Mayor-backed ‘Sexy’ ads raise eyebrows 

"Volunteering is Sexy." That is the new ad campaign for the nonprofit backed by Mayor Gavin Newson and launched by his former campaign manager Alex Tourk.

The media push for San Francisco Connect has been in the works for months, and, ironically, was created with the help of Tourk, who recently resigned after learning that the mayor had an affair with his wife, Newsom’s former secretary. Newsomadmitted to the affair earlier this month, and days later confessed to having problems with alcohol.

Prior to joining his campaign in September, Tourk, 35, had been Newsom’s deputy chief of staff and was widely credited for the creation of the Mayor’s Project Homeless Connect program, which puts on daylong events that provide homeless people with services and donated goods. Tourk also helped start SF Connect, which debuted in August of last year, and, similarly, puts on volunteer events that are connected with various city agencies, as well as being supported with private donation dollars.

In December, at a meeting held for SF Connect supporters, as well as potential donors, Newsom said he had heard about the new slogan from Tourk.

"I said, ‘No way I can’t get away with that,’" Newsom said to laughter.

The Volunteering is Sexy campaign hits 50 bus shelters this week, as well as billboards, airwaves and magazines just as Newsom’s re-election campaign kicks into gear. The campaign was created pro bono by San Francisco advertising heavyweight Goodby, Silverstein and Partners.

Project Connect is "Mayor Gavin Newsom’s portal for recognizing our collective potential," according to a message on the organization’s Web site. The online publicity tool also displays pictures of Newsom talking to a homeless person.

As a nonprofit, Newsom’s SF Connect can also solicit private donations. At the December meeting, Ron Conway, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, announced that the organization hopes to bring in $1 million annually.

Critics of the organization, including Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who has called the nonprofit "Re-Elect Connect," have said the program lacks transparency, since there are not the same contribution restrictions on a nonprofit that are in place for campaign fundraising.

David McCuen, professor of political scienceat Sonoma State University, called Project Connect a "parallel political organization."

"It’s an organization that’s not really political, but is designed to enhance the image of the candidate or the incumbent," McCuen said.

Project Connect Executive Director Dariush Kayhan said that such criticism was frustrating, noting that Project Homeless Connect has helped thousands of homeless people and mobilized more than 15,000 volunteers since its inception in 2004.

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?

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