Fact check: Kamala Harris and Willie Brown had a relationship over a decade after he separated from wife

Correction January 22, 2021: Correcting “In 2003, Harris would become the district attorney of the state and county of San Francisco” in paragraph seven to “Elected in 2003, Harris would become the district attorney of San Francisco.” Correcting “San Francisco attorney general” in paragraph nine to “San Francisco district attorney.”

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Posts shared on Facebook show Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, describing the image as “married 60 year old (sic) Willie Brown” and “his 29 year old mistress, Kamala.” Although the photo appears to be authentic, he was separated from his wife for more than a decade when he and Harris dated in the mid-1990s. Their relationship, which ended in 1995, was not a secret.

Posts making this claim can be found
herehere, and here.  

The image of Harris and Brown shared in the posts appeared in a 2019 article in the Washington Examiner ( here ). The original photo, for which the Washington Examiner does not provide a source, date, or location, features two other people on the left side of the frame.

Kamala Harris did have a relationship with Willie Brown, who later served as San Francisco’s mayor, between 1994 and 1995 ( here ). The Los Angeles Times first linked the pair in 1994 ( here ) when Harris, beginning her career in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office ( ), was 29 and Brown, speaker of the California State Assembly ( here ), was 60 ( here ).  

Although Brown was legally married at the time, he had reportedly been estranged from his wife, Blanche Brown, since 1981, according to People magazine (here).  

As reported (here) by the San Francisco Chronicle, Harris and Brown broke up in 1995. On Dec. 26, 1995, reporter Herb Caen wrote in his daily column that the couple had split, adding the “news came as a shock to many, including those who found Kamala Harris attractive, intelligent and charming.” 

Brown went on to serve as mayor of San Francisco from 1996 to 2004 (here). Elected in 2003, Harris would become the district attorney of San Francisco ( 

The claim Harris “had an affair with a married man” is technically true. But given Brown had been separated from his wife for more than a decade, the claim is misleading. Haris and Brown’s relationship was not secret and they made public appearances as a couple ( here , here ). 

In a 2003 interview during her campaign for San Francisco district attorney, Harris told SF Weekly that she refused “to design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown for the sake of appearing to be independent when I have no doubt that I am independent of him — and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me.” (here

On Jan. 26, 2019, Brown published a short op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle with the headline “Sure, I dated Kamala Harris. So what?” (here). Brown said he had recently “been peppered with calls from the national media about my ‘relationship’ with Kamala Harris, particularly since it became obvious that she was going to run for president. Most of them, I have not returned. Yes, we dated. It was more than 20 years ago.” 

Further reporting on Harris and Brown’s relationship can be found here . 

Harris’ team did not respond to Reuters request for comment.

A similar claim about Harris and Brown's relationship featured in a misleading meme about Harris previously tackled by Reuters Fact Check  here  .


Missing context. Though Willie Brown was legally married when he and Kamala Harris dated in the mid-1990s, he had been estranged from his wife for more than a decade.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .