The two Newsoms - Page 5

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

That was the week a pair of simmering scandals burst into public view, both of which were handled disingenuously by Newsom (see "Newsom's scandals," 2/7/07).

The first was an incident in which Newsom's press secretary, Peter Ragone, was caught by the SFist blog using fake names to post comments to that and other blogs attacking Newsom's critics. When confronted about it by the Guardian and other journalists, he lied and blamed the posts on an imaginary friend, only admitting the truth once he was finally cornered.

But that admission was overshadowed by even bigger news that day, Jan. 31, when the San Francisco Chronicle printed a long-rumored story about Newsom's affair with his political appointments secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, who was married to Newsom's reelection campaign manager and close confidante, Alex Tourk.

Newsom held a brief press conference to admit that "everything you've heard and read is true and I'm deeply sorry about that" and say he was getting back to business. He took no questions.

The next day he announced he had a drinking problem and was seeking help from the Delancey Street Foundation. Again, he took no questions and offered no answers about how he was casually dealing with that intensive (and politically connected) program (see "Sorta, maybe an alcoholic," 2/28/07).

A month later, controversial press secretary Ragone was moved from the Mayor's Office to Newsom's reelection campaign. Today, Ragone is the spokesperson for the gubernatorial campaign.

His replacement, Nate Ballard, has been every bit the scorched earth political operative, using glib put-downs to respond to serious requests for information and offering up belittling one-liners to attack progressive supervisors. Together with political consultant Eric Jaye, the ambitious trio is widely considered to be running the Mayor's Office.

For years, Team Newsom has been perceived as looking beyond San Francisco and failing to establish any significant political base here.

"He's not put together any kind of coalition. He is sort of an island," University of San Francisco political science professor Corey Cook told us.

Neither has Newsom been the reliable representative of business interests the downtown power brokers thought they were getting when they dumped money into his 2003 mayoral campaign. Many privately grumble that their desires have taken a back seat to Newsom's personal ambitions.

But there are several well-documented examples of Newsom flipping his position on an issue after getting a call from a high-profile supporter. The first significant one came in December 2005 when Gap, Inc. founder Don Fisher convened a meeting to demand that Newsom oppose an ordinance limiting the amount of parking that could be built along with housing in the downtown core, progressive legislation championed by Newsom's planning director Dean Macris.

Fisher and other downtown power brokers were angry with Newsom for being disengaged and letting progressives take control of the city's agenda. As Guardian reporting later revealed (see "Joining the battle," 2/8/06), Newsom agreed to oppose the legislation and support an alternative written by a group of developer attorneys, which went nowhere. He eventually vetoed the good legislation, demanded some pro-developer loopholes, and signed the weakened legislation.

Another notable corporate-inspired flip-flop came last year when Pacific Gas and Electric Co.