Garcia: Sex scandal media frenzy won't end soon 

One of Gavin Newsom’s handlers asked me on Thursday how long I thought the revelation of the mayor’s affair with his top aide’s wife would stay in the news cycle.

Oh, maybe two or three months, possibly longer if ratings and newspaper street sales continue to spike up. Remember, it is a TV sweeps period.

I have been covering news events at City Hall for more than two decades, but nothing — not homicides, not riots, not allegations of top officials sleeping with underage prostitutes — has brought out more "media’’ than the crushthat packed the mayor’s press conference Thursday. It was so crowded it was difficult to take notes, not that the mayor’s brief apology required much writing time.

Tragedy loves company, and this one is going to be standing room only. If the mayor thinks he’s going to be "moving forward’’ from here, he better get used to having two dozen cameras along for the ride.

This story is positively Clintonesque in its scope and lurid appeal, horrible for all involved and luscious for all those who would have a field day with it. At its core is a huge character flaw in an undeniably popular and charismatic politician who can’t seem to avoid bringing the world down on himself even as he coasts to victory. It would be hard to cast a more sordid story than having an affair with the wife of one of your most trusted lieutenants — especially one who helped you rise to the mountaintop.

Now we’ll find out how far he will fall. Bill Clinton survived nearly eight years of various versions of "Bimbo-gate’’ and a relentless, politically motivated probe into his personal dealings. Similar circumstances now promise to envelop Room 200 at City Hall, where a frenzy of rumor and innuendo reached unknown heights Thursday.

Does the mayor have a substance abuse problem? Did drinking lead to his deplorable lapse in judgment? Was there a pregnancy involved? How can the voters in The City trust him? The questions that peppered mayoral spokesman Peter Ragone came in every version and angle and then were repeated as if they had never been asked. There is blood in the water, and it’s seeping from the mayor of San Francisco.

Lost in the frenzy is the reality that there are people’s lives involved and many of them have been absolutely crushed by the scandal. Does anybody care? I was told that one of the "reporters’’ trying to contact Ruby Tourk was from the Howard Stern show. What would a shock jock want with this story? Well, it’s shocking, involves sex and may ultimately lead to the end of a promising political career. And there’s no time like now to exploit it.

Newsom’s enemies have hit the blogs and the airwaves with never-seen fury and those dying to see him take a tumble finally have hope that he can lose. The mayor looked worse yesterday than at anytime I’ve seen him. He didn’t just look vulnerable — he looked beaten. And even though some of his staff members said Newsom gave an inspiring speech after he apologized to them for his actions, you have to wonder what the term loyalty now means to those in his administration.

The mayor now has a character issue bigger than a city block and his political opponents will try to jump on it for all they’re worth. But this being sexually liberal San Francisco, will enough people let it pass come November’s election?

President Clinton won two terms in large part because the Republicans provided a weak opponent during his second campaign, and no one has emerged from the cast of usual suspects that would appear strong enough to defeat Newsom. Issues of trust have never been a big part of San Francisco’s election history — just ask Willie Brown. But the question now dogging the mayor is whether he can still do his job with the media swarming around him.

Politics has always been a contact sport in San Francisco, but no one has seen such a vicious onslaught as this. Sam Singer, one of the representatives for Ruby Tourk, told me Thursday that he had never heard such horrible rumors as the ones that have erupted from this affair, and Singer has been called in to deal with most of The City’s political disasters in recent years.

One of those rumors I can categorically dispel. Singer said Ruby Tourk never once contemplated any legal action against the mayor. "A lawsuit was never part of the picture for her," he told me.

Of course, that won’t necessarily stop more inquiries about potential lawsuits. In this story, why should facts get in the way?

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Franscisco's Next Mayor?

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

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