Mayor pushes health care finances as positives 

Mayor Gavin Newsom sat down with reporter Bonnie Eslinger for his annual year-end interview with The Examiner.

What do you see as your strongest successes during your first three years in office? I think notably, and I think this always gets short shrift, is balancing yet again a rather large budget deficit. I’ve had three budgets, all of which have been difficult. I would argue that 90 percent of our values, maybe 95 percent of our values, are incorporated into that budget. Just as an example, in spite of the deficit, we’ve invested $210.7 million in housing — unprecedented in our city’s history. We added more reserves than any other time in our city’s history. Our bond rating has increased, in spite of making tough decisions.

What I’m most proud of, we’re going to do something that no city in American history has ever attempted to do, and that’s provide universal health care. That’s extraordinary. Now the work that needs to go in, which by the way, is enormous.

I’m proud of the 10-year capital plan, working with Supervisor [Sean] Elsbernd. And we funded it, that’s what significant. We funded more than we can spend on street repairs, I don’t believe we’ll be able to spend the money we put in the budget. We can’t hire enough contractors, there’s not enough to do it all at the same time. But we’ll be close, don’t get me wrong.

The City’s budget has been balanced on a boost of property taxes — could we be headed for a fall if revenues start to drop? Yes. That’s why we’ve added more reserves, that’s why my budget represents a historic amount of capital, not ongoing operating increases. Save our commitment, I’ve been criticized for this, and I really find that remarkable, save our commitment to our labor unions to give back 7½ percent, which they gave back for four years, almost a half a billion dollars unions gave back to The City to get us through a difficult time.

You’ve said the SF Health Access Plan won’t work without the business contribution, and now there’s a lawsuit from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Are you reconsidering other ways to pay for the plan? Well, I’m not right now. It was predictable. If they prevail, we’ll have to work around it. We’re creating a contingency. We still will be able to work around it, though it will be much more complex.

A sales tax? Not necessarily. There’s going to be some announcements on the Health Access Plan in the next few days or months, an update, in regards to timing, how new legislation in Sacramento may have an impact, if the state and federal government woke up and did the right thing.

The belief is that violent crime is up. What is being done about robberies and assaults? We’ve created this new task force on car break-ins, targeting tourists about leaving bags. We’re seeing most laptops, GPS map units, we’re seeing a lot stolen, shopping bags this holiday season. So we came up with a new decentralized strategy. We’ve got an auto-detailoperation doing targeted enforcement in the downtown area and Fisherman’s Wharf. We’re using bait cars, which I probably

shouldn’t be talking about.

In specialty units, into tactical units, to saturate, to focus on homicides and aggressive violent crimes, as opposed to burglaries and other things.

You have promised to overhaul the culture of the Police Department and yet a year later, what’s been done? We’re going to hit the ground running this year. We are working with foundations, notably with the president of the Police Commission, Louise Renne, to find private money so I don’t have to wait until the next fiscal year to hire the position that will help us fast-track. I wish I could just say, Board of Supervisors, give me a half million dollars, here’s the person I want, but we have this process.

What would this person do? It’s a comprehensive review of best practices of the department from an organization that comes in and reviews protocols for police departments across the country.

Although you’ve said you have an open-door policy with the Board of Supervisors, your relationship with the board seems tenuous. I was a member of the board so I have intimate understanding of this because I’ve been on both sides, which by the way is utterly unique, because most mayors are not previously supervisors, save Feinstein. In the last 50 years, that was an anomaly.

But I can appreciate that I can do more to communicate directly with members of the board, but I have a liaison to the board whose full-time job is to communicate with members of the board.

What about meeting with the Board of Supervisors for question time? It [the policy measure on the ballot] was a public opinion poll, it

wasn’t a charter change. There was no campaign whatsoever to explain the open-door policy that currently exists, to explain the relationship I have with the public through the town halls we do on a quarterly basis. It was a policy statement about the public wanting to see more communication between the Mayor’s Office and the board. And so we said, in the spirit of that, let’s have some substantive discussions on issues and let’s do it with real people. If you show up in the community and have an interactive dialogue with the community and the board, that would be more conducive to fulfilling the will of the voters.

But you just said the voters wanted communication between the Mayor’s Office and the board — what your office has proposed is a town hall discussion between you and the community, where the Board of Supervisors is merely invited to participate. I’m not going to demean the office of the mayor, not me, the office of the mayor, by creating political theater. It doesn’t exist in any city in the country. This is the difference; I’m not elected to be mayor by the city council. I’m elected by the people of San Francisco to do my job. I have a hard enough time keeping my schedule as it is, every day there’s an emergency. It’s political theater.

Do you think you’ll have to spend another $3.1 million for this [November 2007 mayoral] race? More. The Board of Supervisors wrote themselves a check for almost $7 million in public financing. They have a huge advantage for opponents, don’t they? Huge advantage, because they get free money from the public, even though that money is not used to pave the streets or for health care.

Being Mayor

How many hours on the job? There is no not spending time on this job. You don’t go home and not be mayor. You go home and within 10 minutes the police chief calls or the fire chief talks about a three-alarm fire.

How do you find balance? You don’t. I haven’t been able to, and that’sthe very candid response. It’s been very difficult to find it, and when I do try and find it, it’s very difficult because I’ll read about it, right? I’ll be sitting having dinner and then you’re dating someone you’ve never even kissed, and now she’s your girlfriend and everybody’s writing about it as fact. It’s frustrating.

What’s your preferred pastime? I’ve discovered I have a passion for movies. Any kind, I don’t care. I tend to go on Sundays, I’ll go to the multiplex — and I hate to say this because I’m a single-screen theater guy — whenever I have time I’ll see whatever’s playing. For example, I walked in two years ago to the "Passion of Christ" on a Sunday with my suit on and I was booed, because of the gay marriage. I always wondered why [former Mayor] Willie [Brown] was so into movies; as a supervisor, I wasn’t so into them. But you can truly relax, no one’s talking to you. It’s quiet, it’s dark and you can just listen. It’s interesting, as mayor, I’ve developed a real passion for them.

Most recent movie? "Babel"

Popcorn? I used to be a buttered popcorn guy, and then I started gaining weight, so I don’t eat as much as I used to.

Daily exercise regimen? Running — plus outdoor workouts about three times a week.

What do you usually eat for lunch? Turkey sandwich.

At night, do you cook at home, pick up take-out or eat out? Most nights, I eat out.

Do you have a bodyguard even when you’re off-duty? Yes.

Tags: ,

About The Author

Bonnie Eslinger

Pin It

More by Bonnie Eslinger

Latest in Government & Politics

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation