The Wrong Stuff

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

Of course, Newsom's foes love to point out that he doesn't deserve full credit for Healthy San Francisco, since former Supervisor Tom Ammiano rallied the support for the measure. Still, one can't help but think that even if Newsom came up with some brilliant policy and flawlessly implemented it, in the poisonous atmosphere of San Francisco politics, plenty might refuse to acknowledge his achievement.

When it comes down to it, complaints against Newsom from his former staff seem to originate from the personal more often than the professional. They see him as fundamentally disloyal and unconcerned with the well-being of those around him.

Take the departure of Jaye, for instance. Newsom could have attempted to remain neutral in the press about it, but instead he acted as though the loss meant nothing to him. Newsom "owes the fact that we take him seriously to Eric Jaye," said John Shanley, a city attorney who worked for Newsom's 2003 mayoral campaign as the communications director. "He had talented people like Eric Jaye holding his shit together, and [Jaye] gets no gratitude for it. Newsom dealt with Jaye like a piece of toilet paper."

Other former staffers bring up the mayor's inability to manage and work with others. "I don't think he has the temperament to effectively govern the state of California, or lead," strategist Ross said. "You can just see it in his relationship with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. ... To push the reform that the state needs, I think we need a leader who can work with the legislature effectively."

Aaron Peskin, former board president and well-publicized foe of Newsom, can talk (and talk and talk) about that relationship. Peskin and Newsom's problems started on the corner of Grant and Columbus in 2000, when Peskin was running for supervisor.

Peskin chased Newsom down to that corner to ask for an endorsement, knowing full well he probably wouldn't get it. Willie Brown had appointed Newsom — then just a guy with a prominent judge for a father, connections to the Getty money, and a wine shop — to the Parking and Traffic Commission and subsequently to the Board of Supervisors. Certainly Newsom was indebted to Brown, who had also appointed Supervisor Alicia Becerril, then an incumbent running against Peskin. Complicating things further, Newsom had grown up with another candidate in the race, Meagan Levitan.

But to Peskin's delight, he remembers, Newsom said he had chosen not to endorse anyone. Not more than a week later, Peskin says, registered voters got recorded phone calls from Newsom. He had endorsed Levitan.

"On the board, and in politics, and in life, your word is your bond," Peskin said. As a supervisor, he often had to ask co-workers for their votes and cosponsorship. There were plenty of times he got a "hell, no" for an answer, he remembers, and that was okay. At least he knew where he stood. With Newsom, that was rarely the case.

Former Supervisor Fiona Ma, now in the California Assembly, had a similar experience. When she was running for supervisor in 2002, Newsom told her he'd endorse her candidacy. After a group of her supporters displayed numerous signs saying as much, Newsom changed his mind and asked Ma to take them down.

"His word was ubiquitously known to be bad," Peskin said. "If Gavin said yes, yes could mean no. Maybe could mean yes. No could mean yes."

Of course, you'd expect Newsom not to get along with a political rival like Peskin. But the doesn't-work-well-with-others criticism is echoed by Bevan Dufty, an ostensible ally on the Board of Supervisors.

Dufty points to Newsom's response to a recent piece of legislation amending the city's Sanctuary City ordinance, cosponsored by Dufty and seven other supervisors.

After the legislation was formally introduced last month, Newsom went on the attack to undermine support for it. He even authorized his staff to leak a confidential memo from the city attorney that outlined legal problems with the proposal.

Dufty criticized the mayor for being a latecomer to the process. He says even though the proposal had been in the works for months, the mayor never contacted him to express his concerns during that time.

Dufty, who could prove to be the deciding vote to override a Newsom veto, says only now has he begun receiving calls and e-mails from the mayor's office. "It's just typical of the mayor's relationship with the Board of Supervisors," he said. "It's not collaborative; it's reactive."

Although there was a time before Newsom's re-election when he told the press he wasn't even sure he wanted to be mayor again, he has also expressed a desire to become president of the United States.

Back in 2003, Newsom and Jack Davis held private meetings where they would sip orange-mango juice, Davis said, and Newsom would "unload his heart."

One day, Davis remembered, Newsom confided that he wanted to be president. Davis considers that a noble aspiration, but something about Newsom's admission put him off. "I felt the guy was ready to do whatever it took to make it a reality," he said.

The two also discussed campaign strategy, and Davis said he will never forget the day they agreed that Newsom wouldn't put his name on anything controversial while running for mayor because it would create enemies. "Do you understand, Gavin?" Davis remembers saying. "So we're clear on that one?"

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