Clint Reilly, the son of an East Bay milk man with roots in San Francisco stretching back to the 1860s, launched his business career in his early 20s with a waterfront junk store.
Nearly 50 years later, Reilly now helms a wholly-owned commercial real estate portfolio of signature properties, along with two of the city’s most coveted historic event venues, a thriving food and beverage operation, and an iconic local monthly publication, all contributing significantly to an overriding philanthropic program. Along the way, Reilly managed to pioneer modern campaign and political consulting, combining data science and creative messaging to build one of the top political strategy firms in the nation, and helped launch the careers of San Francisco luminaries such as Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and many others.

Reilly ended his professional political consulting career 1995, the same year he purchased his flagship property—the landmark Merchants Exchange building—from Walter Shorenstein and the Swig family. Since then, Reilly has worked to return the Merchants Exchange to its former status as a premium corporate address, while simultaneously transforming the building into the nerve center of the City’s high-end social, political, philanthropic and corporate events.

Clinton Reilly
Clint Reilly Baby Photo

Bess and Joe Reilly with their first child, Clint.

With Assembly Candidate Fr Eugene Boyle 1974

Clint (left) with mentor Fr. Eugene Boyle.

Chapter 1: East Bay Beginnings

Although typically associated with San Francisco, Clint Reilly was born in Oakland and raised in San Leandro, the eldest of 10 children in a working-class family. His parents epitomized the spirit of the East Bay at the time, his father a milkman for Berkeley Farms, his mother a concession stand operator at the Oakland Coliseum. When she retired, she was the longest-tenured employee of the Oakland A’s.

Reilly grew up attending local Catholic schools, eventually heading to St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park for high school and college. He completed his bachelor’s degree in philosophy–steeped in the traditions of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Kant and Hegel–but left the seminary three years short of ordination as a Catholic priest.

Reilly’s formative educational years came at a compelling time and place. The Second Vatican Council ushered in a new era of inclusivity and a renewed commitment to social justice, which was embodied by clergy like Reilly’s mentor, the late Msgr. Eugene Boyle. While Reilly toiled in the libraries and pews of St. Patrick’s, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area were the epicenter of a social and cultural awakening.

Reilly’s personal commitment to social justice, borne out of these twin phenomena, quickly led him to Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers’ movement and other civil rights causes roiling the region at the time.

Having left the seminary and his plans to enter the priesthood behind, Reilly’s entrepreneurial spirit flashed as a means to support his social activism. He launched a curios and antiquities business on the San Francisco waterfront that paid the bills while he worked on behalf of various social causes and candidates. Little did he know, but he was planting the seeds of a career that would revolutionize the way American political campaigns were run.

Chapter 2:
Clinton Reilly Campaigns

Among Clint Reilly’s innovations as a political consultant at Clinton Reilly Campaigns was the use of computer technology and databases to selectively segment voters by focusing on their shared backgrounds and interests.

The technique allowed Clinton Reilly Campaigns to deliver targeted messages to diverse and differentiated members of the electorate and to effectively get supporters to the polls on Election Day.

The firm’s use of cutting edge artwork and imagery to communicate helped establish what some in the industry now call the “California School” of political direct-mail and television advertising.

Another innovation entailed being one of the first firms to integrate all campaign services under one roof: polling, direct-mail, television advertising, data processing, fundraising, production and grassroots organizing. The vertical structure allowed Clinton Reilly Campaigns to offer the most effective communications and strategic advice without bias towards one communication medium or another. Clients received the best plan with the best tools to win, all at a better price.

Clinton Reilly Campaigns’ record of winning quickly caught the attention of the press, with the New York Times calling Mr. Reilly’s company “the most successful political consulting firm outside Washington, D.C.,” and the Los Angeles Times calling Mr. Reilly “the gold watch of political consultants.”

Political leaders who were clients of Clinton Reilly Campaigns include:

  • Nancy Pelosi (D-SF), now Speaker of the House
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
  • Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan
  • The late former Rep. Robert Matsui, former chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
  • Rep. Tony Coelho (D-CA), former chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
  • Rep. Jim Corman (D-CA), former chairman, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
  • San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan
  • State Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti (D-CA)
  • Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig (D-CA)
  • State Treasurer Kathleen Brown (D-CA)

Mr. Reilly’s firm also developed strategy and communications for the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the California Democratic Party and the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee in California.

