I really have to hand it to former Mayor Gavin Newsom. In his last week in office, he engineered San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor and first Hispanic district attorney. You can bet he will be bragging about this in between sharpening pencils and playing solitaire as lieutenant governor.
On Sunday, Newsom appointed police Chief George Gascón as district attorney to replace Kamala Harris, who is now California’s attorney general. I like Gascón, but no one (not even Gascón himself) saw this one coming. That explains all the e-mails I received asking, “Why Gascón?”
Newsom’s brain is a complicated place and I do pretend to know how this came about, but here are three reasons why this appointment makes sense for Newsom:
- On a policy level, Gascón will hopefully stop some of the finger-pointing that goes on between the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department. Basically, the office thinks the police cannot catch a cold, and the SFPD thinks the office cannot convict a confessor. Gascón is expected to motivate both sides to fight crime instead of each other.
- Gascón is not a placeholder — he will run for district attorney this year. In the meantime, he will be tested and might very well shine. The trial of Edwin Ramos is coming up this year. Ramos is an undocumented immigrant with a long rap sheet who allegedly shot and killed three members of the Bologna family, sparking a review of The City’s sanctuary policy. Remember that, unlike Harris, Gascón is not against the death penalty. If he does moderately well in this position, other candidates, such as Newsom foe Jim Hammer, may rethink whether to run.
- If Gascón performs well, it will highlight the shortcomings of Harris’ tenure. Do not let Newsom’s public political platitudes about respecting Harris fool you — they are about 30 seconds away from being rivals for even-higher office. If Gascón can make Harris look bad, it is a score for Newsom.
Chiu may owe assignments for re-election
On Saturday, David Chiu was re-elected president of the Board of Supervisors. Here is how it went down.
Carmen Chu nominated Sean Elsbernd; John Avalos tried to nominate Ross Mirkarimi, but a surprised Mirkarimi refused the nomination; Jane Kim nominated David Chiu, and the clerk proceeded to call out both “David Chiu” and “David Kim”; and David Campos nominated Avalos.
So in Round 1 we had Elsbernd, Chiu and Avalos up for the position. With 11 votes split three ways, no one received the six votes required to be elected.
Then, Elsbernd basically said, “I don’t want to be here all day” and mercifully withdrew his candidacy. The four moderates who had voted for Elsbernd switched to Chiu. The final vote in the second round was 8-3 with Avalos, Campos and Mirkarimi the only people voting for Avalos. Chiu was thus declared president.
The most fun, powerful part of being board president is the fact that you assign people to committees where proposed laws can die. Look for new committee assignments to be announced soon. What can we expect?
Though he has been inexplicably spared the ire of progressives, remember that Supervisor Eric Mar departed from progressives and voted for Ed Lee as interim mayor and also Chiu for president.
What is in it for Mar? Look for Chiu to give Mar a plum committee assignment. Perhaps chairman of the powerful Land Use Committee, where Mar has served without distinction as a regular member for the past two years.
And while Elsbernd supporters probably would not have supported Avalos anyway, as a “thank you” for delivering four votes in the second round, Elsbernd will likely receive a fancy committee assignment too — perhaps chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.
As one of the few supervisors with a demonstrable grasp of math, it is a position that Elsbernd deserves.
Best of Newsom’s wise, witty spokesman
Tony Winnicker will retire from his post after assisting in the transition to Mayor Ed Lee’s (as yet unnamed) communications director. Winnicker took on the post about a year ago when former Mayor Gavin Newsom was suffering from Pouty Mayor Syndrome (PMS), having dropped his bid to be governor and left for Hawaii.
Since then, Newsom has run for and won the lieutenant governor’s seat, passed a budget despite abysmal city finances and secured the America’s Cup for San Francisco in 2013. Through it all, Winnicker worked around the clock deftly defending Newsom (no easy task) without losing his sense of humor.
And so, I give you my five favorite quotes from outgoing mayoral spokesman Tony Winnicker.
1. “There’s no reason to be concerned about the birds. I was there, and they were tweeting, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’,’ right along with the music.” — After receiving a complaint that the fireworks at a Giants celebration scared birds.
2. “If there’s anyone who can drive a man to want to drink, it’s Chris Daly.” — On ex-Supervisor Chris Daly’s idea to open a bar.
3. “We report. We don’t deport.” — Explaining that the sanctuary policy was meant to force federal officials (not local ones) to enforce immigration laws, not to protect criminals from having their identitites revealed to the government.
4. “It must have gotten lost in the mail or we haven’t received it yet. It can take several days for mail to get here from Fairfield, you know.” — On Newsom not receiving an invitation to Daly’s roast.
5. “When you land at SFO, there’s a sign in the baggage claim section that says, ‘Mayor Gavin Newsom welcomes you to San Francisco.’ He’s not there. Nobody feels misled. This is the same kind of thing.” — On sending out a news release “welcoming” a SwissAir flight despite the fact that the mayor was in Los Angeles at the time.