Mayor admits affair with staffer, apologizes 

It was a quick and somber statement that lasted two minutes but put to rest months of rumors and 24 hours of drama that had seized the corridors of City Hall. Facing a crush of cameras and reporters at a press conference Thursday morning, Mayor Gavin Newsom admitted that he had an affair with a former secretary — the wife of one ofhis top advisers.

Newsom’s confession confirmed media reports that surfaced Wednesday of his sexual relationship with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, the wife of Alex Tourk, who until resigning Wednesday was Newsom’s re-election campaign manager and is his former deputy chief of staff.

Although the affair reportedly occurred about a year and a half ago, Rippey-Tourk, 34, had recently confessed the affair to her husband as part of a rehabilitation program she’s going through for alcohol and substance use, according to a friend of the family, Sam Singer, who is also acting as her spokesman. Since Newsom was out of town last week in Davos, Switzerland, Alex Tourk waited until this week to confront the mayor and quit the Newsom re-election campaign Wednesday afternoon.

Tourk, 35, was part of Newsom’s inner circle of advisers, having run his election campaign four years ago and then ascending to deputy chief of staff. Often referred to as a dedicated and loyal Newsom aide, Tourk had designed and implemented one of the most successful programs of the mayor’s term, Project Homeless Connect, which allowed one-stop shopping of services for homeless individuals. The program is being copied on a national level.

In addition to working together, Alex Tourk and Newsom were friends, having known each other for 10 years.

"They were friends. They went to dinner together. They went to ballgames," said political consultant Eric Jaye, who is also working on Newsom’s re-election campaign.

The mayor’s press office released a statement Wednesday afternoon in which Tourk said he was leaving for "personal reasons," but the affair had not been a secret to some City Hall insiders who leaked the full story to members of the media upon hearing of Tourk’s resignation.

"I’m deeply sorry that I’ve hurt someone I care deeply about, Alex Tourk, his friends and family. That’s something I have to live with and somethingI am deeply sorry for," Newsom said on Thursday at the press conference.

After making his statement, Newsom walked out of the room, without taking any questions from reporters.

News of Newsom’s confession, notably, did not fuel a fire under his political critics, who responded to questions about the affair with restraint.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin called the situation a "very sad, unfortunate, personal matter."

Supervisor Chris Daly said the incident has put a spotlight on the issue of Newsom’s integrity.

"No one was more loyal to Gavin Newsom than Alex Tourk. The most important things in politics are trust and respect," said Daly, who also expressed concern about the legality of Newsom’s actions, since Rippey-Tourk was a subordinate.

Although others within City Hall echoed Daly’s thoughts that Newsom’s former appointments secretary had grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit, Singer said she had no intention of pursuing any legal action against Newsom or The City.

"She considers this a personal matter," Singer said.

If the relationship was consensual, there are no legal grounds for a sexual harassment claim, said Art Hartinger, a former deputy city attorney who now works in private practice. According to San Francisco Administrative Code, although consensual romantic relationships between a supervisor and a subordinate "may create a potential for conflict or an appearance of impropriety," they are not prohibited.

Nonetheless, Newsom’s relationship with Rippey-Tourk, which reportedly occurred during the breakup of his own marriage, was not just personally reckless, it was politically rash, said Corey Cook, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.

"There are affairs, and then there’s cheating on your close friend who’s directing your re-election effort," said Cook. "Everyone inCity Hall knew all three of the people involved. The bigger story on this, is how does he be mayor tomorrow? How does he deal with the Board of Supervisors? How does this affect his ability to do his job and interact with his staff?"

After the press conference, his spokesman, Peter Ragone, said the mayor’s top advisers are united in their support of Newsom. He also said the mayor has no intention of resigning and will move ahead with his re-election campaign.

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 Francisco's Next Mayor?

beslinger@examiner.com

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Bonnie Eslinger

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