Heart of the City Archives
MisterSF.com's 2003 Mayoral Candidates Series




Newsom Revisted: Look Ma, no horns!
by Hank Donat

The last time I was at the Gay Community Center with Supervisor Gavin Newsom was during a now-infamous fundraiser on February 6. At that time, police officers clashed with gay demonstrators who denounced Newsom as an enemy of the poor and the Center for contributing to the assimilation of the community.

Nine months later, Newsom, a candidate for mayor in the run-off election against Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, is in the same room on the top floor of the Center at 1800 Market Street where Newsom and his wife, attorney Kimberly Guilfoyle, greeted cabaret star Sharon McKnight and guests at the February fundraiser. Gone are the outraged demonstrators.

Instead, Newsom stands before a rainbow flag the size of a large wall. He is flanked by such gay community heavyweights as lesbian rights pioneers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, Inspector Lea Militello of the San Francisco Police Officers' Pride Alliance, and representatives of Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action.

While these endorsements appeared to some as no great shakes compared with bigger fish such as the losing candidates, a closer look reveals historic significance.

As founders of the first national lesbian organization in 1955, Lyon and Martin are living legends in San Francisco's gay community. Militello, a veteran officer who rose through the ranks as a beat cop in the Castro, was making her first public address since being stabbed on duty.

Along with his staffer Heather Hiles, Newsom and I leave the Center together to join volunteers at the Hunters Point Boys and Girls Club for a Thanksgiving dinner give-away.

For Heart of the City it was an opportunity to talk turkey with Newsom, who's been called everything from a Republican to a Nazi to the devil in the time since our last one-on-one.

"Do you hate the homeless?" I ask.

"Quite the contrary," Newsom says, "I have so much compassion that I want to stand up and do something different, individual by individual, to help people get off the streets. You can't do that by advancing the current program."

"How do you help those who don't want to help themselves?"

"That's the greatest challenge. The vast majority of homeless people do want help. There are those with bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, or paranoia who resist treatment." Newsom says he wants to see the implementation of AB 1421 in San Francisco. The state law allows for the involuntary outpatient treatment of unwilling mental patients in certain circumstances including violent behavior.

Is Newsom a closet Republican?

"I don't know many pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-gay marriage Republicans," says Newsom. "Some Democrats don't have the kind of progressive values that I have. I'm supporting a 1% tax on the wealthiest people for mental health services. People have been misled about my record."

Since the run-off is pitched as a partisan competition between Democrat Newsom and Green Party member Gonzalez, I ask Newsom the $64,000 question. "The Democrats couldn't beat George Bush in 2000," I said, "They couldn't stop the war in Iraq. They couldn't stop the recall. So what have Democrats done for me lately?"

"I would argue that Al Gore won the election in 2000," says Newsom. He posits that the participation of the Green's Ralph Nadar helped create the razor-thin margin in Florida that led to Bush being appointed by the Supreme Court. It's a position that persists among partisans despite the fact that many more Democrats in Florida voted for Bush in 2000 than voted for Nader.

"As for the recall," Newsom says, "If we had united around the proud traditions of the party and gone strictly against the recall we wouldn't have had the Bustamante candidacy legitimizing the effort to remove the governor and other candidacies that led to the success of the recall."

Though most of Newsom's rhetoric rings well rehearsed he manages to project an image of one who is prepared, but not pretending.

I imagine it's difficult to remain sincere when talking with thousands of San Franciscans each day on the campaign trail. "I really try," he says, "I want every handshake to mean something."

This fits with the Newsom I observe throughout the afternoon. He does not appear to multi-task. Rather, he remains busy constantly by completing one task before going to the next.

It is through our shared experience at the Hunters Point Boys and Girls Club at 729 Kirkwood Avenue that I peek under the hood of Newsom's shiny hairdo to see if the devil has horns.

"This is the sunniest place in San Francisco," a Kirkwood Avenue resident tells me as we arrive. Representatives from Safeway and community volunteers are ready to give away 500 frozen turkeys and all the trimmings.

Newsom, Hiles, and I roll up our sleeves and jump wholeheartedly into the action, joining a brigade to bring the heavy groceries to the sidewalk in order to spare seniors the hike of about 30 yards. Next, we join the volunteers in passing out the groceries to the line of families stretching down the block.

The gratitude in the eyes of the folks on the other side of the table is contagious. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun. Every last turkey is given to this community.

Later, I ask Newsom what he thought of the handful of people, out of the hundreds who came for food, who wanted to explain to us why they were there. One woman said her uncle was sick and so she needed to collect for him as well.

Newsom is incredulous. "I thought, 'Whoa, you don't have to tell me,'" says Newsom, "Please, just take it." This was also my experience and I believe one of authentic compassion.

By sunset I don't know if I'm convinced that Newsom is the better choice for mayor, but I am convinced he's not the devil. That observation might also seem like no great shakes, but in the Left Coast City it puts me somewhere on the political spectrum between Nancy Pelosi and General Franco. Viva San Francisco!

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