Editor's Notes

What happens when a mayor who lacks political courage decides to run for higher office


Let's look at what happens when a mayor who lacks political courage decides to run for higher office.

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, shortly after returning from the Democratic National Convention, where he sought to impress the bigwigs, Gavin Newsom announced that a plan to issue municipal ID cards to undocumented immigrants would be put on hold.

Newsom had always supported the plan. His staff realized it made tremendous sense: when thousands of city residents aren't eligible for drivers licenses or passports, and can't prove their identity, then they become a permanent underclass. They can't open bank accounts (and are preyed on by unscrupulous check-cashers). They fear even talking to the police, since they can't provide ID on demand (and thus are reluctant to come forward as crime victims or witnesses). They can't take books out of the public library or easily access the public health system.

A city ID card costs the taxpayers almost nothing and helps prevent crime. It's part of a very sensible Sanctuary City program, based on a time-tested premise: if official San Francisco doesn't intimidate or threaten to deport the city's undocumented residents, those residents won't live in fear of official San Francisco. That's better for everyone, immigrants and citizens alike.

But over the past month or so, the San Francisco Chronicle has been running a crusade against the sanctuary laws, digging up a few immigrants who committed felonies and managed to avoid deportation and using those stories as fodder for a sensational assault on the policy.

There was a time, I think, when Newsom might have stood up to it. But now he wants to be governor, and the notion that the press (and his competition in both parties) might portray him as soft on crime and too friendly to immigrants has scared him silly.

So Newsom decided to tell the press that the ID program — a very small part of the overall sanctuary ordinance — would be suspended "until a thorough review has been completed to ensure that every aspect of the program complies with all applicable state and federal laws."

Never mind that the ID program, sponsored by Sup. Tom Ammiano, passed the Board of Supervisors 10-1. It's city law; Newsom has no authority to suspend it. And the City Attorney's Office has already done a thorough review to ensure that it's legal — that happened when Ammiano first introduced the bill.

Never mind that Ammiano — who was infuriated by the mayor's statement — has been meeting with Newsom's staff and is convinced the plan will go into place this fall, pretty much as planned.

Never mind that the entire episode will just scare off potential applicants for the cards and undermine a program that the mayor's advisors know makes good civic sense.

See, this isn't about San Francisco anymore. It's all about Sacramento. It's about the Governor's Office — which means it's also about Orange County, and the Inland Empire, and all those more conservative places where voters don't like immigrants and think San Francisco is too liberal. If Newsom wants to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger, he needs votes in those parts of the state — and instead of standing on principle and saying that he's a politician you can trust even when you disagree with him, he's pandering to the lowest common denominator.

The governor's race is still two years away. This shit has only started.

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