Gavin Newsom loves to talk about the will of the voters. He put his Care Not Cash plan on the ballot when he was running for mayor — not, he insisted, as a campaign ploy but to get the voters to speak on a plan his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors rejected. Even when it was clear the plan wasn’t working, he stuck to it — because, after all, that was the will of the voters. When advocates for Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park pushed for a six-month trial program, Newsom vetoed it, saying that while he loves the park and loves bicycles and loves the idea of road closures, the voters had already rejected a closure plan. Never mind that the plan the voters turned down was confusing and big money was spent on one side and not the other … the mayor insisted he had to abide by the will of the voters.
Fine: it’s the will of the voters, expressed in November by a 56.3 percent margin, that Newsom show up once a month at a Board of Supervisors meeting and answer questions.
That’s not such a horrible burden. In fact, it’s an excellent idea: “question time,” as Sup. Chris Daly called Proposition I, would force the mayor out of the cocoon in which he operates — where every appearance is scripted, every event carefully tailored — and give the public a chance to see Newsom and his critics actually discuss policy issues. It would be the end of a lot of Mayor’s Office secrecy: if the supervisors can demand information and documents while everyone is watching, it will be harder for the mayor to keep things under wraps.
This city has a long history of imperial mayors, who hide from critics, make backroom deals, and act as if they’re accountable to nobody. Question time could be a pretty significant check on that. And if Newsom is as confident of his agenda and programs as he claims to be, he has nothing to worry about.
But this time Newsom is openly defying the will of the voters. He announced last week that he won’t appear at the board meetings and instead will hold “town hall meetings” in various neighborhoods over the next few months.
Of course he will: he’s running for reelection. And those meetings will be tightly controlled by the mayor’s PR machine. A few members of the public will get a few questions in, but Newsom will be able to duck, dodge, and avoid the problems very easily. The meetings he’s preparing are going to be campaign events — and he would have held them anyway, whether Prop. I had passed or not.
The problem here is larger than the mayor’s noncompliance with a policy statement that he can argue has no legal mandate. Newsom needs to be more accountable and respond to some legitimate, tough questions about his programs, policies, and administration. Right now there’s no clear challenger to force those issues, and if, as many expect, he’s easily reelected in 2007, he’ll be even more isolated.
The ducking has to stop. If Newsom won’t appear for question time, I think Daly ought to come back and put it on the next ballot — this time as a charter amendment, enforceable with charges of misconduct and removal from office. SFBG