By Steven T. Jones
Mayor Gavin Newsom is the culprit. He’s the elected official, the boss, the guardian of the public treasury, the guy asking for our continued trust, the only reason why anyone cares who Ruby Rippey-Tourk fucked.
Amid all the chatter about Newsom girlfriend Jennifer Siebel’s nasty comments about Rippey-Tourk, few people have keyed in to what strikes me as the most important revelation in all of this: Newsom appears to have lied when, upon admitting the affair, he proclaimed, “I am accountable for what has occurred.”
Newsom has proven himself anything but accountable since then. He has refused to answer questions about the incident or the alleged alcohol abuse treatment he’s chosen to seek, even as there have been new revelations about improper payoffs to Rippey-Tourk using public funds and ethical questions raised about his rehab.
Except for one softball television interview, Newsom has refused to field any questions on the subject from the public or media, acting like a wounded victim or a blind and deaf man whenever I or anyone else has tried to press the issue at public events (something we’re forced to do by Newsom’s refusal to hold regular press conferences). Absent that accountability, we’re left to sift through the tea leaves of his girlfriend’s extensive comments – which, it seems clear, are based on what Newsom has told her-- to learn how Newsom really feels about Rippey-Tourk and his own culpability in the affair.
In other words, this is closest thing we’ve seen to Newsom’s true feelings about what happened (an account that Newsom has yet to disavow, going on three days later). And the results are not pretty, revealing Newsom to be a dishonest and dishonorable cad who still doesn’t have a clue as to what he did wrong.
Let’s start with money quote – “the woman is the culprit” – a well-worn phrase that causes feminists everywhere to cringe. But it seems to sum up the perspective that Siebel offered in her Chronicle interview, in which she cast Newsom as the unfortunate victim of a tainted woman and mean journalists. "All of this stuff that happened and came out was in a darker period of Gavin's life: going through a divorce, losing his mother, being under all the pressure he is under. The supervisors and The Chronicle have not made things any easier. It's amazing that he's as sane and healthy and down-to-earth as he is."
The article repeatedly indicates that she takes Newsom at his word, twice talking about his honesty and saying, “At the end of the day, what it comes down to: We connected right away, we communicated right away.” I’ve already written about whether she’s being gullible and some of the other disturbing parts of this article (such as the strange “arranged marriage” aspect of this), but let’s keep the focus on Newsom. Clearly, her understanding of this affair came straight from Newsom.
So let’s move on to the more frank and extensive comments that Siebel made in her SFist post, beginning with the most disturbing passage: “what's your definition of affair? he's been so hurt by this all -- personally and professionally- and it was a few nothing incidents when she showed up passed out outside of his door. come on guys, have a heart. I have tried to see Ruby's side of the story but unfortunately everyone near to her has stories and says she is bad news.”
I’m not quite sure how she justifies Newsom having sex with someone who has just passed out on his doorstep. If accurate, there are serious legal issues raised by someone having sex with a woman too inebriated to give her informed consent. Even if we assume this disturbing portrait is exaggerated, it still seems to flow from a narrative that we do know, which is that Rippey-Tourk was having substance abuse problems that last May landed her in rehab. Most observers think that places all the more responsibility on Newsom – her boss and the boss and friend of her husband – not to take advantage of the situation. Newsom and Siebel seem to believe just the opposite, that Ruby had it coming because “she is bad news.”
Now is a good time for me to repeat an earlier point. Newsom is the only player in this drama that matters to the public. The rest is sex and gossip. It doesn’t matter whether Rippey-Tourk was a bad mother, a bad wife, or a completely train wreck (and I’m not saying any of these things, although many blog commenters are) who seduced our poor hapless mayor. All that should matters is that our mayor had sex with a subordinate, in the process betraying Alex Tourk (a close friend and confidante who was his deputy chief of staff and later his reelection campaign manager), and that he oversaw a payout of more than $10,000 in taxpayer money to that subordinate. Everything else is just sex. But Siebel’s comments are not just about sex, they are about whether our mayor is an honorable man who has accepted responsibility for his actions and deserves a second chance and a second term.
Siebel wrote, “but i am not going to blindly support a woman who has cheated on her husband multiple times and watch while my boyfriend is the only one who gets punished..and, what, for something a long time ago when the man was going through a crises- divorce, the loss of his mother, the pressures of being mayor, etc. and he was vulnerable and lonely?”
For the record, Rippey-Tourk says Siebel’s comments are untrue, the Guardian has no reason to believe it’s true, and there has been nobody who has produced any evidence that Rippey-Tourk had multiple affairs. In fact, that statement is probably libelous, which is why the Chronicle was afraid to print it (we consulted our own lawyer and were told we could discuss it in this context provided that we indicate that it is simply an unfounded accusation). And it certainly seems to follow in the ugly tradition of exploring the sexual histories of women who have raped or otherwise taken advantage of, as if they are Jezebels who deserve whatever they get. But the most important question here: Where do you think Siebel heard that version? Who planted and reinforced the notion that Rippey-Tourk was some kind she-devil on a mission to bring down angels? Did Newsom trash a woman that he once took advantage of in order to excuse his own behaviors? Is that really how he thinks about what happened?
Siebel also seems to share Newsom’s perspective that the press is the problem, not the substance of what the press is writing about, whether it be his record of broken political promises or his unwillingness to come clean about his scandals. “I hate the press,” Siebel said, noting that she had been tricked into the Chronicle interview and misquoted (even though the Chron’s Cecelia Vega noted that Siebel had praised the Chron for its article). “the press just decided to make it that. also, something to consider, we have so much power as women and yet it's taken away by stuff like this- gossip and mistruths.”
So sayeth the trafficker in Rippey-Tourk gossip and mistruths, the woman who has chosen to trash the Tourks even as they have been silent throughout this scandal, refusing to make any public comments about Newsom.
“i just wish her the best in her recovery and marriage and i just wish that she would leave gavin and i alone and stop causing all of this drama and gossip. she did a bad thing to her husband and needs to take responsibility. gavin is and has taken responsiblity and it's not like i haven't given him tough love through this at times. but anyone close to him knows he is a good man and a great mayor,” she wrote.
For the record, Rippey-Tourk has taken responsibility, sought real help, tried to make amends, and came clean to her husband (which is how this story broke in the first place, much to the secretive mayor’s chagrin). Newsom, by contrast, seems to be denying his responsibility, both to the public and to his girlfriend.
I, too, am trying to show the mayor a little tough love, which I frankly don’t think he’s actually getting much from Siebel or the sycophants that he’s surrounded himself with. That’s part of the problem. Newsom and his people seem to feel so entitled to their position, so destined for bigger things, so disdainful of questions they didn’t write themselves that they’ve forgotten that running a city is tough business that requires them to interact with the media, the Board of Supervisors, and maybe a hundred other constituencies. They’ve become brittle and unaccountable, even more so since he made his statement that, “I am accountable.”
Newsom should now be assumed to share Siebel’s disturbing perspective, but it doesn’t have to be that way if he wants to truly be accountable. He can do that by starting to hold regular press conference and public forums in which he’ll answer all questions on any topic. And he can do that by heeding the will of the voters who passed Prop. I and want him to appear at monthly meetings of the Board of Supervisors to discuss important policy matters. In other words, he can start acting like a mayor, rather than a celebrity.
Or, he can remain bunkered down in his fantasy world of victimhood and resentment, with an adoring if vapid girlfriend who thinks he’s the “best mayor in the world.” Because at this point, I think she’s the only one who feels that way.