Newsom's personal columnist

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By Steven T. Jones
The Examiner's Ken Garcia just loves to sneer at progressives and puff up Mayor Gavin Newsom, as he did again yesterday. In fact, this seems to be Garcia's sole raison d'etre. Yet the problem with Garcia disguising his mayoral flackery as independent journalism is that some ill-informed readers might actually believe what he has to say, no matter no bogus his points or flawed his logic.

First of all, let me concede the main point of Garcia's column, which is that progressives don't yet have a mayoral candidate, which doesn't speak well for the strength of the movement or its chances of beating Newsom. True. But then Garcia takes this kernel of truth into a kind of alternate universe fantasy land where facts don't matter and Garcia and Newsom rule from on high, unchallenged, hand in hand.

"It is fairly remarkable that here it is, mid-May, and the so-called progressives haven’t found a candidate to run against Newsom, a point that underscores the weakness of their positions," Garcia writes.

Just because progressives are reluctant to run against a play-it-safe celebrity mayor with millions of dollars in the bank and untapped stores of political capital doesn't mean our policy positions aren't strong. Hell, it is the nature of progressive politics that it's tough to raise money from the very people that you're trying to get to share their wealth. Yet any unbiased look at what's been happening at City Hall these last three years shows that progressives are running this city while Newsom is content to play the figurehead and send out some press releases while sometimes playing the obstructionist to politicians who are actually doing something (hence all that stored up political capital).

Progressives are responsible for the high minimum wage, increased affordable housing requirements, paid sick leave, employer-provided health insurance requirements, police foot patrols, limits on condo conversions and new chain stores, creation of more car-free spaces, downtown development standards that limit car ownership, and every significant thing that has come out of City Hall since Newsom made the move to Room 200. His only real initiatives -- creating a citywide wifi system that will turn city residents into Google and Earthlink customers and programs like his community courts ideas that crack down on the homeless -- were so badly conceived and poorly executed that they look to be dead on arrival.

Garcia belittles each possible mayoral candidate, including the most likely, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, "who is hardly known outside of his very left-leaning District 5, and has few credentials beyond being the person who authored the legislation to allow ambitious politicians to raid The City’s general fund of up to $6 million to run for mayor." Nevermind that Mirkarimi has been the most effective politician in town at addressing a crime rate that shot up under Newsom, including overriding a mayoral veto to finally force the cops to get out of their cars a do foot patrols, a wildly popular and effective program. Mirkarimi also authored complex and controversial legislation regulating the pot clubs in town -- something Newsom was afraid to wade into but ultimately supported. Mirkarimi also made international headlines by authoring legislation to ban grocery stores for using plastic bags, again taking on an issue that Newsom was too timid to touch. As founder of the California Green Party, Mirkarimi was actively involved in politics well before Newsom was appointed into the political world. You can argue about whether Mirkarimi is mayoral material, but to negate his record is just plain dishonest.

In total, it looks to me a lot like Garcia is carrying water for Newsom, with whom Garcia meets privately with more regularity than any reporter in town (personally, I've only been granted two sit-downs with Newsom in three years, despite my standing unfulfilled request that Newsom meet with the Guardian editorial board). Other reporters around town also have a hard time being granted exclusive face time, but apparently not the ever-supportive Garcia. So I asked him about it and here is our e-mail exchange:

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Jones [ mailto:Steve@sfbg.com]
Sent: Wed 5/16/2007 11:37 AM
To: Ken Garcia
Cc: Tim Redmond
Subject: You and Gavin

Ken,
Do you still have a standing breakfast meeting with Newsom? How often does that take place? And how would you respond to the accusation that you're trading access for your fawning columns about him and attacks on his enemies?
As to the substance of your column yesterday, why would you so deceptively misrepresent Mirkarimi's record? Surely, you are aware that he authored legislation requiring police foot patrols (overcoming your guy's veto in the process), creating a regulatory system for pot clubs that your guy praised, and banning the distribution of plastic bags by grocery stores, among many other things. And you must be aware that all of the most significant legislation from Newsom's term -- from the Health Access Plan to downtown development standards that discourage car use -- all came from the progressives on the board. In fact, I can't think of a single significant piece of legislation that Newsom proposed that has been signed into law, can you?
It's fine if you want to be a cheerleader, but in the past you have claimed to be a journalist. If so, why are you misrepresenting so many facts?

Steven T. Jones
City Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian
(415) 487-2552

-----Original Message-----
From: Ken Garcia [mailto:kgarcia@examiner.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2007 12:10 PM
To: Steve Jones
Cc: Tim Redmond
Subject: RE: You and Gavin

Steve:

And here I was all set to send you a nice note about you piece on Warren Hellman, about as fair and balanced a story as I've seen in your paper in, well, forever.

First of all the column was on the inability of progressives to field a candidate. It was hardly "fawning'' on Newsom anymore so than it was critical of Mirkarimi, who I said was little-known outside of his district. That is true.

I'm sure we'll all have time to vet Ross' record, and if he turns out to be the candidate, I will certainly be among those doing so. But that's not what this column was about - and I apparently timed it just right since SFBG is apparently springing fot the money to pay for Daly's big confab. [note from stj: Actually, we're not]

We could argue about what legislation is most significant, but I'm glad to see it's coming out of the legislative branch - since that's their job. And Newsom is weak and vulnerable on a number of issues - which I have pointed out in past columns.

So take a deep breath and step aside from the high horse. It's going to be a long campaign (I hope) and there should be plenty of fun for all involved.

Nice piece on Hellman. Really.

Cheers,

KG

-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Jones [mailto:Steve@sfbg.com]
Sent: Wed 5/16/2007 12:33 PM
To: Ken Garcia
Cc: Tim Redmond
Subject: RE: You and Gavin

Thanks for the praise on my Hellman piece, but I would argue that just about everything I write is fair to all sides and honestly tries to take all facts into account, even inconvenient ones. We all strive for that standard here at the Guardian, whether or not you agree with the conclusions we ultimately draw. That's why I wanted to ask about your regular meetings with Newsom, a question you didn't answer. I believe that you're the only journalist in town to get regular face-time with the mayor, and you are also the only journalist in town who so dutifully parrots his talking points. I'd like to write a blog post on this, but I also wanted to give you the opportunity to contest either my facts or my interpretation.

Steven T. Jones
City Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian
(415) 487-2552

Steve:

I do not have a "breakfast meeting'' with the mayor or even a standing meeting. But I do meet with him whenever I can get on his schedule. Lately that's been about once every three or four weeks. If the City Hall reporters assigned covering his office don't interview him more than that, I would suggest they're not doing their jobs.

And I don't parrot his "talking points'' because I don't know what they are. I do agree with him on some positions, such as the need for a community court in the Tenderloin and that it is wrong for the board of supervisors to try and slam in supplemental funding projects into the budget in May. I know that the Guardian and its editors disagree with that position, but that doesn't imply that you're "parroting'' Chris Daly's or Ross Mirkarimi's stance on issues. We just have different opinions.

So any blog or dispatch accusing me of such would be flat out wrong, not that it would stop you from writing it. Reasonable people can agree to disagree on issues, but attacking me only points out that advocacy politics are no substitute for a fair assessment of the facts.

Allbest,

KG

Thanks for the response. And I really do appreciate the feedback on my Hellman piece. Take care.

Steven T. Jones
City Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian
(415) 487-2552