Willie Brown offered up some rare, not-rumor-based political intel in his Sunday Chronicle column this week, announcing that 32-year-old Y Combinator president Sam Altman approached him for advice on possibly running for governor of California in 2018. This "leaked" bit of information was likely strategic and done with Altman's blessing, but it's an interesting development in a governor's race that many have assumed would wrapped up neatly in a nice bow and handed to Lt. Governor and former SF mayor Gavin Newsom.
Altman, the openly gay entrepreneur, Clinton supporter, and friend of Peter Thiel, was profiled by the New Yorker last fall, and he admitted to not especially enjoying parties and not being able read subtle emotions on faces in photographs though he denied accusations that he has Asperger’s syndrome. These don't immediately sound like qualities of a successful politician, but Altman sounds like he has a plan, were he to run against Newsom, to play to his strengths namely to conduct a mostly online campaign and to target first-time voters like 18- and 19-year-olds and immigrants using "digital intelligence." Brown, sounding confused, says this "involves using analytics to market your message more precisely to your customers."
Whether or not he's being disingenuous in his comments remains to be seen, but Brown says that when Altman asked him for advice regarding a potential campaign, Brown replied, "Don't run," but that was mostly because of the potential threat he posed to "my friend Gavin."
Brown's words, in full:
“Don’t run,” I said. “You’re young, gay, and can self-finance your campaign while appearing to be a fresh-faced alternative to the status quo. You are just the candidate that my friend Gavin has been dreading might appear on the horizon.
“If you jump in, Gavin is likely to jump as well,” I said. “Only Gavin will be jumping off my bridge, and I don’t want that on my conscience.”
Brown's of course referring to the Willie L. Brown Jr. Bay Bridge, a.k.a. the western span of the Bay Bridge that got a sign in his honor back in 2014.
Brown has a history of suggesting political futures for people in his weekly column that never come to pass most recently he claimed that Dr. Priscilla Chan, a.k.a. Mrs. Mark Zuckerberg, might be mulling a run for mayor, and in recent years he claimed that Dianne Feinstein was being considered for US Ambassador to China, and that Jerry Brown should have run for Barbara Boxer's Senate seat. So, we should probably take this one with a grain of salt.
Nonetheless, Altman's got the personal cash to give Gavin a run for his money, potentially, and we now know that the man, perhaps like Zuckerberg, has got political ambitions beyond Silicon Valley.
And judging from his Twitter, one thing he hopes to solve is the problem of expensive college tuition and student debt:
Young people in CA are getting denied a future: https://t.co/trbU4MNhtx— Sam Altman (@sama) May 2, 2017
Median college tuition/household income in 1950: .18— Sam Altman (@sama) May 8, 2017
Median college tuition/household income in 2014: .79
One thing that gets lost in the paying for college debate is how it got so expensive!! That would be a good thing to fix.— Sam Altman (@sama) May 8, 2017