Jacques Barzaghi, “We are all prisoners.” Cal Gov Jerry Brown advisor dies at 82

Jerry Brown’s nearly 50 year career in California as three time Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and Mayor of Oakland formally ended in 2018. His legacy for innovation, fiscal conservatism, forward thinking and unique ideas are his trademark.

Jerry Brown’s long time spiritual and political advisor Jacques Barzaghi was emblematic of his style of governance.

Excerpted from The New York Times 6.25.2021

Whether as policy adviser, interior decorator or barber, he was a Zen-like presence in that California politician’s orbit, and always dressed in black.

Jacques Barzaghi, who was a longtime confidant, alter ego and soul mate of former Gov. Jerry Brown of California and known for his Zen sensibility and noir presence from boot to beret, died on June 1 at his home in Normandy, France. He was 82.

On one occasion, asked for his thoughts after touring a state prison to report on conditions there, Mr. Barzaghi reportedly replied, “We are all prisoners.”

Jacques Barzaghi II  6.26.2021.jpg
Jacques Barzaghi in later years

Intense, bald and heavily tattooed, Mr. Barzaghi, who wore wire-rimmed glasses and dressed in black from head to toe, cut an austere figure and was given to vaguely existential utterances.

He died in his sleep without an identifiable cause, although he had a history of heart ailments, his daughter Tatiana Barzaghi said.

Mr. Barzaghi (pronounced bar-ZAH-ghee), who was born in France, began his association with Mr. Brown in the early 1970s, when Mr. Brown was California’s secretary of state.

The two were inseparable for three decades, through Mr. Brown’s first two terms as governor, three unsuccessful campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, a failed bid for the Senate, a stint as chairman of the California Democratic Party, a move to Japan to study Zen Buddhism and much of his tenure as mayor of Oakland. It all ended in 2004, when Mr. Brown, as mayor, fired him after Mr. Barzaghi’s wife reported a violent domestic dispute.

Mr. Brown declined to comment for this obituary.

Mr. Barzaghi served in multiple official and informal roles for Mr. Brown, including as barber, interior decorator and armed bodyguard. He was deeply involved in almost everything Mr. Brown did, from helping him make policy decisions to picking out his trademark double-breasted suits.

“He lends creativity and imagination to the administration and serves as a person Jerry can bounce ideas off of,” The Los Angeles Times quoted a Brown aide as saying in 1977, the year Mr. Barzaghi became an American citizen with Mr. Brown’s help.

“We are not disorganized,” he told The New York Times during Mr. Brown’s 1992 bid for president. “Our campaign transcends understanding.”

Top photo:  Jerry Brown and Jacques Barzaghi in 1992