A time for grace at City Hall 

The Germans have a word for deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others: schadenfreude. The sentiment it captures has been much in evidence this past week since Mayor Gavin Newsom confirmed long-swirling rumors that he had engaged in an affair with his former appointments secretary. The soap-opera aspects of the confession intensified as The City’s top official expressed sorrow that he had so deeply wounded his trusted lieutenant, the secretary’s husband, who felt the need to resign.

It was a scandal fit for national headlines, a confirmation to some pundits that "San Francisco values" were rife with perversion and hypocrisy. Even inside The City the mayor’s political rivals indicated their indignation so swiftly that you could almost detect the sides of their mouths curling upward. That Church Lady smile, you know.

With Newsom’s Monday revelation that he would seek treatment for an alcohol problem the schadenfreude poured so freely that it nearly made up for this season’s shortage of rainfall. Calls for the mayor’s resignation came tripping, unthinkingly, across some lips.

The Examiner deliberately has withheld comment about this developing tragedy, so painful is it to the small circle of people involved. "Tabloid" though we may be in format, we would vastly prefer to stay away from the sensational and concentrate on substantive public policy issues, which sometimes means being critical of Mayor Newsom on matters more germane to the business of The City. Besides, as the public has long since learned, the media are no firmament of angels.

For the record, as the scolds chattered incessantly, we quietly observed a man breaking down, giving into that recognizable moral slump that comes from knowingly breaking an honored taboo, then straightening himself toface a candid world. Cynics called his press conference performance an enactment of Damage Control 101. That it may have been, but even so calculated an exercise summons a measure of stand-up courage.

Over the course of the next months, as the mayor seeks enough public forgiveness and approval to secure re-election, we’ll see more clearly whether his remorse was real and whether it was a first, faltering step toward redemption. During the coming period we would advise his political competitors to step back and allow the leader The City’s voters picked to grow in moral stature.

Such wisdom requires grace. It calls for willingness, however difficult for the power-seekers, to suspend political judgments. Those can wait until the fall, as the balloting draws closer.

For now, let our communal focus remain fixed on the needs of San Francisco. There are businesses to be planned and started, neighborhoods to be revitalized, proverbial potholes to fix, people to shelter, a deadly crime rate to combat — all a more pressing agenda than this.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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