Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Gavin Comes Calling

Gavin Newsom, the man who would be governor of California, blew into town the other day, deciding, I presume, that while his heart may be in San Francisco, his potential voters are in Southern California.

Newsom is the Democratic mayor of Bombast by the Bay, perhaps best known as a prominent and vocal opponent of Prop. 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative that was passed by voters last fall.

It was a stance that cut both ways.

An infamous film clip of Newsom wound up on a pro-Prop. 8 commercial, in which he was seen grinning broadly and saying of gay marriage, "This door's wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not."

How that notoriety continues to play out for Newsom remains to be seen. Clearly, gays are a potent political force in San Francisco and a mayor who wants to keep his job had better be a friend to that community.

Gays are a political force in Southern California as well but not enough of one to have stopped the Prop. 8 movement. The initiative passed in every county here except Santa Barbara. That's territory Newsom would have to win to achieve election.

So chalk that up as one delicate issue on Newsom's plate. Another is that he's testing the political waters on the home turf of a potential rival, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa is nothing if not a photo-op. When it comes to visibilty, he beats Newsom hands down.

But on closer inspection, these two have something in common.


On Jan. 31, 2007, Newsom's campaign manager and former deputy chief of staff, Alex Tourk, quit after learning of a sexual affair the mayor had with Tourk's wife, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, in late 2005.

At the time of the affair, Rippey-Tourk worked in Newsom's office as the Mayor's aide for commission appointments.

After leaving her job in Newsom's office in August 2006, Tourk received $10,154 in catastrophic illness pay, which is usually reserved for those who are terminally ill, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

An investigation by the San Francisco city attorney cleared all those involved of legal wrongdoing.

Newsom apologized for the affair, saying, "I hurt someone I care deeply about, Alex Tourk, his friends and family, and that is something that I have to live with and something that I am deeply sorry for."

He announced that he would seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

In the meantime, Villaraigosa, prompted by a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, was revealing an ongoing, year-long affair with Telemundo anchorwoman Mirthala Salinas, which was widely believed to have triggered the breakdown of his marriage.

"I have a relationship with Ms. Salinas, and I take full responsibility for my actions," he said at a news conference.

Salinas was engaged in an enormous conflict of interest by covering the mayor for an extended period while she was sleeping with him, even broadcasting news of the mayor's separation from his wife.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Villaraigosa's admission cast a fresh shadow over his own personal conduct: He has two adult daughters born out of wedlock and his wife filed for divorce in 1994 over a separate affair for which he later publicly apologized. They eventually reconciled.

In the end, Villaraigosa dumped Salinas and won reelection, seeming to survive the scandal.
Salinas, her journalistic career ruined, disappeared from the stage.

At least, Newsom and Villaraigosa won't be able to point the finger of moral outrage at one another.

Politicians survive sex scandals, Bill Clinton being the most prominent example. But Clinton had the political capital to see himself through.

Newsom and Villaraigosa are asking us to forgive and forget at a time in this country when the public is outraged at the moral and ethical lapses of bankers, brokers and, yes, politicians.

That's asking a lot.

Perhaps that is why Sen. Dianne Feinstein, not exactly a fresh political face, is the instant front-runner if she jumps into the Democratic primary field for governor, according to a Field Poll reported in the Sacramento Bee. She comes out ahead of state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a former governor favored my many older voters but a mystery man to many younger ones.

Billionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman is the early leader for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But she is so little-known that her favorability ratings among GOP voters lag behind Brown, a favorite liberal target for many California Republicans.

In a Feb. 20-March 1 poll of voter preferences for potential Democratic and Republican primary contests, Feinstein emerges as the clear voter favorite to date.

The 16-year U.S. senator, former San Francisco mayor and unsuccessful 1990 gubernatorial candidate is preferred by 38 percent of likely Democratic primary voters.

Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are tied for second at 16 percent, followed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at 10 percent and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi at 4 percent.

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