In late October 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom shocked his supporters when he dropped out of the race to be the next governor of California.
He had long been pegged a rising star in the Democratic Party, but his campaign account was showing otherwise — he had only raised $3 million, which political analysts said was not enough to buy him even a week of advertising on TV.
Less than six months later, Newsom, still ambitious, announced his bid for a much more politically impotent position: lieutenant governor.
This past November, Newsom defeated Republican Abel Maldonado by 11 percentage points to win the state office. He will start his new job in the coming weeks — a year before his final term as mayor of San Francisco ends.
“I think that many thought his rise was going to be much more meteoric,” said Jim Ross, a political consultant who ran Newsom’s first mayoral campaign. “He ended up running for lieutenant governor, not governor, and that blunts the narrative of being a rising star.”
Some political insiders attribute Newsom’s failed gubernatorial campaign to his age and experience, being younger than 45. Others say he did not have the fundraising prowess that was needed to run a competitive race against an established Democrat like Jerry Brown.
And then there was the same-sex marriage issue, which made him popular in the Bay Area but alienated donors and voters in other parts of the state.
After dropping out of the race for governor, Newsom denied rumors that he was going to run for lieutenant governor during a local radio show appearance. “What does the lieutenant governor do?” Newsom said at the time. “For the life of me, I don’t know.”
He later changed his tune about the job and joined the race after local polls showed he would be a popular candidate.
On the campaign trail, he vowed to embrace the post and become an active steward of the environment and education.
During a recent interview with The San Francisco Examiner, he was asked how he might make the mostly ceremonial position of lieutenant governor more politically relevant.
“It is a great question that I have got to focus on after I deal with all of this,” Newsom said, referring to working on his last few weeks in city office.
He is not ruling out the possibility of seeking higher office down the road. Newsom said his obsession with public policy will almost certainly drive him to pursue political life beyond that, possibly another bid for governor.
“To deny that ever crossed my mind would be to deny a year and a half I was on the campaign trail [running for governor],” Newsom said.
But before making any commitments to political life beyond lieutenant governor, Newsom said he first wants to see if his activist approach to politics — the kind of actions like approving same-sex marriages in San Francisco — translates in Sacramento.
And if not?
“Then I’m not interested,” Newsom said. “Then I will go back to my restaurants, hotels and wineries.”
Unfinished business keeps departure date uncertain
Call it political games or the first big mystery of 2011, but Mayor Gavin Newsom’s swearing-in date for his post as lieutenant governor remains elusive.
Most state officials will be sworn in for their new terms today — including San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris as state attorney general — but Newsom will be delaying his as he continues to try to impact the outcome of the Board of Supervisors’ selection of an interim mayor.
The newest development in the guessing game around the swearing-in date is that Newsom will take office by Jan. 10. Late last week, he announced there will be an inaugural celebration on that day beginning at 1 p.m., and he will have taken office then or sometime before.
“Immediately following the celebration, the [lieutenant governor] will host an open house at his [state capital] office, where Californians are invited to meet him and his family,” the announcement said.
Postponing his swearing-in date is a move to ensure the current Board of Supervisors either makes a selection of interim mayor during its final meeting Tuesday that Newsom can live with, or ensure that the decision falls to the new board. On Jan. 8, four new members of the board take office, tilting the legislative body toward a more moderate makeup.
Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said the actual swearing-in date will depend on several factors, such as if the board makes a “responsible decision” for interim mayor Tuesday and if he is able to finish up “several important projects.”
The extra time, Winnicker said, “ensures a smoother and more stable transition.”
— Joshua Sabatini
Learn from your mistakes, Gavin
It has been said that making mistakes only means you are learning faster. If that is the case, Mayor Gavin Newsom has had some periods of very fast learning during the past seven years — periods that he would much rather not repeat. Here are a few of those learning-experience doozies that he would be wise to keep in mind as he moves on to higher office:
Avoid trysts with your campaign manager’s wife. In January 2007, Newsom’s close friend and staffer Alex Tourk walked off the job after learning his wife had an affair with his boss. Newsom pulled a mea culpa and managed to recover his reputation enough to win re-election that fall. However, voters might not forgive the offense twice.
Ask wife’s permission before tweeting your baby’s birth. While Jennifer Siebel Newsom was in labor, the mayor was pecking away at his phone, giving a blow-by-blow to the Twitterverse, until finally tweeting, “Jen doing great...Not sure she is happy I am on twitter.” Trust that instinct when baby No. 2
comes along this year.
In times of crisis, do not go to Hawaii. Newsom caught flak when, just hours after the massive Cosco Busan oil spill in November 2007, he took off for Hawaii. He did so again a month later after a tiger killed a teenager at the San Francisco Zoo. Two years later, right after dropping out of the gubernatorial race, he left town so quickly his staffers were not even sure where he was. When times get tough, the tough do not go on vacation.
Try not to give your critics material for their advertisements. Even Newsom’s closest allies began cringing when his bombastic declaration that same-sex marriage is “gonna happen whether you like it or not” showed up on anti-gay advertisements during the Proposition 8 campaign. It was not the sentiment; it was the swagger.
Eat something besides turkey wraps. Newsom told The San Francisco Examiner in July 2008 that he would send a staffer to the courthouse next to City Hall every day for a turkey wrap, which he would often eat en route to a meeting or event. While Sacramento’s cuisine perhaps cannot rival that of San Francisco, surely there are lunch spots that can provide him with a little variety in his diet.
— Katie Worth