Who’s Who in Sonoma: Infamous Man About Town, Ken Brown

It's been 28-years, and two terms as Mayor, since once 'good Jewish boy from Queens' has traveled as far as San Francisco


Growing up in Queens, parents exposed him to theater, opera, books, and a deep sense of community and family. After dropping out of college (Brown is a self-proclaimed horrible student), he joined the army.  He went to Vietnam the day Woodstock started.  

After that, Brown followed army buddies to Southern California and later to Humboldt County.  When friends sent him a postcard from Kenwood and wrote, “You should live here,” he took their advice. Living in a trailer for $35 a month, he went to work for Kenwood Winery, first in the vineyards and then as a cellar rat. Brown stayed five years. 

He married and had two children. “When my wife split, I found myself a single parent.” 

About five years later, he met his current wife, Jewel, and they eventually had two more children. 

Today Brown is a major figure in local politics: the two time mayor is now the city's mayor pro tem, hosts “Mornings in Sonoma” Monday through Friday (8-10am) on SVTB Channel 27, and runs a business producing everything from baptisms to funerals to music events.

And Brown gives new meaning to being Sonoma-centric: he hasn’t been to San Francisco in 28 years. He doesn’t need to; he has Sonoma.

Sonoma Patch: How did your upbringing in NYC impact you?

Brown: Biggest blessing I had was that my parents chose me to be their son. Gigantic dose of unconditional love. 

SP: You became a single parent in 1982.

Brown: When my first wife left, I got custody. I worked in day care for a while .

SP: How did the community respond to a single dad?

Brown: Accepting. I think they saw me more as a Jewish mother than a single dad.  I’m a really good cook. The girls’ clothes selections weren’t always great. But I learned how to braid hair on a Barbie. 

SP: You worked at Westerbeke Ranch in the early 80s. 

Brown: I was ranch manager and the kids and I lived there for five years. I’d never been part of the new age thing, and at the time it was an Esalen style retreat center. New age gurus, clothing optional. People went there to change their lives.

SP: Did it change yours?

Brown: Well, I met my wife there.

SP: Were you radical?

Brown: I got involved in the nuclear power struggle. But then I was arrested at a PG&E plant and said, I have two kids! That’s when I decided to act and think locally. I started volunteering at the Community Center. 

SP: Tell me about that.

Brown: We would be very open to helping locals with their events but not totally giving it away. We would lend tables and chairs. It was called by some in the community the 'communist center' but not by those who loved it.

SP: You became caretaker?

Brown: My wife and kids and I lived at the top of the stairs in a small apartment for seven years. They let me build bunk beds for my daughters in one of the closets. 

SP: That’s pretty cool.

Brown: Then I became a board member, president of the board and general manager. And I was still the caretaker. 

SP: Let’s talk politics.

Brown:  In the summer of 1996, I produced the City of Sonoma 150th Anniversary of the Raising of the Bear Flag. About that time I ran for City Council and lost.  I began religiously attending council meetings and ran successfully in 1998 (won by one vote!), 2002, 2006 and 2010.

SP:  Wow, every vote really does count. And you were Mayor.

Brown: 2001 and 2009. I’m in line for Mayor again in December and I really want the job.

SP: It must be fun hosting “Mornings in Sonoma.”

Brown: I have two of the best jobs in Sonoma.            

SP: What is the key to your success?

Brown: I’m smart enough to be effective but not too smart to be miserable. I have a well developed EQ (emotional quotient) rather than IQ. 

SP: Sell Sonoma in a sentence.

Brown: Right now, in the 21st century, there is no better place to live.

Suzanne Barbara June 02, 2012 at 12:45 AM
Interesting story about Ken. I did not know his background.


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