The Wrong Stuff

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

"I understand," he remembers Newsom saying.

Soon after, Davis says, Senator Dianne Feinstein called from Washington and leaned on Newsom to support bonds for Hetch Hetchy. Within a day of telling Davis he'd remain neutral, Newsom gave his support to Feinstein.

Davis immediately set up another meeting. "You and I had an understanding, and you broke that understanding," he told Newsom. "I'm no longer running your campaign."

Attorney General Jerry Brown hasn’t declared his candidacy for governor yet, but he has a commanding lead over Newsom in the polls and in fundraising.
Attorney General Jerry Brown hasn’t declared his candidacy for governor yet, but he has a commanding lead over Newsom in the polls and in fundraising.
Gavin Newsom doesn’t enjoy the support he once did in San Francisco.
Josh Edelson
Gavin Newsom doesn’t enjoy the support he once did in San Francisco.

Although Davis stayed on to help with Care Not Cash, "it was one of those nail-in-the-coffin days." He didn't want to work for a candidate he couldn't trust.

In the end, Davis believes Jerry Brown will defeat Newsom, based on character. "I don't think you're gonna find Jerry Brown fucking somebody else's wife," he said.

Of course, not everybody thinks the affair or issues of character and loyalty will come into play, or that they should. Corey Cook, a political scientist at USF, says that in many cases, character isn't worth bringing up. He'll agree that while politicians are often flawed beings — perhaps more so than the rest of us — it's not their personalities that matter, but rather their ability to persuade, negotiate, and bargain. Cook said he would rather hear about how Newsom plans to manage a gridlocked legislature in what is said to be an ungovernable state.

But experts in the field of political psychology say that particularly during troubled times like those facing California, the personalities of candidates absolutely matter. "Character is the best predictor of what people will do and whether they will be trustworthy," said Lloyd Etheredge, director of the Policy Sciences Center in New Haven, Conn. He recommends that voters listen to their gut about whom to vote for, rather than choosing the candidate who best reflects their own ideology: "You have to respond to them as human beings."

The way Newsom treated two human beings on his staff is expected to come up again and again during the battle for the Democratic nomination.

In February 2007, Gavin Newsom's former appointments secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, returned from rehab and confessed to her husband, Alex Tourk, Newsom's campaign manager, that she had had an affair with the mayor. Tourk resigned immediately, and the affair became public knowledge. Discussion about how Newsom had "broken the man code" abounded.

But the mayor handled what might have been a career-ending situation about as well as he could have. "I want to make it clear that everything you've read is true, and I'm deeply sorry about that," he told reporters at City Hall. "I hurt someone I care deeply about, Alex Tourk, and his family and friends, and that is something I'm deeply sad about and sorry for."

Newsom then checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse, and came out the other side ready to run for his second term.

San Francisco voters may have been willing to let the mayor slide, but in this tough governor's race, it's likely that his home-wrecking will continue to be rehashed — if not by the Jerry Brown campaign, then certainly by the media.

In an apparent, ill-fated attempt to pre-empt this, Newsom himself has tried to recast the affair in the minds of statewide voters. In June, he told Fast Company magazine that part of the story had yet to come out. Days later, he repeated that to The New York Times Magazine, and added that the affair was much more "benign" than newspapers suggested.

Although Newsom eventually told a group of reporters that he had made a mistake in giving the mysterious statements, political consultants said it was almost certainly part of a strategy to downplay and repackage the affair. When a candidate for governor talks to the national media, there's no going off-script, they say. Everything is planned. Particularly if something is said twice.

The city's politicos have been puzzling over what Newsom could have been referring to, but one strategist close to the situation has a pretty good idea. When Newsom claims we don't know the whole story, the source said, he's referring to information embarrassingly submitted by his wife and then-girlfriend, Jennifer Siebel, in 2007. "The woman is the culprit," Siebel told the San Francisco Chronicle. Siebel also posted in the comments section of an SFist story, claiming that "unfortunately everyone near to [Rippey-Tourk] has stories and says she is bad news" and that the affair consisted of "a few nothing incidents."

No one has offered any specific information — at least in the press — to the contrary. The fact is, it's an open secret that the affair was far more than a few nothing incidents. It went on for months. While it may have been benign for Newsom, during the course of the affair Rippey-Tourk developed a severe drinking problem, which ended only after she checked into rehab.

Solomon, the former receptionist working on the tell-all, was close to Rippey-Tourk and said she has struggled immensely. "She lost her husband. Her job. Her identity," she said. "She's working on getting that back, and she's a beautiful woman, inside and out. She did get the shaft really bad."

Newsom, on the other hand, is running for governor. Although he has stopped telling the press about how there's more to the story, those close to Tourk and Rippey-Tourk are enraged.

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