Indeed, his biggest role was defending a superintendent so polarizing the board of education fired her.
That has been the most common complaint about Newsom from both his political allies and opponents: he's always been unwilling to spend his political capital on anything that might help the city or solve its problems.
The polls may show that Newsom's popular, but he has never been able to translate that into political success. Despite spending a record-setting $7 million and nearly two years on his first mayoral campaign, Newsom only beat the poorly funded, last-minute campaign of Matt Gonzalez by about five percentage points.
Two months into his first term, on March 3, 2004 Newsom's signature Workforce Housing Initiative went down hard, as have most of the ballot measures he has supported. The one notable exception was last year's Proposition G, a measure Newsom created along with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to give Lennar Corp. the exclusive right to develop more than 10,000 homes and a new football stadium on Hunters and Candlestick points and through much of southeast San Francisco. That plan remains the centerpiece of Newsom's housing policy even as the housing market and the value of Lennar's stock have both collapsed.
When it comes to the Board of Supervisors, Newsom's candidates lose almost every time there's a closely contested race. In the last election, Newsom backed Joe Alioto, Ahsha Safai, and Sue Lee, all top fundraisers in their respective districts and all of them lost. Even in ultra-liberal District 9, where one of three well-qualified progressive candidates was virtually guaranteed to win, Newsom backed a business-friendly also-ran.
Two years before, Newsom gave his strong support to Doug Chan in conservative District 4 and Rob Black in District 6, home to Newsom nemesis Chris Daly. Newsom actively campaigned for both men harder than he has for any other supervisorial candidate and both lost.
Newsom even lost control of his own party. While he was campaigning for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primary, Daly, Peskin, and the progressives put together a campaign to take control of the Democratic County Central Committee, besting Newsom-backed alternatives.
That's not to say Newsom isn't a shrewd politician. Indeed, the one move that put him on the national political map was the same one that ensured his popularity and reelection in San Francisco: his decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples shortly after taking office in 2004.
There's no evidence to refute Newsom's claim that this was a principled decision stemming from his outrage at federal efforts to ban same-sex marriage. But as a side benefit, the move made Newsom of beloved figure among LGBT voters (who mostly cast their ballots for Gonzalez in 2003) and transformed Newsom from an ambitious and privileged young politician to an early civil rights leader in the eyes of many.
THE WAY HE WORKS
When Newsom unveiled his 2009-10 budget, it wasn't in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, where there's plenty of room for the press and public and where mayors have traditionally held these events. Instead, he made the announcement in his private inner office. And even though he invited local journalists, he filled the small room with department heads and supervisors and made the media peer in from an adjoining room. Then he spoke for nearly an hour and concluded the event without taking questions.
"I look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors," Newsom said, but nobody believed him.