Bill Whalen: Politi-Cal

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Newsom: The Lite Stuff

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 To no one’s surprise, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom threw his hat in the ring — the former gubernatorial candidate will now give it a go in California’s primary for lieutenant governor.

Newsom is hyper-ambitious —  the classic case example of a young man in a hurry (he turns 43 this October) who draws all sorts of media fascination both for his good looks and his character flaws.

Sure, Newsom dumped all over the concept of “Lite Gov” back in the heady days of vying for California’s top job. Garry South, a strategist for Newsom’s failed gubernatorial bid, said the mayor had only “disinterest in and disdain for” for the second-banana post, which is heavy on job title (sounds great) but’s far more limited in its real responsibilities (mostly, attending UC and CSU board meetings).

And he very emotionally told reporters, in the aftermath of the gubernatorial crash-and-burn, that he wanted to devote more to his new wife and infant daughter.

 Then again, consistency is not Newsom’s strong suit. In January, he told Maureen Dowd that he was done with politics (“I mean, oh, God. In a couple of years, you’ll see me as the clerk of a wine store.”)

So why would a big-city, big-ego mayor, especially one given to Davos trips and such worldly issues as same-sex marriage and global warming, want to run the risk of atrophying in Sacramento?

 The answer may have more to do with what lies beyond 2010 — well, that and the fact that the race is doable (one survey had Newsom well ahead leading his main challenger, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn).

Figure it this way:

If he doesn’t win the June primary and the November election. Newsom has until the end of 2011, when he’s term-limited out of office, to figure his next move. Should Sen. Dianne Feinstein not seek another term in 2012 (she’d be 78 going on 79), Newsom would have the perfect segue — leave City Hall in January 2012 straight for the campaign trail.

Besides, there’s a historical precedent: Feinstein stepped down as mayor of San Francisco in January 1988. Two years later, she was the Democratic nominee for governor.  Obviously, Newsom has less patience that DiFi or sees the world differently (“hair today, gone tomorrow”).

But that’s if Feinstein were to step down — a mighty big if.

And it assumes Newsom would prefer Washington to Sacramento (not a bad way to end up as governor — just ask Pete Wilson, who did eight years in the Senate before his move to the State Capitol).

But if Feinstein decides to stick around, the situation grows murkier for Newsom: how does a former mayor not named Giuliani stay in the news and at the top of polls of wannabe candidates? And how does he jockey for position among a bunch of other Democrats all looking to climb the same ladder?

Newsom would need a way to be relevant in Democratic circles until 2014 at the earliest (assuming Jerry Brown either loses in 2010 or doesn’t seek a second term), or possibly 2016 (and that’s if Barbara Boxer wins this fall, then goes for another term after that). That’s a lot of vintages, coming and going, for a humble wine-store clerk.

One thing Newsom’s candidacy does present for San Francisco: a chance for real political chaos in deciding who gets to run the city.

By law, the vacancy would be filled by a majority vote  by SF’s Board of Supervisors. That is, if anyone can manage a working coalition of the famously dysfunctional board. So San Francisco could be looking at a special election, with the winner serving only a year until the regularly scheduled election in November 2011.

The thought of the inmates running the asylum –the ever-whackyanti-business Board of Supervisors choosing the next mayor? Southward down the peninsula, here in Palo Alto, one can already feel a shudder of fear from corporate San Francisco.

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Written by Bill Whalen

March 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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