What in the world could Mayor Gavin Newsom have been thinking? Here is one of the most image-conscious mayors in San Francisco history. Yet he raided Muni coffers to go on a hiring and staff promotion spree for his office staff, only weeks after announcing an upcoming $229 million deficit and demanding an all-department hiring freeze plus cuts of up to 13 percent.
Did Newsom imagine nobody would notice? Or did he believe his landslide re-election proved the public loved and trusted him so much that he could do anything he felt like — even things that made him look like a self-important hypocrite and played into the hands of his supervisor enemies.
“Leadership is leading by example,” Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said, pointing out an obvious ethical truth. This is a time when a wise political leader should have garnered wide praise by instituting a hiring freeze and budget cuts in his own office, exemplifying the level of responsibility being sought from The City’s other public servants.
Instead, Newsom hired a deputy chief of staff out of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district office and a director of government affairs from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Each of them gets $143,123, a substantial raise above their predecessors’ earnings. High-profile former regional chief U.S. prosecutor Kevin Ryan took over the Office of Criminal Justice with a salary of $160,862, a raise of $21,424 more than the prior appointee.
Newsom’s previous director of government affairs — with no known expertise in climatology or environmental technology — is now San Francisco’s director of climate protection initiatives with a salary of $130,112. This salary is paid by funds from the Municipal Transportation Agency, the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Environment
Especially problematic is that no less than seven officials in the Mayor’s Office now have all or part of their salaries funded from the cash-starved MTA. Meanwhile, Muni bus operations struggle with a triple-digit structural budget deficit and consistently fail to meet on-time performance goals.
One such MTA-funded position is the new deputy press secretary hired two weeks ago for $85,000. Longtime political functionary Stuart Sunshine, a veteran of the inner circles of Mayors Frank Jordan and Willie Brown, earns $217,000 as Newsom’s point person on transit issues. Sixty percent of Sunshine’s pay is funded by the MTA, as is the entire $70,000 salary of his assistant.
The bottom line is that Mayor Newsom should have realized it was ethically and strategically wrong to beef up his own staff — especially at Muni expense — while simultaneously calling on all other municipal departments to cut their budgets and freeze hiring. We expect better from him in his second term.