By John Geluardi
It was no big surprise Tuesday when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom officially opened up his campaign war chest so big money interests can start kicking in the $30 mill’ or so he will need to run for governor of California in 2010.
Newsom has been the fair-haired darling of the Democratic Party since be was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1998. And his political connections run deep with supporters like Gordon Getty and GAP founder Don Fischer who both happen to be registered Republicans.
If there’s any doubt about the sphere of Newsom’s influence, you only need look at his nip and tuck campaign for mayor in 2003. Newsom was challenged by fellow Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, an under-funded Green Party upstart who looked like he was going to upset Newsom in the runoff. Newsom’s camp, which had outspent Gonzalez by eight times, sent out a distress signal that was answered by none less than former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, both who jumped on planes to San Francisco to stump for the flailing Newsom.
But even with his considerable political connections, Newsom will face a tough field of Democratic candidates that include state Attorney General Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former State Controller Steve Westly and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.
In addition, he will have to overcome the bad juju on former mayors who aspire for the Governor’s office. The list of former mayors who have failed in gubernatorial bids is long and illustrious, Sen. Diane Feinstein, former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto and former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to name a few. Former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, a Republican, was one of the few exceptions to the rule.
But Newsom has proven himself a strong candidate who has enjoyed high approval ratings in San Francisco despite a high murder rate, a troublef public transportation system and personal controversy. He has also demonstrated bold leadership, compared to the other candidates, on same-sex marriage, healthcare and the environment. But while Newsom is a local hero for championing those issues, especially same-sex marriage, it remains to be seen if the rest of the state, which tends to favor staid Republicans, is ready for that kind of change.