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Gavin Newsom vying for Lieutenant Governor

by Bob Morris, published

Current Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom has announced he is running for Lieutenant Governor. He grew up in Larkspur and became a star high school basketball player not, says a friend, because of his innate skills but because he worked so hard at it. This may say something about him, especially when you learn he has severe dyslexia. He says it forced him to develop other skills and work harder. Clearly, this is not someone who gives up easily.

He co-founded PlumpJack Wine Shop in 1992. It has since grown to be a multi-million dollar enterprise with bars, restaurants, vineyard, winery, and hotel. He sold his interests in their S.F.-based businesses when he became mayor.
 As Supervisor of San Francisco in 2002, he was instrumental in the passage of the “Care Not Cash” ballot measure which mandated paying the homeless much less in cash but simultaneously providing more shelters and services.   The purpose was to stop cash payments being used for alcohol or drugs. While controversial, the measure passed and gave Newsom higher visibility for his upcoming run for mayor.

Newsom defeated Matt Gonzalez, president of the Board of Supervisors and Green Party member, in 2003, to become Mayor of San Francisco by a margin of 53-47%. A major reason for his victory was his courting of Republican voters and persuading of them to vote for him by absentee ballot, saying Gonzalez was way more to the left than he. This was unquestionably true and the tactic blindsided the Gonzalez campaign. Another reason for his victory was the overwhelming backing of him by national Democratic Party figures like Bill Clinton, as well as by his apparent mentor and then-mayor, Willie Brown.

He has been an early and vocal supporter of same sex marriage and may have inadvertently torpedoed the defeat of anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 when he was quoted in an ad against Prop 8 saying “This door's wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not.” This was seized by the other side as a rallying point and seriously damaged the anti-Prop 8 forces.

As mayor, he signed a menu-labeling bill, which mandates that restaurants post calorie and nutrition information, something which has now gone nationwide.  In 2005, he and his wife filed for divorce, which was complicated by his being caught having an affair with the wife of his campaign manager. He has since remarried.

He definitely gets social media, has 1.4 million followers on Twitter (more than any other mayor), and in fact tweeted the birth of daughter last year.  Things have been oddly turbulent for him the past several months, though.  He announced he would run for governor last year, only to withdraw a few months later after it was obvious Jerry Brown was way ahead of him. He then dropped out of sight almost completely for a bit, and has now re-surfaced, announcing his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor.

This has led more than a few to ponder if Newsom isn’t primarily interested in his upward political trajectory rather than in serving constituents. Being Lieutenant Governor means statewide visibility which could certainly aid as a springboard to other elected positions. This leads to a major point about Newsom, and I say this as one who lived in the S.F. area in 2009. Those who like him really like him. But he also has very high negatives. Few are neutral about him. Plus, his perhaps overly polished personal appearance (some have snarkily dubbed him “Mayor Hair Gel”) might work fine in San Francisco, but would that also hold true in the Central Valley?

But, he’s hardly the only hugely ambitious politician around. By all accounts, he works tremendously hard and has been ahead of the curve on social and progressive issues as well.  He’s not a traditional politician. His main Democratic competition in the Lieutenant Governor race looks to be a more traditional candidate, L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn, daughter of a former L.A. County Supervisor and sister of a former mayor.

In my view, either could win.

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