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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The "Taliban Mayor" the "Pandering Show Host" And Me

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2008 at 8:46 AM


Notes from Gavin Newsom’s hour long interview on KQED.

By Benjamin Wachs

Gavin Newsom sat behind the mike of KQED’s “forum” for a full hour yesterday, and came through it smelling like a rose. He was enthusiastic, collected, and in control. He handled being compared to the Taliban by one listener pretty well. He was, dare I say it? Gubernatorial.

Maybe that’s because they spent most of their time talking about Gavin’s favorite issue: Gay Marriage took up nearly half the show’s time (by my admittedly rough estimates). Apparently he's in favor of it.

Several more minutes were spent on Newsom’s own upcoming nuptials, which people are bizarrely fascinated by.

But when the topic turned to city politics there were, indeed, a few jaw dropping moments: most of which raised the question “Can he really believe that? Really?”

Excerpts from those moments are below. But first: MisterMayor, KQED host Michael Krasny, and me gotta have words.

Gentlemen: For the record, I am NOT BeyondChron.

At 18 minutes and 50 seconds into the interview, Krasny compares SF’s budget to that of other cities, saying this information was “pointed out by BeyondChron.”

Uh uh. That was SF Government InAction, here on the Snitch. Krasny used the exact cities I used, with the exact numbers … numbers that never appeared on the worthy BeyondChron.

But okay, that’s an ego thing. What’s more important is Newsom’s response:

“I’m so immeasurably disappointed in what I believe are well intentioned writers and people of conscience that are completely missing the point. We are not a city exclusively as Chicago and L.A. are. You can’t compare the 3. We are a city and a county. This is of such profound consequence. Let me explain …” He goes on to explain that counties run a bunch of things that city’s don’t like welfare programs and airports.

Krasny lets him get away with that, but not me (and possibly not BeyondChron - who knows?).

First: I admit I picked L.A. and Chicago because I thought they best illustrated the point - not because it's strictly apples-to-apples. But no city-to-city comparison is ever strictly apples-to-apples: that doesn't mean they're not illustrative.

One of the cities I compared us to, Indianapolis, is a consolidated city/county. Newsom knows that, which is why he doesn't mention Indy in the quote above, or address it at all. Second, does he really want make "it's not a city/county" his excuse? Because … here’s the thing … most consolidated city/counties actually save money through economies of scale. It actually costs LESS to run a joint city/county than it does to run both. Except ... apparently ... in our case. But, all right Gavin, if you want to say that SF should only be compared to other city/counties, I’m happy to oblige:

In addition to Indianapolis:

Budget: just over $1 billion

Population: $750,000

There’s the consolidated city/county of Nashville:

Budget: $1.58 billion

Population: 552,000

And Denver:

Budget: $1.87 billion

Population: 588,000

And a lot of others along the same lines.

Not a very good comparison, is it? Consolidated cities two-thirds of our size have budgets less than one third of ours – sometimes a lot less.

All of which is to say that you’re right: the fact that we’re a consolidated city/county is an important distinction, but it’s a distinction without a difference. Our finances are absurd and you’re still my fiscal bitch. You well intentioned mayor of conscience you.

Now, some of the inverview's other entertaining moments:

14:30 – “I’m the Gay Marriage Mayor” Gavin says. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s still hilarious.

17:00 – Gavin’s says that when he met with Hillary the fact that she asked about San Francisco public housing really struck him. “She’d really thought about this, and I’d thought I’d thought about this more than anybody.”

Really Gavin? Really? Because I bet there just might be a few people in San Francisco who have thought about public housing more than you. Some of them live in public housing; some of them are called “housing advocates,” some of them are employed by public housing … the list goes on.

20:00 (approximately) – Newsom accuses both the Democrats and the Republicans in the State government of shamefully cutting programs in a hurtful way, noting that the city doesn’t have the kind of options the state does. This is both wrong and hugely ironic … because the Guardian nailed him on exactly that point this week.

26:40 - “We’ve got an obesity epidemic that is serious and we have got to come to grips with this,” Newsom says. “This needs attention, this is real life. A quarter of our children are obese.”

His plan to deal with this? Crack down on sodas! The #1 corollary with childhood obesity, he says without citing a single study, is drinking sodas (which he calls “Calorically Sweetened Beverages”). “It’s literally killing our children.” He says he can back that up with facts. He doesn’t give any.

He’s also wrong. While sodas are unquestionably a serious contributing factor, the Journal of Pediatrics has done numerous reviews of this issue and determined that “Certainly, soft drinks are not the root cause of obesity … It is important to recognize that even if soft drink consumption was eliminated through a zealous, latter-day prohibition movement, it is unlikely to eliminate obesity, given the many factors that contribute.”

But nice try. And hey - who doesn't love a zealous latter-day prohibition movement?

36:30 - Did Gavin really just encourage people to call 311 to find out about the city’s solar incentives program? Really? I don't think I understood before just how much he wants us to turn to that number for everything.

37:00 - “We want to be the Berlin of the United States,” Gavin says. Oh man. “Berlin … Germany” he adds, helpfully.

39:35 – Did he really just say, in reference to Obama, “It was happenstance that he ran and won the U.S. Senate race,” because his first Republican opponent dropped out? Really? OH COME ON! It’s not HAPPENSTANCE that an Illinois politician successfully runs for Senator. He didn’t trip and fall and land in the senate! It wasn’t a lucky break!

41:20 – Gavin’s WAAAAAY too deferential when he’s asked if he can get married again in a Catholic Church. The answer is no: he can’t take communion, he can’t get married there, and it hurts him terribly … but he “understands” and “respects” where there church is coming from, and he doesn’t try to tell them what to do because that would violate the separation of church and state.

Ah … yeah … the separation of church and state exists SO THAT you can disagree with them. I don’t know if anybody told you, Gavin, but, you get to have an opinion too. I appreciate your willingness to be respectful, but it's okay to be mad that you're suffering for an issue that you're right and they're wrong about. We won't hold it against you.

44:20 – I think someone just called asking Gavin for free legal advice. That’s hilarious. Poor Newsom. “I don’t know anything about your lawsuit, so I can’t talk about the constitutionality of your reference,” he says. He's also not a lawyer. Wow.

45:42 – He says “no one accused us of spending too much money on municipal ID cards.”

Could he possibly believe that?

48:10 – Gavin is asked about his alcoholism. He says “I was able to stop quite easily.” “I didn’t need to go to detox, I didn’t need to go to any 12-step.” Huh.

50:00 - He talks about all the wonderful money and increadible programs the city is putting in schools. Man, if only he had results to talk about, too. That would be sweet.

And now we're back to where I started: the city confuses enormous budgets with positive results. But they're not the same thing.

The interview ends on a high note with the two of them talking about what a suck-up Krasny's been. At least I think that's a high note. It's so hard to tell, anymore.

All in all a very good interview for Gavin - demonstrating he can go the distance with a friendly interlocutor. Less good for Krasny, who really was deferential. And terrible for those of us here at BeyondChron ... er, SF Weekly.

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Benjamin Wachs


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