Ken Garcia: Mayor ready to strike back after supervisors’ petty meddling

Mark it on your calendar: This is the week the 2007 San Francisco mayoral race began, the start of which will undoubtedly be a bruising, contact-filled campaign.

The only question is, who’s going to be willing to step into the ring with The City’s most popular politician?

I recently suggested that Mayor Gavin Newsom needed to stop trying to appease his critics and start fighting his opponents, who have been trying to nibble away at his authority through legislative gamesmanship. This week, the meddling got personal and petty, and the mayor essentially told me that the gloves are off.

“It should be a lot of fun for you [reporters],” he said to a group of us at an event celebrating the dismantling of the old PG&E power plant in Hunter’s Point. “You’ll have a lot to write about.”

By finally eliminating the job of Newsom’s hand-picked emergency office chief, Annemarie Conroy, after a lengthy campaign aimed at discrediting her, the Board of Supervisors managed to knock all pretense out of the idea that the executive and legislative branches of government are intended to be separate.

The move followed on the heels of the board’s recent attempts to try to direct the Police Department how to staff foot patrols in city districts — a management issue that undercuts the leadership of the mayor and the chief of police. If Newsom was upset about the obvious overreach by the board on foot patrols, he was beside himself that members would go out of their way to take one person’s job away because of personality conflicts.

“Politics is one thing, but when you go out of your way to take away someone’s livelihood, then it’s purely spiteful,” he said. “We’re only going to be around in office for a certain period of time. Do you really want to be remembered for doing something so mean-spirited and vindictive?”

But in the mosh pit of city politics, apparently no act is too low. This one may prove helpful, however, because it’s managed to do something the mayor’s supporters have long encouraged — to get him feisty, focused and fully engaged.

That’s why Newsom wasted no time in telling supervisors that he will not be submitting to “question time” at board meetings — a silly, obvious stunt to play rhetorical games with the mayor — but that he would take the “spirit” of the measure and hold monthly town hall meetings on specific issues at sites throughout town. In a nice twist, he added that, of course, all supervisors are invited to attend.

Newsom told me months ago that his critics on the board would use the Q&A ploy to insist that he was somehow circumventing the will of the voters — and sure enough, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin wasted no time in stating just that. But the policy directive holds as much weight as the ballot measure demanding that President Bush and Vice President Cheney be impeached — a nice little bit of theatrics dressedup as a substantive statement.

“It’s absurd,” Newsom said. “We do not have a parliamentary system of government. If the board members want to have serious discussions, we have an open-door policy. That’s always been the case.”

The escalating battle of wills at City Hall comes just as the usual suspects are weighing in on next year’s mayoral race. In a particularly muddled piece of fluff, the Bay Guardian this week did a lengthy piece outlining its imagined field of candidates and came up with the conclusion that Newsom — 80 percent approval rating notwithstanding — is more vulnerable now than ever.

Or at least he would be if anyone were actually running against him. As it is, there was a list of about two dozen names mentioned as possible opponents, nearly all of whom would have little or no chance, and some who have already insisted they have no plan of running.

One noteworthy omission was that there was no mention of the fact that several people who announce themselves as candidates will actually be using the race as a platform to raise their profile for the 2011 mayoral campaign — when just about anybody who has ever held office in San Francisco or considered it will be vying for the job.

But it’s going to take a lot more than random, ideologically driven speculation to unseat a popular, incumbent mayor, especially one who now knows better than to waste his time trying to make nice with a bunch of officials who are openly hostile to his policies and personnel decisions.

That would require a “Dewey defeats Truman’’-type upset, one which made for a historic headline, but that history shows didn’t turn out to be quite true.

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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