Garcia: Newsom sits back as Ed Jew saga plays

The public calls for embattled Supervisor Ed Jew to resign are increasing, and the pressure certainly will mount in the next two weeks, as observers wait to see whether federal prosecutors will be adding to the charges he already faces.

But if you’re waiting for the mayor to join in the fray anytime soon, other than to request that the supervisor respond to the official inquiries, a word of advice — don’t hold your breath.

Judging from my discussion with Newsom about Jew’s situation, the mayor is extremely reluctant to interject himself into the ongoing investigations other than to ask Jew to respond to questions from the City Attorney’s Office proving his San Francisco residency. For Jew, the clock is ticking and all the mayor has to do is sit back and watch the scenario play out — giving Jew time either to prove that he lives in the district he represents or to wait for him to say nothing and give authorities the ammunition they need to begin the steps to remove him from office.

“I just haven’t thought a lot about it because these investigations need to be completed and he has a right to due process,’’ Newsom told me. “No one comes into the Mayor’s Office thinking that they would be in a position to exercise this charter provision.’’

And the reason is that it’s never been done. The City Charter gives broad and sweeping powers to the mayor to remove supervisors from office for misconduct, and even in politically turbulent San Francisco, no mayor has yet had to use them. Certainly no one would expect a rookie supervisor to get himself into so much trouble shortly after being elected. And if Newsom was thinking about replacing a supervisor on the board, I think everybody in San Francisco would agree that his first choice wouldn’t be Ed Jew.

Of course, most people believe that if Jew truly can’t prove he was living in the Sunset district during the time he was running for office — or recently, for that matter — then the noble thing would be for him to resign. But his lawyers have been advising him that such a move would be tantamount to an admission of guilt. So for the time being, Jew remains something of a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Newsom is in no rush to try to solve it. It’s not as if Jew were one of the essential votes the mayor could count on to sustain a veto in a pinch — no member of the board could count on Jew’s vote, which is why he was often the one vote against 10. And by making himself a nonfactor with his vote, Jew has also rendered himself something of a nonentity as well, reducing the need for haste.

“I hesitate to exercise this type of power, especially while the district attorney and the city attorney are dealing with the case,’’ Newsom said. “He needs to respond to their allegation because if he doesn’t, it raises some very significant problems. He needs to recognize that this is not just a legal proceeding and that there are issues about representative government.’’

There are other reasons for not moving quickly. The way the charter reads, if Newsom starts the proceedings to remove Jew from the board, he would need to immediately pick a replacement, thereby politicizing the whole situation. Who deserves the seat — another Asian-Amercian or one of the candidates who ran against Jew and lost? Should he pick an outsider and just wait for voters to make their choice in another election cycle? Or try to appease Chinatown power brokers — and which camp?

Whatever course of action he chooses, Newsom will be criticized and second-guessed. And at this point, he’s got more important matters to deal with — getting a balanced budget passed, trying to get legislative support for the Wi-Fi network deal and his desire to get a community court placed in the Tenderloin to deal with the low-level street crimes that plague that neighborhood.

So Newsom doesn’t see Ed Jew as his responsibility, quite yet. Ed Jew is responsible for Ed Jew, and how he handles that will influence how the mayor plays his cards.

“I don’t know what could possibly be used against him [Jew] that would stop him from proving that he lived where he says he lived,” Newsom said. “But the longer it goes on, the issues and the problems associated with them get more magnified. The whole thing gets more perverse and more acrimonious. And there is enough within the charter amendment to make this situation rife with all sorts of intrigue.”

This much is certain — enough questions will be asked that whoever ultimately gets picked will actually reside in the district.

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

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