Controversy raised over acting mayor appointment

Investigation: The letter designating Supervisor Carmen Chu as acting mayor on the right was signed by a staffer. Newsom signed a different version before his departure, shown on the left, a spokesman said.

The question of whether Mayor Gavin Newsom properly designated an acting mayor the morning he abruptly and unexpectedly jetted off to Hawaii may be decided by the City Attorney’s Office.

Newsom apparently took off Tuesday morning to spend time with his wife and recently born daughter, four days after quitting his campaign for governor of California.

The City Charter allows the mayor to appoint an acting mayor to serve in his place for when he is out of state, but must make the appointment before he leaves. Otherwise the Board of Supervisors’ president, currently Supervisor David Chiu, becomes acting mayor. That could give the progressive members of the board significant influence over government affairs in Newsom’s absence.

Supervisor Chris Daly, Newsom’s most outspoken critic on the board, said there are enough unanswered questions surrounding Newsom’s designation of an acting mayor to warrant an investigation. On Wednesday, Daly asked the city attorney for a “formal review” of the designation. The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

The Mayor’s Office dismissed Daly’s request.

“We’ve already discussed this with the city attorney,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. “There’s no disagreement that Carmen Chu is acting mayor.”

Daly, however, said there remain unresolved questions related to the designation. For one, the letter designating Supervisor Chu as acting mayor was submitted to the board’s clerk at 10:15 a.m., after Newsom left at 8:49 a.m. Also, Newsom’s signature on the document turned out to be a staffer’s, as The Examiner reported first. But Ballard said a different version of the letter was signed by the mayor Tuesday morning and provided The Examiner with a copy of that document.

Daly said that people “shrugged and smiled” Wednesday when he asked them who was mayor of The City, and said it remains a “legitimate question.”

Questions are also circulating about how Newsom was handling the fact he quit the governor’s race. While the letter indicates Newsom will return to San Francisco on Sunday, Ballard would not specify a certain day. Newsom says he will return “soon,” Ballard said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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