Clint Reilly is the only political consultant to defeat two recall campaigns against incumbent elected officials in California, one against San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein in 1983 and the other against State Senate Pro-Tem David Roberti in 1993.

“He didn’t just build a company. He in many respects helped create an industry.”
– Eric Jaye, Storefront Political Media
Clint Reilly and Dianne Feinstein

Celebrating with Dianne Feinstein

Cardinal Levada, Janet and Clint Reilly

Cardinal William Levada with Janet & Clint Reilly

“Clint Reilly has consistently stood up for the rights of the oppressed and the cause of social justice.”

– the late Msgr. Eugene Boyle
Clint Reilly and the Bay Scholars of St. Joseph's

Clint Reilly with the Bay Scholars of St. Joseph’s of Notre Dame

Chapter 3: Civic Causes

Beginning with progressive political campaigns in the 1970s, Clint Reilly has been motivated by a life-long commitment to social change through direct action.

“Clint Reilly has consistently stood up for the rights of the oppressed and the cause of social justice,” said the late Father Eugene Boyle, a mentor, teacher and friend of Reilly’s of more than 30 years.

In 2001, Cardinal William Levada, then- Archbishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Francisco, appointed Reilly as the first lay chairman of the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities and Catholic Youth Organization, which serves more than 40,000 people a year in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

“You have demonstrated strong leadership and commitment to Catholic Charities/Catholic Youth Organization [and] you have been extraordinary, both in your personal generosity on behalf of the agency and in your leadership of the Archbishop’s Charity Council,” Leveda said, referring to Mr. Reilly’s role, along with his wife Janet, in creating the Archbishop’s Loaves and Fishes Dinner. The dinner raised more than $6 million during Reilly’s tenure on the Board. In addition, the Reillys have personally contributed more than one million dollars over the years.

Among the array of programs operated by Catholic Charities/CYO are CYO Sports, St. Vincent’s Home for Boys, Mission Day Care, and the agency’s services are geared to provide support and relief to senior citizens, Alzheimer’s patients, people living with HIV/AIDS, low-income families, children and immigrants.

On top of his work with CC/CYO, Reilly and his wife, Janet, have raised money for inner-city schools and founded a scholarship program–Bay Scholars–that subsidizes tuition at city Catholic high schools for economically disadvantaged youth. Today, Bay Scholars represents the keystone of Reilly’s charitable efforts.

In 1986, he also took on–pro bono–the Proposition M campaign to limit commercial building height in the city and prevent the “Manhattanization” of San Francisco. The initiative, credited with helping maintain the economic diversity of the city by saving affordable space for small business, later became an inspiration for similar initiatives in Seattle and other cities.

Six years later, when the city was threatened with the loss of the San Francisco Giants in 1992, Reilly was asked by then-Mayor Frank Jordan to help keep the team in the city, and he served as liaison between the mayor and a group of local business leaders led by Walter Shorenstein who eventually purchased the club and kept them in town.

Shortly thereafter, in 1994, Reilly managed on a volunteer basis the campaign to pass a $52 million bond issue for the new Asian Art Museum at San Francisco’s Civic Center, and he and Janet were major donors to the museum’s $160 million capital campaign.

Reilly also led considerable strategic and financial support to Clinic by the Bay, the Volunteers in Medicine health clinic co-founded by his wife, Janet, to meet the primary medical needs of the uninsured in San Francisco and San Mateo. Clinic by the Bay engages retired doctors, nurses and other volunteers to provide compassionate care, free-of-charge, to people in their own community, all without the help of government dollars.

Not all of Reilly’s civic engagement activities have involved charitable or political work. After a consulting career steeped in media, Reilly was among the first people to recognize the oncoming mass consolidation of media operations nationwide. Alarmed at the democratic implications of regional news gathering monopolies, he filed two landmark federal anti-trust lawsuits against major media conglomerates in the Bay Area that sought to consolidate, winning important concessions in both instances. Clint was deemed to have standing to level the lawsuits as “a consumer of news,” and U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker stated for the record that Mr. Reilly’s first lawsuit was a “useful public service.”

