Many progressives are urging him to run again, noting that he is still popular and has the political skills to highlight Newsom's shortcomings. But Gonzalez remains cagey about his intentions.
"I don't believe I'm running for mayor. The chances are slim," Gonzalez told us. "But I think he needs to be challenged."
Newsom campaign manager Jaye says he's definitely expecting a challenge. And unlike most observers whom we spoke with, who are surveying the field and not seeing many people jumping in, Jaye expects a crowded free-for-all and a tough race.
"Is it likely to be a highly contested mayor's race? Sure. Is that a good thing? Yes, I think it is," Jaye said. "Every race in San Francisco is tough. The school board races here are fought harder than some Senate races."
But Jaye thinks the new public financing system — in which mayoral candidates who can raise $135,000 will get $450,000 from the city — will be the biggest factor. "That's one of the reasons I think everyone's going to run," Jaye said. "That guarantees it will be a crowded field."
One political analyst said that's the best scenario for defeating Newsom. He said dethroning the mayor will be like a pack of jackals taking down an elephant. No single challenger is likely to beat Newsom, but if he's being attacked from all sides, he just might fall.
As for Newsom's weaknesses and missteps, Jaye doesn't agree the mayor is particularly weak and doesn't think people will turn away from Newsom because of his candid comments on how the job cuts into his personal life.
"One of the reasons so many people like Gavin Newsom is he's not afraid to be human in public and to be honest," Jaye said, adding that his candidate is up for the challenge. "He is running for real and will run a vigorous race."
Jaye concedes that the 49ers issue is difficult: Newsom will be hurt if they leave, and he'll be hurt if he appears to give up too much to keep them here. The high murder rate and inaction on police reform are widely considered to be vulnerabilities, but Jaye said, "Gavin Newsom gets up every day and works on that problem, and if voters think another candidate has a better solution, they'll look at it."
Everyone agrees that candidates will enter the race late — which is what happened during the last two mayor's races and is even likelier with public financing. If Newsom takes more hits or can't get his head into the game, the sharks will start circling. "The next three months with what happens with the mayor will be telling," another political insider told us.
One test will be with Proposition I, the measure voters approved Nov. 7 asking the mayor to show up for a monthly question time before the Board of Supervisors. Newsom reportedly has said he won't come, which could look cowardly and out of touch to the voters who approved it and to the supervisors, who might make great political theater of the no-show. And if Newsom does decide to show up, most observers believe he might not fare well in such an unscripted exchange.
If Newsom implodes or appears weak in late spring, suddenly all those political heavy hitters will be forced to think about getting in the fray. After all, as just about everyone told us, nine months is like an eternity in San Francisco politics — and Newsom has the best job in town.