Garcia: Chaos around mayor grows 

The general view around town is that the only person who could beat Gavin Newsom in the race for mayor this year was Gavin Newsom, and in that regard, the mayor is doing a pretty fine job.

Yesterday’s announcement that Newsom’s campaign manager was quitting is the latest stumble in Newsom’s re-election effort, one that has yet to see a credible challenger in sight. Yet Alex Tourk’s abrupt departure is a sure sign that things are something of a mess in Room 200 — especially given the stunning revelations about what may be behind it all.

As it is, campaign officials said Tourk resigned for "personal reasons,’’ and the buzz around City Hall all day was that it personally involved Tourk’s wife, Ruby Tourk, who was formerly the mayor’s commission appointment secretary. No one is saying anything for the record and the Mayor’s Office worked mightily all day to avoid the topic.

I couldn’t get any of the mayor’s senior aides to discuss it — a first for me. And I couldn’t get either Ruby or Alex Tourk to return numerous phone calls, and I consider them friends.

"Alex is our deep and dear friend, and when he says he’s resigning for personal reasons, we keep it personal,’’ said Eric Jaye, the mayor’s chief campaign strategist. "Someone will always speculate as to why, but it’s our job to move forward.’’

Rumors about the mayor’s alleged relationship with his aide’s wife have been circulating for months, and combined with the recent wave of defections have led to an atmosphere of chaos at City Hall. Tourk’s resignation comes on the heels of the decision of chief of staff Steve Kawa to quit, leaving the mayor without his top two lieutenants just as he heads into the thick of the campaign.

Ruby Tourk took a leave of absence for nearly three months last year before returning briefly and then going off to work for Benefit magazine. The comings and goings have not gone unnoticed around City Hall, where several supervisors have used Newsom’s struggles to criticize the mayor and possibly to shape their own runs for San Francisco’s top political job.

But the silence from the Mayor’s Office speaks volumes about the circle-the-wagons mentality that has gripped it in recent months, from the mayor’s losing a power struggle over police foot patrols to the stunning announcement that the 49ers were going to leave San Francisco for the mighty gateway of Santa Clara. And when your friends start abandoning ship at the most critical juncture, it’s not exactly a sign that the operation is running smoothly.

And no one was more loyal than Tourk. Tourk left the Mayor’s Office about three months ago to begin the setup of the campaign operations and most recently opened the headquarters on Van Ness Avenue. I saw him at a campaign function a little more than a week ago, and he was all smiles as the mayor chatted up his friends and reminded everyone that all the recent races have been close — even when no other candidates were on the horizon.

Jaye, a master spinmeister, did his best to stay on message Wednesday, but it was clear that Tourk’s sudden exit was a big blow for the campaign — especially if anyone can ever confirm some of the rampant speculation about the mayor’s alleged interoffice dalliance.

"It’s a tough situation for the mayor, but he won’t make it a tough situation for the people of San Francisco," Jaye told me. "That’s the only thing in his control. There will always be rumors and speculation, but if you can keep your head up, you move through.’’

Jaye may be right that we live in a world of innuendo and unconfirmed reports, but it’s generally a good idea if your office and candidate don’t generate them.

The Chronicle has no compunction about running items based on anonymous sources suggesting that the mayor is regularly getting tipsy and engaging in untoward behavior around town — and one can only imagine what Newsom’s countless political opponents will do with such embarrassing revelations. And that goes double for the Bay Guardian and any of its faithful readers who would happily don a chicken suit to heckle the mayor at a public hearing.

It doesn’t take a lot to turn a soft 80 percent favorability rating into a lingering perception of vulnerability. Whatever has taken place in the Mayor’s Office can’t be good, given how hard they’re trying to place a lid on it.

Those lids have a way of blowing up. Newsom’s inner circle is looking more like a broken shell, and time will tell if they’ll ever be able to put the pieces back together.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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