A San Francisco Kind of Hero

Now that the California Supreme Court has rejected San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s attempt to thwart state law in support of same-sex marriage, how does the political future look for the man described by Newsweek as one of America’s top 10 Democrats?

In San Francisco, certainly, it’s golden. Elected with a 62% approval rating in December 2003, Newsom’s approval stood at a dizzying 85% in the most recent poll. Maybe he could boost it even higher by proposing something such as city funding for dating services where men who used to be women can meet women who used to be men. If that sounds far-fetched remember, this is San Francisco.

But where Newsom’s same-sex marriage gambit may hurt him is in any ambitions for state or national office. Although he was mobbed by adoring throngs at every A-list party during the Democratic National Convention in Boston, party officials made sure he had no speaking role. With gay and lesbian marriage such a divisive social issue, they were afraid the Republicans would seize on it as a hot button during the presidential election, making Newsom the poster boy for the party.

California Democrats may have similar apprehensions when it comes to 2006. San Francisco Democrats already carry enough baggage when tying to appeal to the rest of the state without the added burden of such a controversial issue. True, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein have been successful in statewide races, but Boxer has had either extraordinary luck or weak competition in her Senate races and Feinstein, by San Francisco standards, is a virtual right-winger.

If he ran for statewide office, Newsom would be trying to convince the same Californians who four years ago passed Proposition 22, defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It was approved by a healthy 61.4 per cent of voters.

A same-sex marriage foe, Robert Knight, whose Culture and Family Institution is affiliated with Concerned Women for America, says Newsom has embarrassed his party. He believes the Supreme Court ruling shows that the mayor and Democratic leadership is out of step with mainstream America on this issue.

Newsom remains defiant, maintaining he will continue a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and insisting he is even more resolved. And referring to the 4000 gay and lesbian couples married in San Francisco between February 12 and March 11, he said his “fight for equal rights has put a human face on discrimination for the world to see.”

As someone who deplores the steady decline of San Francisco over the years from a pleasant, tourist-friendly city to one where visitors have to run a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers, street grime and violent criminals, I’m disappointed that Newsom has so far failed to live up to his pre-election potential. I lauded his candidacy in this space in July 2003, largely because of his common-sense plan to clean up the streets and improve San Francisco’s quality of life. Unfortunately, that was not the battle he chose to fight once in office and it may cost him.

Politicians who are ahead of their time often achieve great success, but to the extent Newsom has ambitions beyond San Francisco he may pay a price for being too far ahead of his time.

He will, however, remain a media darling along with his wife Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, a former Victoria’s Secret model and prosecutor and now a toothsome talking head on legal matters on cable TV. When Harper’s Bazaar hits the newsstands next Tuesday it will feature a photo spread on the couple, who it refers to as “the new Kennedys.” One shot has the pair in a tuxedo and gown sprawled out on a rug, something I don’t recall Jack and Jackie doing.