For Mayor Newsom, Next Stop is the Governor’s Mansion

by Randy Shaw on November 7, 2007

“Gavin Newsom is the most progressive mayor in San Francisco history.”
—-Newsom Campaign Chief Eric Jaye, Sept. 2007

Having easily won re-election, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has become the unlikely early frontrunner in the 2010 California Governor’s race. And this future race has already shaped the Mayor’s agenda for San Francisco, as his support for gay marriage, universal health care, and immigrant ID cards all boost his standing among key statewide Democratic constituencies. For the many progressives who remain dissatisfied with Newsom, his pursuit of the Governor’s office should be viewed as good news. It means that the mayor’s second term will find him strongly supporting organized labor, affordable housing, immigrants’ rights, and other causes popular with the more progressive primary voters. But it also means that Newsom will continue his friendly relations with Downtown business interests, who will be counted upon to donate to his gubernatorial campaign. With Newsom looking to burnish his statewide credentials, and Board President Aaron Peskin eager to boost his already outstanding legacy in his last year in office, 2008 should be an exciting time for San Francisco politics.

While the conventional wisdom is that Mayor Gavin Newsom will use his easy re-election victory to increase his local political clout, his re-election won him no additional votes on the Board of Supervisors. Nor does it increase the likelihood of the Mayor pushing ballot measures, as he has been reluctant to use his popularity for that purpose.

Instead, the real meaning of Tuesday’s victory is that it puts the 2010 Governor’s race directly in Gavin Newsom’s sights. And hard as it may be to believe about a mayor who narrowly won election in 2003, was blamed by national Democrats for John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, and who in 2006 engaged in a sexual affair with a City Hall employee who was the wife of his closest aide, Newsom may actually be the current Democratic frontrunner for the gubernatorial nomination.

Newsom’s leading challengers have had very difficult years.

Newsom the Front-Runner:

The onetime favorite for the Democratic nomination, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has suffered from revelations that he was having an affair with an Univision reporter who was often covering the Mayor’s office. This affair became far more politically damaging to Villaraigosa than Newsom’s sexual relationship with the wife of his top aide, as the LA Mayor was married with young children, received far more critical local media coverage, and was a victim of racist media stereotypes of “hot-blooded” Latino lovers.

I wrote back in August 2005 that “unless Villaraigosa fails as Los Angeles Mayor (and he’s gotten great reviews so far), he, Fabian Nunez and Loretta Sanchez would all be favorites against Newsom in either a Senate or Governor’s primary in 2010.”

While Villaraigosa has not “failed” as mayor and is still favored for re-election in 2009, nobody would describe his tenure to date as a rousing success. In addition to alienating his former close allies at the teachers union, and seeing his police force violently attack peaceful immigrant rights marchers, he will likely be too preoccupied addressing LA’s many problems to spend time raising money for Governor.

For Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, 2007 has been a public relations disaster. Nunez got into a war with key segments of organized labor, and has become so identified with lavish dinners, trips abroad, and questionable charities that his short-term political future-is not good.

With Democrats now controlling the House, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is unlikely to give up her seat for a Governor’s race. Sanchez also lacks statewide name recognition, and a proven ability to raise the necessary funds.

The other potential Governor challengers—Lt. Governor John Garamendi and Attorney General Jerry Brown—cannot beat Gavin Newsom. Name recognition can only take a politician so far, and Garamendi has reached the limit. Former Governor Brown will be over 70 years of age in 2010, and will likely choose to coast to easy re-election rather than enter a race he is very unlikely to win.

Newsom’s Second Term:

What Newsom’s future aspirations mean for San Francisco politics is already becoming clear. And while many assume that seeking a constituency outside San Francisco will move Newsom to the right, political reality says otherwise.

In many ways, the California Democratic primary electorate has become equal to or more progressive than San Francisco voters (recall Republican claims that it was their votes that created Newsom’s victory margin over Gonzalez in 2003). Organized labor’s influence is far greater statewide, and Newsom has clearly won over many unions to his side. Expect Newsom’s efforts to court labor to be even stronger during his second term.

Immigrant rights are of crucial importance to California unions, and Newsom’s support for local id’s for undocumented immigrants will build his labor support. As will his fight for universal health care, and his recent implementation of affordable housing programs for the teacher and police unions.

Home foreclosures have made housing a hot-button statewide political issue, and expect Newsom to promote policies that boost affordable housing for working families. While Care not Cash helped Newsom locally, homelessness is not seen as a statewide issue; rather, it is his ability to keep the working and middle-class in high-priced San Francisco that will help his campaign across California.

Local development issues do not factor in statewide campaigns, so Newsom is unlikely to alter his backing of high-rise, Rincon-style projects. In fact, with the Controller soon to issue a report casting doubt on the city’s future finances, Newsom will argue that development is needed more than ever to keep city and nonprofit workers paid and the General Fund’s coffers full.

Since crime is a powerful statewide issue, expect Newsom to replace Heather Fong as Police Chief by the end of the year. Fong is not to blame for the city’s rising homicide rate, but she cannot provide the boost in crime statistics that Newsom needs for the Governor’s race. Replacing Fong gives Newsom the chance for a “fresh start” on crime, and to attract a police chief with statewide credibility.

Do not expect any changes in the Mayor’s style in 2008. Newsom’s critics believe he is too much a “hands off” mayor. Since that approach helps explain his high popularity (being “hands on” has only gotten prior mayors in trouble), Newsom will continue with his “CEO” approach to the mayor’s job.

The Board’s Agenda:

To the extent that Newsom has gotten credit for supporting measures initiated by the Supervisors, this dynamic should really be at play in 2008. The Board’s most activist and productive members, Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly, have ambitious agendas for 2008, which will be the former’s last year in office.

Daly’s housing set-aside Charter Amendment is set for a Rules Committee hearing on November 15, and the plan is to have a Board vote on December 4 to put it on either the June or November 2008 ballot. The measure will be an early test of where Newsom stands on increasing General Fund spending on housing, and, if he does, for which groups and income levels.

Daly and others have also been working on a Gross Receipts Tax to make up for the revenue allocated for the housing set-aside.

Peskin has not publicly discussed plans for 2008, as he has been completely consumed with passing Prop A and defeating Prop H. But having raised $400,000 and assembled a huge last-week grassroots electoral campaign in a successful battle against downtown interests, Peskin will be looking to build on this success next year.

2007 lacked a contest mayor’s race and much political drama, but 2008 should see the gusto return to San Francisco politics.

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