By Tom Elias
Gavin Newsom has a reported net worth of more than $10 million, an ownership interest in more than a dozen businesses from wineries to hotels and a steadfast, almost lifelong friendship with plutocrat Gordon Getty.
Yet he’s running for governor (and has led the polls since he declared for the office well over a year ago) as an advocate of poor people.
“I care deeply about the issue that will define our time – not just wage equality but wealth equality,” the lieutenant governor and former seven-year San Francisco mayor, said in an interview. “I don’t think people are talking about this nearly enough. I know this: It’s not just government that has to work on this; businesses have a role to play, not just as consumers of talent but also as developers of talent, including much better apprenticeships in many areas where they don’t now exist.”
There’s little doubt wealth equality will be a major focus in the 2018 campaign, as Newsom and Democratic rivals like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang all say they want the state and businesses here to do far more for areas with high poverty and unemployment.
“It’s not just the Central Valley, which unquestionably has problems,” Newsom said. “We have areas of extremely low wealth even in high-come places like Silicon Valley and parts of Los Angeles not far from Beverly Hills and Bel-Air. I’m thinking of places like East Palo Alto and East Los Angeles. And I’m pleased that other Democrats are also talking about some of this. We need to do things to close those gaps, even where they don’t get much publicity.”
Newsom, thus, looks at California, America and the world and sometimes sees things others don’t. That’s likely not because he’s dyslexic, although that is one reason he rarely reads speeches, preferring to wing it without a script. (Aiding dyslexic children has long been one of his pet causes.)
“If there’s one thing I’d like people to say about me after I leave office, if I’m elected, it would be something like ‘He looked around corners,’” Newsom said, his way of hoping to be remembered as future-oriented and able to see societal and business trends very early.
Also, where current Gov. Jerry Brown steadfastly stonewalls questions about the well-documented corruption in some state agencies, Newsom wants to change a few state processes in an attempt to eliminate as much corruption as possible.
He noted one recent state auditor’s report showing billions of dollars yearly worth of state contracts are awarded without competitive bids, an obvious risk for corruption.
“We have to reimagine the procurement process for the state,” Newsom said. “Gov. Brown has said reform is overrated. I say it’s underrated.”
Newsom also feels sure that if elected, he will be remembered as far from timid. He certainly showed daring while mayor of his home town. He’s probably best remembered there for ordering city hall officials to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. “We changed the whole trajectory of the debate on that subject, and look how far it has come,” he said.
But he’s even prouder of the HealthySF program that makes health insurance available to all uninsured residents of the city, without regard to their immigration status. “You can get an insurance card and get care and you pay on the basis of income,” he said. “It’s unique in America. It puts San Francisco in a better position than anyplace else to survive the Donald Trump-driven health insurance crisis that may be coming.”
Newsom does not expect his brief 2007 affair with the wife of a close friend and top aide to be much of an issue, in part because it’s far in the past and also because Villaraigosa (like Trump and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) also has a past, prominent affair on his record.
Nor does he focus much on polls, which indicate he’s led the field for months, but lately show him losing some ground. “Polls mean absolutely nothing to me,” he said, still acknowledging his campaign will eventually conduct private surveys. “I go everywhere in the state and get my messages from seeing people and listening to them.”
This is the third in an occasional series of columns based on interviews with major candidates for governor of California.