The two Newsoms - Page 6

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

urged Newsom to reverse his support for installing two city-owned combustion turbine power plants, which he complied with within two weeks of the May 5 request (see "Ongoing threat," 5/21/08).

Critics contend that PG&E didn't want any public power projects, and even though Newsom told the Guardian that he supported public power during both of his mayoral election endorsement interviews, he went along with PG&E's wishes (claiming it was really about fossil fuel generation, not public power).

But within a few months Newsom decided he was actually against public power, using the new stance as his reason for opposing the Clean Energy Act (which would have set high renewable energy standards and created a study asking whether public power was the best way to meet those goals). After PG&E spent more than $10 million, the most ever on a San Francisco campaign, the Clean Energy Act was soundly defeated last November.

Yet confronting Newsom about any of his contradictions, flip-flops, and unsavory actions can get questioners black-balled. KGO-TV reporter Dan Noyes was shut out of the Mayor's Office after he asked tough questions. And earlier this year, Newsom blocked me on Twitter after I publicly questioned his penchant for the communications medium (and the spelling errors that riddled his tweets).

"He's notorious for having a thin skin," Ammiano told us, relaying a recent incident in which Newsom called Ammiano early one morning to yell at him after a blog quoted Ammiano for raising concerns that Newsom's budget cuts are undermining the Healthy San Francisco program.

Peskin used these adjectives to describe Newsom: narcissistic, defensive, insecure, petulant, thin-skinned, and paranoid.

"Like a lot of people who come from privilege, he's a do-gooder. And that, a lot of times, doesn't allow him to see the forest for the trees," Ammiano said.

It is that gulf between how Newsom is and how he presents himself that frustrates many San Franciscans.

"If Gavin Newsom were as effective as he's selling himself as, we certainly wouldn't be in the mess we're in," said Debra Walker, a progressive activist, member of the Building Inspection Commission, and candidate to replace Chris Daly on the Board of Supervisors. "The problem is, he's charming. He does well at power points and engaging the audience. He's good. But we all know it's empty. He doesn't have much to do with government. He's just not engaged."

Cook told us that Newsom "has not worked closely with the Board of Supervisors." But as he runs for governor, he's attempting to portray that political isolation as a kind of strength.

"In this economic environment," said Barbara O'Connor, a political communication professor at Sacramento State University, "it's the only message he has."


Whether or not Newsom fits the image of the postpartisan pragmatist he's running as, most political experts say that's what Californians — frustrated that the two major parties have essentially fought to a stalemate — are looking for right now.

"The whole postpartisan argument is more or less where voters are here in California," Cook said.

"They want someone who's going to come in and take charge," O'Connor said. "You want something good at win-win conflict resolution, but not someone who will do anything for votes."

It's unclear at this point whether Californians will see Newsom as a smarmy politician pandering for votes, or the real deal example of a next-generation political leader.

"There are disconnects and there are hypocrisies, but they're not going to matter a helluva lot.