The New Yorker Prosecutes Kamala Harris

Magazine takes dive into Willie Brown's influence on California senator

Sen. Kamala Harris / Getty Images
July 25, 2019

The New Yorker’s lengthy profile of Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) spends far more time discussing the influence of Willie Brown than her relationship with her husband, which is portrayed as impersonal and even politically motivated.

The profile, by Dana Goodyear, tells a positive story of Harris professionally—highlighting her well-received prosecutorial style as a senator and her rise in the polls after her use of it on the debate stage. But it's far more focused on the things Harris hates to talk about, like her relationship with Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, and how it shaped her as a politician.

Goodyear, after noting how "stories that mention Brown have always infuriated Harris," goes on to mention Brown about two dozen times. She attempted, unsuccessfully, to both interview Brown and get a comment on him from Harris's campaign.

"When I asked her campaign about him, a spokesperson testily referred me to statements that she made sixteen years ago," Goodyear writes.

In her piece, Goodyear argues Harris learned a lot from Brown: "His advice to black women seeking political office: get involved at a high level with cultural and charitable organizations, 'like symphonies, museums, and hospitals,'" she writes. "In 1995, Harris joined the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where she designed a mentorship program for public-school teens."

The piece also mentions the lucrative board positions Brown got Harris appointed to while they were dating.

While Goodyear treats Brown as a major influence on Harris, her husband, lawyer Doug Emhoff, is portrayed as a political prop and nuisance.

In the one interaction between Harris and Emhoff in the piece, Harris ignores a "cloying remark" from her husband. Goodyear also quotes a longtime donor to Harris who suggests she would have stayed single if it weren't for her presidential ambitions, saying, "When she married Doug, I knew she was running for President."

The full segment on Emhoff, a mere 291 words in a nearly 10,000-word piece, are below.

Doug Emhoff, Harris’s husband, stood to one side, holding her purse. He wore whitewall sneakers, jeans, and a blazer. A line of children and parents zagged through the shelves. Harris remained unflaggingly engaged, asking each child a question, paying a compliment, nodding exaggeratedly. "That’s her real personality," Emhoff said, shaking his head, starstruck, at his wife. "She smiles and laughs and has a good time. That came through on ‘Colbert.’"

For much of Harris’s life, she has been single, with no children, focussed on her work. She married Emhoff, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, at a tiny ceremony in 2014, where Maya [Harris’s younger sister] officiated and guests were sworn to secrecy. When Harris is not on Capitol Hill, or on the campaign trail, she and Emhoff live together in Brentwood, with a freezer full of two-cup containers of Bolognese she makes ahead so that he can always have home-cooked food. (Emhoff enrolled in cooking classes before the wedding, to make himself a worthy sous-chef.) He has two children from a previous marriage: Cole, who works as an assistant at William Morris Endeavor, and Ella, a student at Parsons School of Design. Harris’s official Twitter account identifies her as "Momala," the name she says her stepchildren gave her. One longtime donor, noting the country’s expectations around the First Family, told me, "When she married Doug, I knew she was running for President."

After Harris finished signing books, she walked over to Emhoff. "How did you not die from maximum cuteness?" he asked her. Harris ignored the cloying remark and, noting the presence of reporters, turned sober: a policy point was coming. "Kids pay attention to everything," she said. "They remember it. That was an element in my school truancy initiative."

Emhoff's crucial role as "Instagram husband" was profiled this month by Politico Magazine.