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An Interview with Gavin Newsom, part 1

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Part 1: Introduction

(The full interview will appear over the next few days)

The hair is a little greyer, the face more lined than when I first met Gavin Newsom nearly 30 years ago. But at the age of 50, he’s still trim and handsome. And there’s something striking there now that wasn’t earlier, or at least I didn’t see it: gravitas.

He was, in the early 1990s, just a private citizen, starting up a wine shop in San Francisco, with some help from his father, William, a judge on the California Court of Appeal, and the billionaire Gordon Getty, to whom Judge Newsom was a close advisor. Gavin’s subsequent success in building up his PlumpJack Group empire of wine shops, resorts, restaurants and bars got, at the very least, a considerable boost from wealthy and powerful people who loved him and wanted to help him.

Yet it is unequivocally true that everything that Gavin Newsom has achieved—not just the business empire but his political success as he sits on the threshold of being Governor of California– has come about through Newsom’s vision, hard work and inner focus. (Newsom himself would say that his greatest achievement has been his family, which includes his wife, Jennifer, and four kids.) The drive that was so palpable to those of us who knew him in the early 1990s is, if anything, even stronger today.

The political biography is a matter of record. In 1996, San Francisco’s mayor, Willie Brown, appointed him to the city’s Parking and Traffic Commission, a tedious sinecure that could not have held much interest for the young man, but it was a start… A year later, again with Brown’s help, Gavin found himself on the Board of Supervisors, the city’s legislative body, where, as has often been pointed out, he was the only straight, white male.

By then the trajectory was clear. He was re-elected to the Board several times before being elected, in 2003, Mayor of San Francisco. He had begun, by this time, to forge the political relationships that would be so important to his future career: Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, environmental activists. He was re-elected easily four years later.

As Mayor, Newsom was largely—not entirely—successful. His number one issue was homelessness, which he promised, if not to end, then to reduce. That he did not do so is obvious from the state of the city today–although he argues, not unpersuasively, that this was the fault of subsequent mayors for not following up on his lead. And what mayor, anywhere in America, has solved homelessness? Newsom at least made a concerted effort.

And yet, on another issue, Mayor Newsom made his mark, in the national media, in the history books and, in the minds of some of us, in the annals of moral courage. In 2004, he began presiding over same-sex marriages at City Hall, in violation of state law—the first mayor anywhere to do so. It was an audacious (some said outrageous) move. Newsom says he inherited that sense of justice and social equity from Judge Newsom; indeed, he inhaled, from his earliest days, what Republicans derisively call “San Francisco values,” Democratic ideals that inform his thinking to this day.

And then there were the two terms as California’s Lieutenant-Governor. Probably, from his point of view, the less said about that, the better: Newsom made no secret of his boredom with that largely ceremonial post. Probably he would have run for Governor in 2010, except for one barrier, and a formidable one it was: Jerry Brown. After two terms, he wanted the job again. It was a coronation for the popular Brown: the best, most graceful thing Gavin could do was smile and be the “heir and a spare.” He knew his day would come. Now, eight years later, it has.

He won, to no one’s surprise, the Democratic nomination for Governor last Election Day, and immediately hit the ground running. The position papers, the hustings, the interviews and fund raisers: the routines of a candidate. (Gavin Newsom no less than Barack Obama has mastered the art of fund-raising from an army of small supporters through social media.) Of all the times I’ve interviewed him over the years, this was by far the hardest to arrange, as I knew it would be. Getting an interview with a Mayor or even a Lieutenant-Governor is relatively simple. I had Gavin’s email. I would send him a request, he’d get right back to me, and we’d figure out where to meet. The last few years when he was Lieutenant-Governor, we’d meet in his San Francisco office, which he chose to be, not in the State of California building, a dreary, ugly complex in Civic Center, but in a shared workspace, a South of Market hive near AT&T Park. Newsom clearly preferred to spend his time with bright, creative twenty- and thirty-somethings rather than be stuck inside a drab office surrounded by bureaucrats.

But this time, getting an appointment took more time and effort. At first his people offered me a 15-minute telephone interview. I said, with some petulance and irritation, no. They told Gavin; he intervened and gave me thirty minutes in his new offices, in the Financial District. The half-hour extended to closer to an hour as our conversation kept on going and Newsom’s scheduler’s anxiety mounted.

Newsom is heavily favored to beat the Republican candidate, John Cox, whom he’s crushing in the polls in blue-blue California. As soon as he becomes Governor of California, the photogenic Newsom will be short-listed as a future Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate; as he points out, that goes with the territory of being Governor of the fifth largest economy in the world.

I began by asking Newsom how winning the primary has impacted his life.

 Tomorrow: Newsom on his father, campaigning, Trump, impeachment, the November elections, and a surprising suggestion for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate

  1. Bill Hamilton says:

    Seriously – Do the RIGHT thing for sane Americans. I hope Newsom becomes Governor of the miserable state of California, and pray for the Nation that he successfully succeeds from the Union…..Yes “pray” hard for all you Godless folks to comprehend.

  2. Obviously the writer is some kind of trumpian fanatic. #Sad.

  3. Mynameis Nobody says:

    GN is a clown at best. Treat him as such.

  4. I approve this comment only to illustrate the cluelessness of the right. Trump called Newsom a “clown.” This “Mynameis Nobody” heard it and is robotically repeating it with no understanding of Gavin Newsom. That’s what trump enablers do: repeated slurs they hear on rightwing media. #Sad.

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