, money" in politics, then went on to give a toll-free number where viewers could "send your $100 gifts" to the Brown campaign.
EDMUND GERALD BROWN JR
April 7, 1938 in San Francisco, Calif. to Edmund G. and Bernice
In San Francisco, where father was city and county district attorney and later governor of California. Attended Jesuit schools, University of California (B.A., 1961), Yale Univ. law school (J.D., 1964), University of Santa Clara.
Never married. No military service. Dated singer Linda Ronstadt during the 1970s. Sister Kathleen was elected state treasurer of California in 1990. Makes his home in a converted firehouse in San Francisco.
WHERE HE'S BEEN
Studied for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Los Gatos, Calif. in the 1950s. Elected Secretary of State of California (1971-75), elected governor of California (1975-83). Unsuccessful candidate for Democratic presidential nomination, 1976, 1980. Unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate from California (1982). Formed two small foundations during mid-1980s and traveled abroad, including to Japan to study Zen Buddhism and to India to work with Mother Theresa. Elected chairman, California Democratic Party (1989-91). Ran exploratory campaign for U.S. Senate from California (1991) before deciding to run for president.
One of few celebrities in the Democratic race, thanks to his years as governor of nation's most populous state and prior campaigns for president. His down-with-politics-as-usual message could resonate with a national electorate increasingly distrustful of government. A lively public speaker with a knack for anticipating future trends, he has been one of the most deft and sharp-witted promoters in American politics.
A lifelong politician, he may not be the best messenger to carry an anti-politics crusade into the primaries. He may have difficulty being heard in crowded Democratic field, especially if his self-imposed limit on contributions crimps his ability to advertise on TV. His 1980 presidential try drew little voter support and there are persistent doubts that he will go all-out in 1992. An original thinker, his reputation for far-out ideas once earned him the sobriquet "Governor Moonbeam."
WHERE HE STANDS
Blames Democrats and Republicans alike for the excesses of modern politics, and contends that lobbyists, special-interest giving and campaign consultants have corrupted the democratic system and created many of the problems facing the nation. Favors term limits for elected officials. Refusing any campaign contributions over $100, one-tenth the legal limit.
"Our democratic system has been the object of a hostile takeover engineered by a confederacy of corruption, careerism, and campaign consulting. And money has been the lubricant greasing the deal."
Darkhorse contender with potential to alter dynamics of the nomination contest with his attack on the system and, quite possibly, his rivals in Democratic race.