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Growing Pains


Politicians hoping to make it from the local to the national stage have a series of hoops to jump through and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has successfully gotten through many of them. He is media savvy, politically and socially well-connected, and well-off. He can raise money, he can get attention, and he knows what to do with it. In supporting marriage for same-sex couples, he’s demonstrated all this and more.
But Newsom is a less than great politician. This last election showed – for the second time – just how poorly Newsom handles an important aspect of his job: making people do things they don’t want to do.

Newsom didn’t get Prop J passed in the Spring. That was a housing measure, a badly supported and thought-out one, but nevertheless a housing measure for a city that’s desparate for more housing. And it was a ballot initiative that Newsom campaigned on and supported during his race for the mayor’s office. But he didn’t work to get it done. This year’s bond measure with similar goals, Prop A, didn’t pass. Again, Newsom’s shoulder wasn’t to the wheel. His tax initiatives – Props J & K – which would have raised the city sales tax and taxes on some city businesses – also went down cold. The city’s small business community opposed the measures and worked to defeat them. Again, Newsom didn’t really put his reputation or his mayoral prestige on the line in favor of the increases which he now says make cutting city services and payrolls necessary.
Now, perhaps Newsom wants to cut the city payroll and this is just a good excuse. San Francisco’s business community — small and corporate — won’t be opposed to that idea, that’s for sure. And maybe the mayor is satisfied with the slow but steady growth in city housing stock, particularly south of Market Street, near the baseball park. But Newsom’s lackadaisical politicing is starting to have more immediate impacts. Among other things, the city’s hotel strike is dragging out and it’s starting to wear on the nerves of employers as well as union members.
When he first side-stepped the hotel strike issue, it looked as though Newsom was just putting some space between himself and the unions. Smart since it’s looking more and more like the unions and their relationship with the Democratic party is due for a change. But then Newsom showed up on the picket line. Nice photos for the local press; not so warm a reception from hotel owners. So it’s hard to tell what Newsom’s doing but it is fair to say he’s floundering.
There are a number of ways to fix these problems. One is the addition of experienced – nationally experienced – staff, folks who know the obvious pitfalls and how to avoid them. Newsom isn’t known for hanging on to political associates for longer than necessary. A more experienced staff would help Newsom set some political priorities and get the execution down cold. Newsom’s stand on gay marriage is courageous and smart and, over time, will be shown to be the right tack. But he’s doing a bad job of convincing his fellow Democrats of his position and his reasoning and that’s almost entirely due to his poor political skills. A smarter, more seasoned, set of advisors would go a long way in helping Newsom gain the credibility he’s going to need when wants to run for statewide office.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:26 AM | Permalink

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