The Wrong Stuff

Candidate Newsom is “narcissistic,” “thin-skinned,” “disloyal,” and “friendless.” And that’s from his former supporters.

Patti Solomon, a former mayoral campaign receptionist who worked at City Hall for more than five years, says she was a true believer in Newsom who has gradually lost faith. In fact, she's writing a tell-all involving her time in the mayor's office, titled Don't Repeat After Me. She says the book won't be finished until the election is over, and that it's about karma, but that's all she would say.

Former California Senate majority leader John Burton, who was a mentor to Newsom, has two words to describe Newsom's employees-turned-critics: jilted suitors. "These are people that he hired once and didn't rehire," Burton said. "If he offered them a job today, they would take it."

Others have theorized that because detractors are jealous of the good-looking, affluent mayor, they're behaving like crabs in a barrel. (As it happens, if you stick a bunch of crabs in a barrel, they writhe and climb on each other. If one crab starts getting close to the top, the others instinctively pull it back.)

Oz Erickson, president of Emerald Fund, continues to support the mayor.
Jake Poehls
Oz Erickson, president of Emerald Fund, continues to support the mayor.
Ken Cleaveland of BOMA says people should be rallying around Newsom 
instead of tearing him down.
Jake Poehls
Ken Cleaveland of BOMA says people should be rallying around Newsom instead of tearing him down.

A slightly more viable explanation is ideological uniformity. San Francisco residents are largely left of center and generally agree on big issues, so the city's policymakers tend to distinguish themselves by taking aim at opponents' character flaws. "This is a city that eats its own mayors," said Garry South, Newsom's current strategist.

But in interviewing former staffers, supporters, and campaign strategists (many of whom requested anonymity), one can't help but think there may be aspects of Newsom's character that should be examined if he is to become governor. These people criticize him on all kinds of things — not keeping his word, inflating his accomplishments, taking credit for the successful ideas of others, being detached, and caring more about becoming president than improving the city or the state. But in the background, a highly personal issue still looms large in their minds and in the campaign — the Rippey-Tourk affair.

San Francisco voters forgave the mayor for bedding appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk, who also happened to be married to Newsom's longtime strategist, Alex Tourk. In fact, Newsom was re-elected with an astounding 73 percent of the vote. But those closest to the situation have not been nearly so forgiving. They're friends with Tourk, and they have as many good things to say about him as they have negative things to say about Newsom.

"Alex Tourk is one of the most popular people in San Francisco," Brigham said.

But apparently that wasn't going to stop Newsom from trying to rewrite his sordid history at the expense of the Tourk family.

Although SF Weekly made dozens of requests to interview the mayor and his campaign staff, they delayed for two months, claiming they were taking the requests under consideration.

Only last week did Newsom's longtime aide and former press secretary, Peter Ragone, call to set up a meeting that felt more like damage control than an interview. Ragone — who in 2007 got caught injecting positive comments about the mayor into the blogosphere under a false name — refused to comment on the record.

To counter the spurned strategists' argument that Newsom has no friends or long-standing allies, Ragone eventually provided Tom Hsieh, who worked with Newsom back in 2002 as a campaign manager for his re-election as supervisor, and then as a political director for both of his mayoral campaigns. He's still around for the gubernatorial race.

"I'm working with him because of his ability and willingness to force change in a system that defends and sustains the status quo," Hsieh wrote in an e-mail.

Furthermore, Newsom's political appointees, including Treasurer Jose Cisneros, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, and Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, and Michela Alioto-Pier have all endorsed him for governor. Calls to all but Ting and Cisneros went unreturned, but those two spoke glowingly of the mayor and their ability to work with him.

As an openly gay elected official, Cisneros said he was particularly impressed by Newsom's work on same-sex marriage. "We're all human," he said. "I can't think of anything I would say about him that I wouldn't say about the rest of us. We all try. We stumble. We get back up. One thing I see with him — he stays dedicated."

In an e-mail, Ting wrote, "He has proven that he is unafraid to tackle difficult issues, offer bold new ideas, and bring people together to solve problems."

Occasionally, even Newsom's biggest critics will admit that he has done some good for the city of San Francisco. They'll give him credit for ending the pay-to-play atmosphere that proliferated under Willie Brown, and many admire him for (briefly) legalizing same-sex marriage, which pushed the issue to the forefront around the nation even as the movement failed at the ballot box in California. Although Muni still has its problems (and costs a lot more), buses and trains are more often on time these days. And homicides and gun violence have recently dropped significantly. Then there's the public health care plan, Healthy San Francisco, which is said to have been successful in providing care to 32,000 residents, many of whom are poor and elderly, without the negative impact on the city's employment rate critics had warned about.

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