Newsom’s 100 Days

by Randy Shaw on April 16, 2004

Now that the Chronicle and Examiner have reviewed Mayor Newsom’s first 100 days, it’s time for the real story to be told.

Gavin Newsom’s first 100 days as mayor were dramatically impacted by his opening up the city to gay marriages. This decision increased his support in the gay and lesbian community without jeopardizing the business and real estate interests that funded his mayoral campaign.

Unfortunately, Newsom’s historic action on gay marriage has obscured his backing of groups and individuals who supported him in the runoff and his opposition to groups-like tenants-who supported Matt Gonzalez.

This is called politics. Winners reward their supporters and do not alienate major campaign donors like the Sangiacomo familyfor the benefit of their opponents. Mayor Newsom cannot be criticized for practicing politics as usual, but the daily media acts as if the mayor is instead pursuing a different course. For example, in his coverage of the mayor’s first 100 days Examiner reporter Adriel Hampton writes on April 15 that Newsom’s “deliberative efforts to do a little something for just about everybody are winning praise in every corner of The City.”

Every corner of the city? Hampton should make another visit to 8th and Market, home of the Trinity Plaza Apartments. He could have spoken to plenty of folks who are still waiting for the Mayor to do something for them.

Hampton’s evidence for his claim that the whole city is praising Newsom comes from a single person, Barbara Meskunas. Hardly a disinterested observer, Meskunas endorsed Newsom’s mayoral campaign and served on his transition team. But Hampton accepts Meskunas’ assertion that “even those who didn’t vote for him are surprised at how well things are going” even though Supervisor Chris Daly, the only Gonzalez supporter he quotes, refutes Meskunas’ claim

The rules of journalism say that if an article claims that Gonzalez supporters are now excited about Newsom, some evidence is necessary. You can always find people who supported one candidate to say good things about the opponent who won, but the Examiner was so committed to its conclusion that it could not be bothered with these easy to obtain-though meaningless– quotes.

Ilene Lelchuk’s April 14 Chronicle story notes that Newsom spent his first 100 days trying to end the perception of patronage politics. But what was the appointment to the Police Commission of Angela Alioto’s son but the worst example of such patronage? And what of the appointment of Michaela Alioto-Pier, who has not lived in San Francisco for years but was Newsom’s payback for Al Gore’s pre-election day visit.

Lelchuk’s only example of Newsom rooting out patronage is his call for an investigation of the Department of Building Inspection. But those identified with DBI supported Gonzalez, and there is certainly nothing “new school” about going after one’s political opponents.

Nobody is disputing Newsom’s right to practice patronage politics-the problem here is that our local dailies are acting as if our current mayor is less committed to patronage than his predecessors (and the special monitor he appointed for DBI, Rudy Nothenberg, is an old friend of Gavin’s Dad, a relationship-based appointment that the media would have criticized if made by Willie Brown).

In case readers felt Lelchuk’s story was not sufficiently pro-Newsom , the Chronicle’s April 15 editorial left no doubt as to the paper’s adoration of the Mayor.

The message of the Chronicle editorial is that “Newsom has firmly established his determination to shake up San Francisco’s stagnant government.”The evidence? He appointed new fire and police chiefs, and new heads for Rec & Park, the PUC, and the Port.

But Newsom’s three predecessors also changed several department heads in their first 100 days. While the media treats Newsom’s appointment of a woman fire chief and Asian-American woman police chief as revolutionary acts, it forgets that Willie Brown also made historic appointments to these positions ( He appointed the first Asian-American police chief and the first African-American fire chief.) Yet such appointments did not prevent business as usual at both departments.

Mayor Newsom was honored by children’s advocates yesterday for keeping his promises to fund children’s services. His focus on the Bayview deserves praise, though no progress has been made and the situation has actually gotten worse in the past 100 days. He has made no bad commission appointments, though he appointed a supervisor whose lack of knowledge of city affairs renders her barely qualified for the job.

It is too soon to judge a Mayor after 100 days, and far too soon for our local dailies to already conclude that Mayor Newsom will forever alter the course of city government.