By Steven T. Jones
There were lots of different ways that Gavin Newsom could have reacted to news that he was having sex with an at-will employee who was also married to his close friend and top adviser, but almost all of them involved an apology. Here’s what he chose to say this morning, in its entirety, followed by why I think he has fallen short and sown the seeds for dragging out this scandal longer than necessary:
“Thank you for coming here on such short notice. I want to make it clear that everything you’ve heard and read is true and I’m deeply sorry about that. I’ve hurt someone I care deeply about, Alex Tourk and his friends and family, and that is something I have to live with and something that I’m deeply sorry for. I am also sorry that I’ve let the people of San Francisco down. They expect a lot of their mayor and my personal lapse of judgment aside, I am committed to restoring their trust and confidence and will work very hard in the coming months to make sure the business of running this city is framed appropriately. I also want to extend a personal apology to everyone in our administration, to my staff who I just met with, to my friends and my family members. I am deeply sorry and I am accountable for what has occurred and have now begun the process of reconciling it and will now begin working aggressively to advance our agenda in this city and to work hard to build again the trust, to restore the trust, that the people of San Francisco have afforded me. I appreciate everyone taking the time to be here today. Thank you very much.”
Let’s start at the beginning, with his blanket admission that “everything you’ve heard and read is true.” For one thing, what’s been reported by the media so far is only part of the full story that has circulated though political and media circles. I don’t want to traffic in rumors that I can’t substantiate from a primary source, but I expect more aspects of this story to trickle out in the days ahead. Some of those aspects involve legal liabilities for him and the city, others speak directly to his disengagement with important duties and respect for the office he occupies. But we don’t know what he’s even apologizing for, let alone how he intends to make amends. His problems with the Tourks are personal, but his violations of the public trust are concerns for all of us.
Yet as we continue to read his statement, it becomes clear that he wants to quickly put “my personal lapse of judgment aside” and get back to business. He goes so far as to say he “will now begin working aggressively to advance our agenda in this city,” something he hasn’t done much of over the last year, while he’s been more focused on women and his celebrity lifestyle than the tough business of running San Francisco. So now, without engaging in any dialogue with the public (he didn’t take any questions at the press conference, just as he has been ducking question time with the Board of Supervisors), he’s ready to move on. How does he intend to do that? His moral authority is severely diminished, his best staffers are gone and those that remain will have a hard time trusting him or showing much loyalty, his press secretary has been shown to be a liar (something Newsom also just dismissed yesterday), and the supervisors that he’s been lashing out at for months aren’t going to be eager to hand back the reins of leadership that Newsom dropped over a year ago.
But despite all of this, and all the increasing frustrations that we’ve had with Newsom and his tactics over the last year, most of us would truly welcome a genuine effort by Newsom to reconcile with those he’s hurt and begin to rebuild the trust that he began to build in his first year of office before changing tactics and slipping into a kind of megalomania. Yet his statement today doesn’t inspire much hope that his transformation is genuine. This is a troubled man who needs to do some serious soul searching and perhaps consider getting some professional help. Or he can remain in deep denial over his standing with the public and the basic dishonesty of some of his public and private stands and just keep plowing forward.
It’s really up to him, at least for awhile. San Francisco isn’t a moralistic town, and we tend to forgive almost any sin accept disingenuousness. This is a turning point. Newsom won’t be able to keep sliding by on his looks, charm, connections, and privileged background. And if he can’t dig deep and find something substantial to fill that void, then he might as well announce he’s not seeking reelection now and save us all the trouble of removing him.