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Public Affairs

Newsom provides snapshot of life as S.F. mayor

May 19, 2004

Photo of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom listening to a student's commentsA political science class received a crash course on San Francisco politics as Mayor Gavin Newsom shared with students stories of his job as chief executive of the city.

"Every day is like a final exam," he said, acknowledging that the mayor's race last fall was much more challenging than his mayoral duties, yet great preparation for the job.

Newsom was most candid when answering questions from students in the California Politics and Government class taught by Assistant Professor Corey Cook, discussing subjects from budget crises and homelessness to same-sex marriage and San Francisco's increasing homicide rate. Students also asked about Bill Clinton's and Al Gore's endorsement of Newsom during the mayor's race and a stronger police presence on Lake Merced Boulevard, the site of many car break-ins.

Newsom became an international hero and pariah earlier this year when he allowed the city to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He said he believes that same-sex marriages are a principled right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; the notion of legal civil unions is "disgraceful," he said.

"I tell all those married politicians that believe civil unions are the answer, I ask them this: Are they willing to give up their marriage in order to have a civil union in its place?" he said. "I guarantee you not one of them will say, 'Yeah, I prefer a civil union.' And the reason they won't is because they know full well that marriage has more significance and meaning."

Since he was sworn in as mayor in January, Newsom has focused much of his time on reducing crime and improving life in two of San Francisco's most violent, impoverished neighborhoods, Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley. Convincing witnesses of the city's 35 murders this year to come forward is always a challenge due to fear of retaliation, even with stronger witness-protection programs. He described a meeting with a gang member who barely survived a recent shooting that claimed the lives of two friends.

"He saw who did the crime and he said, 'There ain't no way in hell' -- and I know him -- 'that I'm going to say a word,'" Newsom said, noting that this person volunteered for his mayoral campaign.

Efforts to reduce crime and homelessness are even more difficult as the city faces a $352 million shortfall.

Regarding the California budget crisis and its effects on SFSU, Newsom criticized the $15 billion bond measure passed by California voters in March and said that major changes are needed.

"There are systemic problems (in the state budget). There's almost a permanent fiscal crisis as we try to rationalize our tax structure, rationalize our relationship with cities, states and the federal government," he said. "None of that was resolved, from my perspective, quite the contrary in the governor's May revise."

Newsom encouraged students in the class to become engaged in their communities and take action based on principles as opposed to political interests.

"We need you to do things differently and take some risks," he said. "I think that's the biggest problem in politics today: No one wants to take any risks."

-- Matt Itelson
Photo: Public Affairs Student Writer Elizabeth Davis


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Last modified July 27, 2004 by University Communications