Newsom’s strong standing in polls belies his series of high-profile setbacks in ’06 

While Newsom still enjoys strong favor with the public according to polls, he suffered several significant political setbacks last year, perhaps one of his roughest since taking office.

A lost opportunity to possibly host the 2016 Olympics. The threat of seeing San Francisco’s football team move out of The City. Violence at several popular city events. A court rejection of Newsom’s effort to secure same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Business leaders’ rejection of The City’s demand that employers pay for workers’ health care. An election where voters sided with the progressive faction of the Board of Supervisors, most of them Newsom critics, and voted against most of the candidates he endorsed.

The election — as well as the resignation this week of former emergency services chief Annemarie Conroy and the temporary ouster earlier this year of another Newsom pick, Heidi Machen, head of the Taxicab Commission — underscored that Newsom’s coattails cannot be ridden by his appointments.

Newsom’s charm also failed to win over San Francisco 49ers co-owner John York, who called the mayor in November to say the team was pulling up stakes to build its new stadium in Santa Clara. While some fast talking from Newsom — along with pressure from political heavyweights including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein — restarted negotiations, recent letters exchanged between the two men show that the relationship is tense, with York accusing Newsom of "political gamesmanship."

The uncertainty over the stadium resulted in San Francisco pulling out of a competition with Los Angeles and Chicago to be the nation’s candidate to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — a competition that leaned so far in The City’s favor that one Bay Area official said earlier this year that it was "San Francisco’s to lose."

While Olympic fever was still in high pitch, San Francisco’s ability to host big-crowd events came under question due to problems with drinking and violence that threatened to shut down popular, annual city events — including the summer North Beach Festival and the Halloween street party in the Castro, which was marred by the shooting of nine people, despite the presence of hundreds of law enforcement officials.

The shooter from that incident was never captured, and the perceived lack of a strong response from police Chief Heather Fong — also a Newsom appointee — led Bevan Dufty, the city supervisor representing the Castro, to join other Board of Supervisors members in questioning her leadership.

The political battle over the police was sparked by an effort from Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who authored legislation requiring minimum staffing levels for police foot patrols. Although Newsom applauded Mirkarimi’s push for more community policing in his 2005 State of The City address, the mayor vetoed the legislation, saying supervisors shouldn’t dictate police policy, while at the same time working with Fong to bump up the foot-patrol staffing. The veto was overridden by a super-majority of the legislative leaders, leaving the law to be implemented — and leaving questions about why, when all sides agreed on the concept, Newsom wasn’t able to build a bridge of consensus with The City’s legislative body.

Although most members of the public likely don’t know that San Francisco’s mayor has never participated in any meeting with the full Board of Supervisors, a vote of approval from San Franciscans in November said they believe a monthly discussion between the two branches of government could be a good thing.

Newsom has said such meetings would demean his office and lead to "political theater." As he moves into an election year, the mayor might just be trying to hold on to his vaunted political sheen.

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Bonnie Eslinger

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