Garcia: Twisted scandal may have another chapter

It can’t be easy trying to take the high road when all the attention is focused elsewhere.

Yet that mostly isolated perch is where Ruby Rippey-Tourk, San Francisco’s scarlet woman, finds herself today, purposely removed from all the buzz and the rumors she helped create when news of her affair with Mayor Gavin Newsom broke earlier this year — a scandal that threatened to rock The City’s political establishment and shoot down several high-flying careers.

But a funny thing happened along the course of predicted consequences: It didn’t turn out the way anyone quite expected. That was brought home with some clarity thisweek when one-time mayoral aspirant Matt Gonzalez announced that he would not run, leaving Newsom in the remarkable position of being an incumbent mayor with no serious opposition in a town that treats politics as a contact sport.

Flash back to February when Newsom’s vociferous enemies, of whom there are many, saw blood in the water after the mayor publicly acknowledged his affair with Rippey-Tourk, his former appointments aide and the wife of his deputy chief of staff, Alex Tourk. Newsom’s critics finally thought they had the opening they needed to bring down the popular mayor — even more so when he also admitted to a drinking problem — and his vocal bashers seemed primed to exploit the first big crisis of his administration.

Yet it only took a few weeks for the public to apparently overlook Newsom’s personal failings, and his poll numbers — which sagged during the news coverage of the affair — bounced back to a favorable rating of more than 70 percent. Alex Tourk, who is probably among the most well-known and liked political operatives in The City, was painted in the press as a wronged man, and his refusal to discuss the events publicly just seemed to win him more support.

But not so for his wife, whose only acknowledgment was that she was in recovery for cocaine and alcohol addiction. Rippey-Tourk became the focus of vicious and often partisan attacks in the media, a cheater and backstabber and much worse — even having to suffer the indignity of the mayor’s current girlfriend weighing in on the affair.

Rippey-Tourk has still not spoken publicly about the affair, though it hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning out stories of her “activities.’’ This week, her name surfaced in the blog of a Channel 7 television newsman not known for his accuracy, in which he stated that Rippey-Tourk was writing a book about her life.

She has said it’s not true, though not completely inaccurate. I know this because I havespoken to Rippey-Tourk several times since the initial story broke, though she will not discuss anything on the record. She has clearly not benefited from her refusal to talk, though there appears to be no lack of suitors trying to get her to capitalize on her notoriety. She has received lures from TV shows, a local publisher who wanted her to do a “quickie’’ book timed for release before the November election — and the standard pictorial offer from Playboy.

At one point, Rippey-Tourk did work on the outline of a book with a local writer, but that project fell through when it became clear that the desire of others to focus on the affair with the mayor did not necessarily mesh with her own.

Rippey-Tourk wants to tell her story at some point, but it centers on a woman who broke up her family and is now on the long road to recovery. She has been sober for more than a year and recently decided to start a Web site for others trying to deal with substance abuse.

The idea, she has said, is to create a network for people to share their stories about their descent down a glass and their efforts to rise from the fall. Her story is hardly filled with self-pity — she takes full responsibility for her actions, which resulted in a split with her husband.

How long her silence will last is anyone’s guess. But while she won’t respond to almost all the media inquiries, it’s interesting to note that Alex Tourk hosted a splashy party this week for his new consulting firm, and the mayor, who at one time appeared extremely vulnerable, appears to be in a solo sprint toward a second term.

The third person in that group is just as young and ambitious. Will she remain in the shadows? In this story, that would be a surprise.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415)359-2663.

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