During budget talks, the mayor is on the job - technically

In the hours leading up to last week's 11th-hour compromise on the Municipal Transportation Agency's budget, Mayor Gavin Newsom engaged in some dubious multitasking. During the sensitive negotiations about MTA's finances, Newsom took some time to send out a message on Twitter (known as a "tweet"). Was the mayor updating his 400,000 followers about the wrangling over the transit budget? Nope. He was asking supporters to sign a petition to President Obama urging health care reform.

Newsom, you may recall, officially announced his candidacy for governor on Twitter last month. Local issues have not been Newsom's first choice for tweets since he embraced the Web site as a way of raising his profile. He tweets more often about his radio show or recent media appearances than about municipal policy.

When Newsom's spokesman, Nathan Ballard, was asked why national health care was occupying his boss' time when he was supposedly preoccupied with a budget crisis, he responded: "It's a free country, and the mayor is free to tweet whatever he wants. If you try to overanalyze tweets, you'll give yourself a headache."

To be fair, Newsom arguably had time to tweet on other issues, since Supervisor Carmen Chu was acting as his proxy on the budget talks. Still, one does have to wonder why health care, not transit, was occupying the mayoral mind at a time when the city faces a $438 million shortfall and his rivals on the Board of Supervisors were trying to derail his budget plan for the transit agency.

"I don't mind if he uses [Twitter], but for the mayor to be personally engaged in the budget process would go a long way," said Supervisor David Campos, who took umbrage with Newsom's deputizing Chu to negotiate with her legislative colleagues on the administration's behalf. "San Francisco residents elect the mayor; he should be the one doing negotiations."

Campos said he doesn't have time for Twitter himself, but maybe he should sign up, because it seems like the best way of communicating with the city's ever-elusive absentee mayor these days. Supervisors can just send which programs they want to save or cut to GavinNewsom — but keep it brief, please. The mayor is very busy, and if you can't say, "Balance the budget while preserving vital social services, and did you plan on scheduling a meeting with us anytime soon?" in less than 140 characters, best not to say it at all.

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