It's a structural weakness that hasn't been helped by the fact that in the three years since he was elected, Newsom only appeared before the board twice — this week and for the board inauguration two years ago — both times giving a brief speech but not engaging in dialogue. It's an anomaly without precedent in the history of San Francisco. (It's customary for mayors to deliver their State of the City speeches in the board chambers, but Newsom has done all his at venues outside City Hall.) Most mayors also make a point of occasionally appearing at board meetings (Willie Brown would sometimes even take questions from the supervisors).
On Jan. 8, Newsom slipped in at the last minute and sat next to Peskin until it was his turn to make some brief remarks, an opportunity that immediately followed public comment, during which a baseball-capped woman pleaded with the supervisors to "please kiss and make up with mayor."
After Peskin welcomed "the 42nd mayor, Gavin Christopher Newsom, to these chambers where you are always welcome," Newsom rose — and was hissed by a few members of the audience.
"This is a city that's highly critical of its leadership and that expects greatness from its leaders," the mayor said. "I have great expectations of 2007.... The key is to work together on the things that unite us.... I look forward to engaging with each and every one of you."
This isn't just politics — there are serious issues involved. Without the monthly question time the Board of Supervisors requested and the voters approved, it's hard for the city's elected district representatives to figure out if this mayor actually supports or even understands the issues he claims to champion.
Last year, for example, Newsom was happy to take credit in the national press for the universal health care package that actually came from Sup. Tom Ammiano. But when Ammiano got blasted by business leaders, Newsom didn't rush to defend the plan; it was hard to tell if he even still supported it.
Business leaders didn't like that the proposal required employers to provide health care insurance. But Newsom's own staff recognized that without that mandate, the plan would never work. Did the mayor support it or not?
The situation prompted Sup. Ross Mirkarimi to characterize the mayor's proposal as "a one-winged aircraft that doesn't fly," and it was left to Newsom's public health director, Dr. Mitch Katz, to confirm that both the voluntary and mandatory pieces of the legislation are joined at the hip. "One can't successfully move forward without the other," Katz said at a July 11 board meeting, which Newsom, of course, did not attend.
Since then, the mayor's commitment to the amalgamated health care package has been thrown into question once again, this time thanks to a lawsuit the Golden Gate Restaurant Association filed only against the employer mandate aspect of the legislation.
The GGRA, which filed its suit the day after the election, is a Newsom ally that funneled more than a half million dollars in soft money into Rob Black's unsuccessful campaign against District 6's Daly and into Doug Chan's coffers for his disastrous fourth-place showing in District 4.
Asked if he knows where the mayor stands on the city's universal health care plan, Ammiano told the Guardian, "We'll be meeting with Newsom in the new year and asking for a press conference in which we both pledge to give our continued support for all aspects of plan, but that's not yet been nailed down."