The two Newsoms

The candidate for governor bears only a vague resemblance to the mayor of San Francisco
Photo by John M. Heller

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There are two Gavin Newsoms: the mayor San Franciscans have gotten to know over the last six years, and the candidate running for governor.

The contrast is dramatic. The central persona being pushed by the Newsom campaign — that of a postpartisan progressive who has united fractious San Francisco around innovative, common sense solutions to the most vexing problems using his considerable courage and political skills — seems like pure fiction to most City Hall watchers.

Here's Newsom, the candidate, kicking off his campaign and describing a harmonious local political scene: "We stopped fighting over who was going to be in charge and started working together to find solutions."

Here's the reality: Newsom is a politically isolated mayor who refused to heed the voter directive to meet regularly with the Board of Supervisors or take part in budget negotiations involving key community stakeholders. His spokespeople regularly belittle and deride progressive supervisors and organizations. He has vetoed consensus legislation on tenant protections, police foot patrols, new revenue measures, and new parking policies. He is proudly taking campaign credit for other people's initiatives he once opposed. He has been absent from some of the most important policy debates in the city. He has demanded the resignations of all appointees and top officials, even those protected by contracts and fixed terms. His dysfunctional, politicized office has been criticized for its secrecy by both the civil grand jury and Sunshine Ordinance Task Force and for its emphasis on loyalty over competence by past and current employees.

He is utterly unwilling to engage with people who disagree with him. In fact, he refused the Guardian's month-old request to discuss the issues raised in this article.

"It's like a Wizard of Oz creation. You pull back the curtain and there's nothing there," said Aaron Peskin, who was regularly vilified by Team Newsom when he served as president of the Board of Supervisors. "He is kind of an empty, sad guy and his handlers have managed to create a persona that is fake and false."

A close examination of Newsom's record and statements shows a history of contradictions. He has supported and opposed public power, decriminalizing marijuana, requiring employers to help pay for the city's universal health care system, temporarily closing some streets to cars, shelter and treatment on demand for the homeless, higher clean energy standards, and a long list of other issues.

He called for Muni to be free, then insisted on doubling Muni fares.

You'd think this would be a formula for political failure, that eventually California voters would figure out the fraud. But that's not necessarily true. The reality, political professionals told us, is that the general public just doesn't care about the details of his mayoral tenure. Such nuances don't translate well into a statewide campaign.

Newsom's platform and persona are what voters want to hear right now — and they're just believable enough to be an easy sell for modern media manipulators.

But the public ought to be paying attention — because the record suggests that Newsom is hardly a great candidate for governor.


The policy initiative Newsom cites most frequently on the campaign trail is Healthy San Francisco, a plan to provide health care to all city residents, mostly by requiring employers to provide health insurance to their workers or pay into a city program that covers visits to city clinics and hospitals.

"In my city, we're well on our way to universal health care. How can we afford it?