Garcia: Mayor must overcome self-doubt 

Last week, after the mayor of San Francisco admitted that he had an affair with the wife of a longtime aide, his press director said Gavin Newsom didn’t have a drinking problem and that booze had nothing to do with the "mistake.’’ Whoops, my mistake. As it turns out, the mayor does have a problem with alcohol, but that’s not the cause of his major digression.

They’re separate issues, really, according to his handlers, which is why they decided to spread the character/quaffing question into a second week. Now it’s all about taking personal responsibility and doing the right thing. You know, the type of thing people hoped they were doing in the first place.

Human frailty contains a certain amount of universal appeal, which is why so many people seem poised to forgive the mayor for his transgressions. That’s certainly what Team Newsom is banking on because they’ve now provided the script of a two-act play — inhopes that there won’t be a third. And that may be a tall order, considering how many rumors have been circulating around Newsom and his staffers in the last year and how many reporters have been digging into them.

Let me join the gathering of sympathetic San Franciscans to wish the mayor well on his road to recovery. And let me add my name to the puzzled throngs in asking how such an unseemly mess unfolds. If people on the street are wondering how such a bright, intelligent person could do such an incredibly stupid thing, those of us who see him on a regular basis are even more troubled with questions. For lost amid the more prurient parts of the scandal are signs of reckless self-destruction — the exact opposite of the image Newsom and his inner circle have worked so hard to project.

To see Newsom in his ornate office or in an unscripted street appearance is to watch someone with an unerring sense of discipline. His desk is almost spartan in its severe orderliness, covered by neatly arranged folders bearing the titles of the initiatives he carefully manages — homelessness, homicide, 311, Muni, work force development. Behind his chair are books exhibiting the latest in management practices — a wonkish aspect of his personality that cannot be staged. On the door leading to the hallway is a picture of Robert Kennedy — the one Kennedy brother who managed to follow his ideals without a history of personal fallibility.

This is a person who believes in order and control almost as a mantra. All those late nights drinking at the Balboa Cafe and other Marina district haunts never stopped him from looking fresh at a 7:30 breakfast appearance. It was almost as if he willed himself to do the work, the 17-hour days, the never-ending round of public stops.

So how did the wheels come off just as he was about to embark on the victory lap? For Newsom this is a journey filled with self-doubt. When others were feeling that his first mayoral winwas imminent, it was Newsom who was insisting that it simply was not so. About the only time I’ve seen him supremely happy in his decisions was after he gave the green light on same-sex marriages. Yet part of that was being swept up in the energy at City Hall when the place was abuzz with the unmistakable sense of a historic moment.

As long as I’ve known the mayor, he’s always questioned himself on matters great and small, particularly his place in them. I remember not long after his inauguration he told me — with utmost sincerity — that he would probably be a one-term mayor, a statement that he’s repeated any number of times in the years since. And one can only now understand that there were certainly things taking place to make that a real possibility.

Why would someone with such popularity and power do things that would stop them from achieving the very goals and ambitions they seek? At the core is sheer unhappiness. While Willie Brown absolutely basked in the trappings of political pageantry and the accompanying publicity, Newsom always balked at the parts in which he felt trapped. He bemoaned his loss of privacy and the fact that he couldn’t have much of a personal life. And he absolutely bristled at the inquiries into his personal affairs, exhibiting a level of sensitivity that now makes perfect sense.

Unless there is another blockbuster waiting — something no one would doubt — Newsom’s path is clear. He professes to want to keep his job for five more years, and if he can get his life back in order, chances are he can.

There will always be doubters. He just can’t afford to continue to be among them.

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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