Ken Garcia: Obsession with mayor’s personal life has gotten a little silly

After reading all the headlines recently, you might think that City Hall has become the film backdrop for “The Young and the Restless.”

Of course, not every town can boast that their chief executive is, in the ever-restrained view of ABC News, “Mayor McHottie” — or that each of his dates launches another 100 blogs.

Its been quite a few interesting weeks for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the local members of the Fourth Estate, who have apparently determined that Newsom’s personal style and private life are a lot more interesting than his public actions. And it raises some reasonable questions: Should gossip be treated as serious news? (It is.) Can a public official be awarded some level of privacy? (No.) And why would any sane person ever want to run for public office?

The fuss started with a bit of gel and ended with the mayor publicly musing about whether he wanted to continue his promising political career because of the hyperkinetic scrutiny. And in between was the journalistic soap opera involving his eye-catching date, one Britannie Mountz, who, all things considered, probably wishes she was in Philadelphia.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which has show itself to be keenly obsessed with Newsom’s personal affairs, reportedly spent months trying to find out just what the mayor does during his late-night hours. When that didn’t quite pan out, it set its sights on the aforementioned model/hostess, whom Newsom squired to the symphony opening and who discovered what happens when you are seen out in public with arguably The City’s most eligible bachelor.

But lo and behold, could it turn out that 20-year-old Ms. Mountz was actually seen sipping a glass of wine at an event the two attended? In a town where pot clubs are so prevalent it’shard to avoid them, this is considered news? San Francisco likes to think of itself as a sophisticated, international city along the likes of Rome and Paris. But those place would be laughed right out of the European Union for even having such a story appear in print.

Yet it turns out the tale is more sordid than just alleged underage drinking. The talk became, What on earth is the mayor doing going out with a woman nearly half his age?

The answer to that question generally differs depending on ones age and gender. A lot of men I know over the age of 40, when asked why they would date a 20-year-old, would most likely respond, “Because I can.” But a lot of women I know whom I talked to in the past few weeks, wonder openly — and seriously — why the mayor can’t find a lovely gal closer to his own age. “It seems kind of clichéd and silly that he would be hanging out with a 20-year-old. You have to question his judgment,” was one typical response.

Personally, I know way more about the mayor’s dating life than I’d like, but it’s hard for me to take any of this seriously — any more so than writing about his penchant for hair product. And its my hope that most voting-age residents of The City are too busy making significant contributions to society to care.

But I do believe public officials do have a right to a private life and shouldn’t be hounded to a point where a casual date starts being viewed in terms of political liability. And while I’m sure that the mayor’s public utterances to me and others about whether he really wants to subject himself to another four years are not really serious, I can understand why he’s upset to the point where he’d feel the need to take his private life underground.

“I can’t criticize it [the coverage]. I’m not in a position to complain,” he said. “But being in politics isn’t an all-costs thing for me. The level of personal intrigue is why a lot of people don’t go into politics.”

“We’re raising the bar so high for public officials that I think that a lot of people who are really capable won’t want to engage in public life. In the last two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tell people that we’re trying to raise $5 million for an anti-poverty program we’re starting, and the only questions I get are whether I’m going to continue to have gel in my hair and whether I will keep seeing that girl.”

And that girl may be Sofia, Erin or Britannie — in the end it doesn’t really matter. In the age of instant blogs and compulsive celebrity deficit disorder, the most puerile matters easily halt the march of intellect.

News travels awfully fast — even when it isn’t news.

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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