Meet Mrs. Moonbeam, Who’ll Wed Brown and Run His AG Campaign

Posted June 13, 2005 at 6:39pm

When perennial bachelor and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown weds longtime girlfriend Anne Gust this weekend, he’ll be getting more than a wife.

He’ll also be getting a political partner. [IMGCAP(1)]

Gust left her job in May as a Gap Inc. executive and will become Brown’s campaign manager in his 2006 bid for California attorney general.

And while the 47-year-old Gust comes to the campaign with no political experience, aside from her involvement in Brown’s campaigns as his girlfriend for the past 15 years, friends and associates are already trumpeting her “well-grounded, normal” mien and her “mellowing” effect on the candidate, still known as “Governor Moonbeam.”

“She’s smarter and more intuitive and more organized than anyone else,” Brown said.

Brown also praised Gust’s ability to temper “any excess that I might be contemplating. … She pushes back. If something doesn’t make sense she catches that pretty early before most people would.”

“Anne legitimizes Jerry Brown at this point in his life and career,” said Robert Bobb, a former Oakland city manager who now serves as city administrator in Washington, D.C. “She’ll have his back every moment, every hour, every second of the day.”

Gust, who expects to roll up her sleeves and get to work soon after the couple’s Saturday nuptials — they will wed in a civil ceremony in Oakland, officiated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), then head to San Francisco for a Catholic blessing at St. Agnes Church, where Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, was baptized and where his parents married.

When she says “I do” in front of the expected crowd of 500 to 600 guests, the bride won’t be wearing a traditional wedding gown but instead has opted for a tea-length dress designed by Brown pal Diane von Furstenberg. And she’s still undecided on whether she’ll change her name, but says: “I’m happy to be called Mrs. Brown or Mrs. Jerry Brown.”

“Her politics are all around Jerry,” said Feinstein. “She wants to help Jerry.”

Like Brown, the son of former California Gov. Pat Brown (D), Gust comes from a political family. Her father, Rockwell Gust, ran unsuccessfully for Michigan lieutenant governor on the ticket with automobile executive George Romney (R) in 1962.

Gust’s learning curve as a campaign manager should also be eased by the candidate himself, a former California secretary of state who was a two-term governor and a three-time presidential candidate whose fame spans generations and who has been linked romantically in the past to such high-profile women as singer Linda Ronstadt.

“She starts out with one of the biggest Rolodexes in the state,” said California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland.

To date, Gust says her role has been mainly limited to providing counsel to the candidate and fundraising — by the end of the month the Brown campaign expects to report raising $2.5 million to $3 million.

When Gust gets back from a quick post-wedding getaway to the Russian River area of California — the honeymoon won’t come until the couple heads to Italy in August — her first order of business will be working on the strategy and timeline for the period “between now and the [June 2006] primary,” she said. Brown’s stiffest competition for the Democratic nod is expected to come from Rocky Delgadillo, the Los Angeles city attorney.

By far, Gust’s greatest strength heading into the campaign will be her “great organizational and business skills,” said a longtime Brown friend, California developer John Protopappas — a characterization Gust, who served in a variety of capacities at Gap over a 14-year tenure before resigning as chief administrative officer, agrees with.

But despite her organizational acumen, some sources questioned the decision to elevate her to campaign manager.

“As far as running a statewide campaign, what it means is that he’s going to be his own campaign manager,” said one Golden State political observer who’s worked with Brown.

“I never got the impression she had great political instincts because she was always taking care of Jerry,” said a former staffer in Brown’s office during his first mayoral term.

Gust, who characterizes her politics as “pretty independent,” has over the years been a registered Republican, Independent and Democrat. Though currently a registered Democrat, Gust says when she surveys the current political landscape “it’s really hard for me to sign up completely with the positions of one or the other” party.

Two years ago Brown moved out of his warehouse group home in Oakland’s Jack London Square to a condo in a converted Sears building he shares with Gust. Meanwhile, the warehouse where Brown lived for years with a motley assortment of characters, including, for a time, his longtime sidekick and alter ego Jacques Barzaghi, is being sold to Covenant House, a group that plans to convert it into a shelter for young adults. Several sources said that Gust’s rise to prominence in Brown’s life precipitated a decline in the prominence of the colorful Barzaghi, who has since moved to Morocco.

Feinstein, who called herself “the prime booster for the relationship” with Gust, said she’s been nudging Brown for years to “marry her.” Feinstein’s constant needlings over the years were read aloud by Gust at a pre-wedding party for the couple Feinstein hosted last week at her Presidio Terrace home in San Francisco. “Anne had some of the letters I had written to Jerry,” recalled Feinstein, adding that “Jerry said I was the first one they called” after he proposed.

As for why Brown, at 67, is launching yet another political career, this time as a potential future state attorney general, his old man, who served in the post, just might have something to do with it.

“Earl Warren and my father told me this was the best job they ever had,” Brown said, adding that he’s bringing back many of the staffers who ran his last campaign for governor.

So will Gust, a Stanford graduate who went on to earn a law degree from the University of Michigan, be implementing any changes to candidate Brown?

“I think he’s perfect the way he is,” laughed Gust, in what one can only assume is the blushing bride in her talking. “I wouldn’t change him. He’s not a man who’s easily changed anyway.”