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Newsom: Pale and Chastened, but Mayoral?

Confesses to affair and confirms all rumors

Mayor Gavin Newsom emerges at today's press conference to confess.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

February 1, 2007 1:44 p.m.

By Daniela Kirshenbaum and Luke Thomas

During a two-minute press conference, a grave Mayor Gavin Newsom said this morning that he admits it all. "Everything you've heard and read is true," he confessed, in a six-sentence statement. He also apologized to his family and his administration. But he didn't respond to a question about whether he would be resigning. And then, the conference was over.

The city supervisors were being as circumspect as possible. Others, who attended the conference, expressed as much concern about the state of a marriage as the state of the mayoralty and the viability of Newsom's reelection. Peter Ragone, press secretary, seemed humble and, we thought, almost grateful by the distraction from his own recent, and public, misdeeds.

Let's get this straight: a mayor is allowed to have sex, as long as it's consensual. The City Attorney's office didn't seem to have the heart to address the legality of it all, so they referred questions to Art Hartinger, a private attorney who specializes in labor employment issues. He volunteered a reassurance that if both parties are willing, there's nothing illegal about sleeping with a subordinate. Only with legal action that alleges coercion or an exchange of work and sex favors would legality become an issue. Ruby Tourk hasn't filed that sexual harassment lawsuit, and our sources say she's been convinced not to.

Ruby Tourk

Another thing: we don't really mind if the mayor commits indiscretions, so long as it doesn't affect his leadership. The problem is that his behavior isn't jibing with his image, that of being a do-righter. How do you reconcile the persona of Gavin as a great big altar boy when he is having illicit sex with employees, and not admitting to it until he absolutely must?

It calls into question his very sincerity, something that Newsom has always held up as his foremost quality. San Franciscans are having some trouble buying into the sincere thing right now. "It's a lot like when Gavin surprised the gay community right after he was elected by suddenly announcing he was moving on the Gay Marriage issue," noted Jim Meko, a local activist.

"As happy as we were, we hadn't seen him out front on gay marriage before. We wondered if this was more of a publicity stunt than a real long-standing issue for him," Meko added.

So who is the real Newsom? And how could former mayor Willie Brown get away with his sexual escapades? Willie was very open about his freewheeling lifestyle. He claimed no sincerity and had nothing to apologize for, though he was married. Gavin admits to very little but his own saintliness, uncomfortable with even the suggestion that he isn't squeaky clean. He and his circle are easily irritated by the usual give-and-take in politics, isolating anyone who dares to confront them. If it all sounds a bit childish, well, we may have an answer to the question of what happens when you elect such a youthful mayor.

We asked his campaign strategist last week what, precisely, the mayor was doing in Davos. We were treated to a carefully enunciated explanation that there was a "world economic forum going on there." Hey, no kidding. Also, "other mayors were there." Cool! But it is completely legitimate to ask the question, and so very telling that there was little enthusiasm in answering it adequately.

Just yesterday the mayor Seattle held a press conference, and proudly announced what he, the mayor of New York, and 50 other mayors had accomplished at the Conference of Mayors (while Newsom was in Davos). Mainly they worked on climate protection and on gun control. What San Franciscan doesn't think these issues are important, and kind of wishes Newsom had been there? Is that why we're wondering if the Davos trip was an escape from something?

Right now, the pundits surmise that with less than 24 hours since the story broke, it's too soon to gauge the extent of the damage to Newsom's future. If the issue calms down, he can run for reelection and life goes on as usual. If the public continues to follow this and express disgust, he may either pull out of the race for mayor or even resign altogether. This last option could help the Democratic Party ditch a blemished and visible member. But it would mean Board President Aaron Peskin, viewed by the mayor as an adversary, would become mayor, and be perfectly positioned for a reelection himself in November.

Clearly, best friend or no best friend, this is something the mayor and his backers would like to avoid: getting him elected last time cost millions of dollars, and they all hope the investment lasts.

Next: Ruby Tourk's December Trip to Morocco: was that another convenient escape?




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