Newsom Wins Some, Loses Some

San Francisco's mayor is popular, but his enemies are persistent.
by | February 2007

Mayor Gavin Newsom has attempted to make San Francisco a haven for gay marriage and a showplace for universal health coverage. These efforts have earned him consistently high approval ratings among rank-and-file voters in his famously liberal city, but surprisingly few allies among the city's even more left-leaning political class. The sparring between Newsom and the local Board of Supervisors has been so intense that the mayor's reelection this year is in some doubt, even though he has yet to draw a big-name challenger.

"We don't really need an opponent yet, because we have seven or eight members of the Board of Supervisors on any given day lobbing bombs," says Eric Jaye, Newsom's campaign manager. "Gavin Newsom as a liberal represents a minority of San Francisco politically. The progressives have a majority of voters."

The "progressives"--who might be likened to socialists elsewhere in the country--object to Newsom because of the mayor's habit of talking up his support for business. Many of the supervisors who oppose him were first elected in 2000 in reaction to growth pressures triggered by the dot-com boom and the pro-development policies of Willie Brown, the previous mayor. Newsom barely won election in 2003 against an underfunded Green Party candidate.

The feuding in city hall since then has been incessant, and the progressive faction scored several victories over Newsom in local elections this past November. That has led to chatter that the mayor's support is based more on his personal appeal than his politics. "Newsom, as popular as he is, is a fire that has no heat," says David Latterman, a local political analyst.

The dissident supervisors complain that Newsom refuses to appear before them regularly for a British-style "question time," as requested by voters, and they're not happy with his handling of the planned move of the 49ers pro football team to the suburbs. They are likely to continue lobbing bombs about these and other issues at Newsom for the rest of the year.

Even assuming he wins, the mayor's critics won't suddenly acquire any interest in making his life easier in a second term. The earliest Newsom can expect any political peace and quiet will be in 2008, when several of his enemies will be term-limited out of office.

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