The two Newsoms - Page 4

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

He made that same promise in January and then refused to work with supervisors or even to signal his intentions with the direction of this secretive budget.

It was an event that was in many ways emblematic of Newsom's tenure as mayor, which he has always insisted be conducted on his terms, even when those terms contradict provisions of the City Charter, ignore his supposed partners in governance, or infer an almost kingly power that denies the notion of checks and balances on power.

"It's totally top secret. They're trying to control the message as much as possible," Sup. John Avalos, chair of the boards' Budget Committee, told us before the event. "It's going to be a gubernatorial campaign event, with a carefully crafted message that has more statewide implication than local implications."

Newsom visited the supervisors fewer times than any mayor, a trend with both real and symbolic meaning. Former Mayor Willie Brown was often criticized for heavy-handed tactics, but at least he was engaged with the political process by being willing to take on his political opponents and fight it out in public.

Newsom ended the tradition of delivering the legally required State of the City speech at the board chambers, instead holding it in locations around the city that emphasized something his political advisors found important.

Then last year, he dispensed with the speech entirely and highlighted what a tech-savvy hipster he is by releasing a set of marathon YouTube videos, 7.5 hours in all, and calling it his State of the City speech, a stunt that was universally panned by local journalists, even by normally sycophantic Examiner columnist Ken Garcia.

Newsom's administration earned repeated condemnations from the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force for withholding public documents and information, from internal e-mail to his daily schedule.

"Withholding information is the name of the game for this administration. It's how they work," Avalos said.

Newsom had developed such a reputation for political disengagement that voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition I in 2006, calling for the mayor to show up at Board of Supervisors meetings once a month for policy discussions. But Newsom simply refused to go, deriding the idea as "political theater" and announcing that he would instead hold regular forums in the community, which turned out to be highly scripted political events with department heads required to attend.

It wasn't the last time he would use department heads as campaign props. The next year, in September 2007, Newsom suddenly decided (without seeking any legal advice first) to ask for resignation letters from all department heads and top officials, as well as appointees to city board and commissions.

Although he cast it as a bold, fresh move to shake things up, Newsom didn't have the authority to do so. Many commission members serve fixed terms to prevent the mayor from exercising just this kind of political pressure on supposedly independent bodies.

Ultimately Newsom accepted only a few of the more than 200 resignations he requested. But the message was clear that Newsom was in charge and that he demanded the personal loyalty of those who serve in city government. Not long after, he summarily fired two popular and effective department heads — Susan Leal at the Public Utilities Commission and Margaret Brodkin at the Department of Children Youth and Families — because they were taking independent steps and not following the mayor's script.


Newsom is campaigning as a man of integrity. "I'm not the kind of person who says one thing in private and does another in public. You will know where I stand," he told the California Democratic Party Convention on April 25.

Yet at the end of January 2007, we got a telling peek at the actual moral fiber of Team Newsom.