Mayor Gavin Newsom claims to love San Francisco, its incredible diversity, its varied cultures and its rich traditions.
He’s run two campaigns based on honoring those ideals, and the voters have responded. In many ways, he’s been one of the luckiest young politicians in America, appearing at just the right time, in a difficult place, to lead a famously liberal bastion from a moderate center.
It has been an often-wild ride, from soaring heights of popularity to dark days of personal failure. Newsom was at times energized and enthusiastic, and alternately disinterested and disconnected. That drift was viewed as the constant critique of his administration — that he failed to use his considerable political capital to hold sway over the town’s fractious interests and instead played defense against the constant push from his progressive opponents.
Yet, he still has remained the sole gatekeeper against the most extreme desires of the majority of supervisors, who view San Francisco’s budget as a fund for social experimentation and ideologically driven goals. He proved himself to be fiscally focused while managing a gamut of runaway union contracts and mind-boggling pension costs, all the while battling against a budget deficit that’s grown deeper each year.
The battle made Newsom juiced and justifiably torn. He saw a potential opening in the governor’s race, only to discover what a monumental climb it is from the Civic Center to the Statehouse. He withdrew from the campaign and announced he was ready to spend his last two years addressing San Francisco needs and finalizing two monumental development projects that would secure his political legacy.
And now he’s threatening to leave it all behind again for a do-nothing job as lieutenant governor, a post he openly derided just a few months ago. And about the best reason he can come up with for running is that it appears he can win.
That’s beyond lame duck. That’s lame.
A word of advice from those paid to give it: Run, don’t walk, away from the thought of leaving San Francisco in a time of great need. Cities last a lifetime; overambitious politicians do not. And if Newsom turns his back on the town he says he loves, he will undo in one false move everything during the past six years he’s worked to create.
Not only would Newsom deliver to his opponents the keys to The City and an open casting call for surrealistic political theater, he would give his progressive critics an inside chance to win the mayor’s job even though they know none of them could ever win a citywide election.
Even worse, he’d be paving an unsettled course for the next decade. Next year, a panel comprised of nine members — three appointed by the mayor, three by the Board of Supervisors and three by The City’s Elections Commission — will redraw the supervisor district boundaries for the next five elections. If Newsom leaves and the progressive majority on the board appoints his successor, progressives will have six votes to redraw the boundaries as they please.
I am not here to try to stifle Newsom’s career plans. In fact, I was one of the first to note his talents and suggest that he might one day be mayor. He clearly has a future in politics because even his many detractors can’t ignore his charisma, policy strengths and public rapport when he’s on the stump.
So there’s no doubting that Newsom has a big future in politics. What he needs to realize is that the future is not now.
If Newsom decides not to serve out his term as mayor, he will have lost the support of a base that’s absolutely necessary to his political plans. And he will learn that people may forgive, but they don’t forget.
The mayor prides himself on big ideas, championing issues like Care Not Cash. Now he needs to show San Francisco he cares, and not cash in.
Ken Garcia appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Examiner. Check out his blog at sfexaminer.com/opinion or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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