Chapter 4:
An Expanding Business Legacy

Reilly left political consulting for good in 1995, the same year he purchased his flagship property—the landmark Merchants Exchange building—from Walter Shorenstein and the Swig family. Since then, Reilly has worked to return the Merchants Exchange to its former status as a premium corporate address, while simultaneously transforming the building into the nerve center of the City’s high-end social, political, philanthropic and corporate events.

Reilly now employs a wide breadth of professionals, from his long-tenured executive team, to chefs, publishers, event managers, accountants, operations experts, janitors, creative directors, sales managers, admin staff and security guards—nearly 150 in all—making the Merchants Exchange a hive of activity.

Most of the action takes place in and around the jaw-dropping Julia Morgan Ballroom, an architectural jewel that has hosted everyone from President Obama and Steve Jobs to Jane Goodall and Aung San Suu Kyi, among countless business, entertainment and philanthropic titans.

Reilly’s hospitality business accelerated in 2009 as events became fully-produced operations. The vertical business model—controlling every aspect of the customer experience to ensure consistency and quality throughout the organization—was a lesson learned during Reilly’s campaign days with printers and designers, and extended to the world of hospitality, where guest experience was paramount.

Food and beverage operations quickly became a major part of the company’s hospitality arm, executed by accomplished fine dining chefs like Chris Fernandez and Larry Finn. In the lower level of the building, the former Merchants Exchange Club lay dormant after nearly 100 years of activity as a premier men’s social club. Today, the reborn Merchants Exchange Club serves as a sister venue to the Ballroom, combining with its counterpart for a range of conferences, tradeshows, nonprofit galas and other events.

In 2009, with the economy spiraling and most businesses retrenching, Reilly launched Credo, a stylish Italian eatery that occupies the chic street-level space in his stately 360 Pine Street building. Nearly eight years later, Credo continues to serve the Financial District as one of the neighborhood’s hippest options in a thriving dining scene. Lunch hour brings a who’s-who of FiDi heavyweights, young up-and-comers, and the occasional celebrity, from Dwyane Wade to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Reilly’s hospitality business has expanded tenfold since 2009, but in 2016, he turned his attention back toward his roots—media and communications—and added another beloved San Francisco institution to his stable of them: the Nob Hill Gazette.

Acquiring the magazine, which has served as the publication of record for the City’s social and philanthropic scene for more than 40 years, added an exciting new dynamic to Reilly’s portfolio, leveraging his deep knowledge of the City, strong commitment to philanthropy and keen understanding of media and communications to rejuvenate yet another storied San Francisco brand under his stewardship.

Less than two years after taking the helm of the Gazette, Reilly launched the Nob Hill Gazette on the Peninsula, a sister publication to the cherished San Francisco magazine, providing exclusive content to the well-heeled, civically engaged audiences from Atherton to Los Altos and everywhere in between.

Reilly is equally active in the community. He is the former President of the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities of San Francisco and the founder and President of Bay Scholars, which currently provides support for nearly 400 disadvantaged youths attending private Catholic high schools. Reilly is a major contributor to the SFMOMA and a longtime supporter of programs like CORO, Salesian Boys and Girls Club, 826 Valencia, the UC Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies, Summer Search and the Mission Dolores Academy, among many others.

It is through this lens that the full thrust of Reilly’s business enterprise can be best understood. It is less a story of individual success than one of organizational impact. A focus on community engagement and charitable giving runs throughout the company. From high-profile political, corporate and nonprofit events in his event facilities, to marquee NGO tenants such as the Asia Foundation, to the Nob Hill Gazette’s renewed commitment to the philanthropic and nonprofit community, the Clint Reilly organization reflects the priorities and direction of its founder.

Looking for more? Check out our archive of stories about Clint Reilly from around the web.


Julia Morgan Ballroom
Merchants Exchange Club
Nob Hill Gazette

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