Cut and Run: On his way out, Mayor Newsom guts his staff

In his time in City Hall's Room 200, Mayor Gavin Newsom has made an indelible impression on the city and on the very office itself. During his two terms, he steadily added to his staff and doubled its budget, from $13.5 million in 2005 to $27.6 million today. At one point, Newsom fielded a communications staff of eight (well-paid) people; in 2008, he famously used Muni funds to take on a “greening director” and “climate-change director,” both of whom were paid $100,000 a year.

But when Newsom leaves his office — in January 2011, if he's elected lieutenant governor; in January 2012, if he isn't — he'll leave it a much smaller, less expensive place. During his budget announcement on June 2, he proposed slicing another six jobs from his office (on top of the six eliminated last year), cutting overall payroll by 17 percent. In fact, he boasted, when he's done, the mayor's office will be the smallest it's been since 1998.

The economy is in the crapper, of course, and it's nearly universally accepted that Newsom's staff was bloated. But the timing leaves us wondering. The mayor is on his way out, and if his progressive enemies on the Board of Supervisors retain their majority, they will appoint one of their own to replace him. Is he timing his cuts to screw over his successor?

Newsom pish-poshed such a notion, telling SF Weekly that this is simply the final stage of a trend. “We cut it last year, and we cut it the year before,” he said. “When I put out instructions [to cut], I need to meet that request.

“Right now, staffing is adequate,” he added. His successor “will be all right — you can always do more with less.” And what's more, he said, the pack of whiners on the Board of Supervisors hasn't cut its budget.

Having a smaller entourage isn't exactly deterring anyone from seeking the throne: Supervisor Bevan Dufty has been in the mix for almost a year. Former board president Aaron Peskin, whose name seems to be always a few words away from “mayoral candidate,” called the cuts reasonable, but added he was sorry to see this downsizing come so late. “This is something the board questioned for years,” he told SF Weekly. But, he added, “It sends a good message about everyone sharing the pain.”

Right. The pain. That won't stop. Much of Newsom's proposed balanced budget is largely speculation: Nearly $142 million in projected revenue is nonguaranteed federal funds and other “manna from heaven,” in the words of Supervisor John Avalos. If that manna doesn't fall, the mayor — whomever it is — will have to ax even more next February in the midyear cuts. Nice welcoming gift.

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