Last week, I was invited out of the blue to attend a fundraiser for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's California gubernatorial bid that would be held in the home of Mark Hostetter and Alexander Habib on the Upper West Side. I could only guess that my contribution to No On 8 or to Barack Obama's presidential campaign had come to somebody's attention, but it was a good call so I RSVPed and was happy to attend this evening.
I had made sure I could be a part of the VIP reception (which promised a photo, it's all about the photo) that began at 6:30, so I showed up on time and turned out to be the very first guest. Mark and Alex could not have been nicer nor could they have had a lovelier home. They may have hosted these things many times before, but I had never attended one and yet they had me comfortable within seconds. As people arrived, due to that initial sense of belonging, I found it very easy to make new friends despite being there stag.
Mayor Newsom, attentive and attention-getting.
I chatted a lot with DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias, who seemed to think Terry McAuliffe might win tomorrow's hotly contested primary for governor of Virginia in spite of Creigh Deeds's polling surge and who made me feel like my own day job was utterly fascinating even if it is not. I also met a gaggle of Oklahomans (possibly every progressive the state's ever produced?), who talked with me at length about the girth of the shrimp being served (the shrimp were so huge I felt I had to eat them because it was either them or me) and which tween celebrities are assholes and which are not.
Mayor Newsom during his approximately 25-minute speech.
When Mayor Newsom arrived—tall as anything—he immediately shook my hand and, thanks to Andy's warm introduction, engaged me in a long conversation about my job. To say he's good-looking is an understatement to the point of the absurd. Let's just say that when his mama told him he was the handsomest boy in school, she wasn't lying. Mayor Newsom has a magnetic charm that calls to mind stories of Bill Clinton's allure, yet is so young he is at ease joking around and making endearingly theatrical gestures you would expect from a work friend more than from a man hoping to win your dollars as he runs for governor of California.
He joked that my readers (who are about 13) would be too young to vote for him, but I said, "Well, hook 'em now, then by the time you're running for president..." to which he said, "Cute, cute."
Speaking from the heart as Mr. Hostetter looks on.
He worked his way around the room easily, and when it came time for him to speak he held us rapt as he spelled out why he would be the best person to lead California, bemoaning the job Governor Schwarzenegger has done and hitting the injustice of Proposition 8 hard.
Newsome referred to California as "a state of dreamers and doers, of entrepreneurs and innovators, a state that you would never have imagined would take a backseat to, for example, Iowa on the issue of marriage equality, yet here we are in California, where we became the first state in U.S. history to use our Constitution to strip rights away from people, rights that were legally already granted, a Constitution that is changed so easily—with just 50 percent of the vote plus one—where we now have put into our Constitution a ban on same-sex marriage that makes the courts irrelevant the legislative branch irrelevant and the executive branch irrelevant in terms of protecting a minority's right in our state. the only recourse we have no in terms of protecting the rights of a min in the state of California is to go back to that same majority that stripped those rights away. And we hope as early as this time next year to have organized the genesis of a camp that will overturn Proposition 8...the Constitution of the United States has been amended about a dozen or so times since the Bill of Rights; each and every time the U.S. Constitution has been amended it's been to expand people's rights and here we are in California of all states where we use that Constitution to strip people's rights away. Short of Prohibition, it's simply never been done. That's not, I think, something from my perspective for our state to be proud of and it's one that I think, increasingly, Californians—even those that supported Proposition 8—are sort of questioning if that's really what this state wants to represent."
Newsom made the point that California's business community was decidedly against Proposition 8, which could be a good resource to tap into in 2010 since California is so imperiled fiscally. "Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of the considerations you have as it relates to morality and your own personal opinion, at least now we're gonna make a stronger case on the economics on this issue which, curiously, is already beginning to resonate. I have immeasurable confidence that this time next year the polls will change and shift and we'll be successful. But it's gonna take meeting people one-on-one, it's not going to take the big campaign ads, it's not going to take the kind of campaign that we advanced before because, frankly, we fell short; it was not a very well-run campaign. We didn't spend enough time in the African-American community or in the Latino community and with that huge Obama surge that came in that election, we overwhelmingly failed in those two communities."
Newsom pointed out a passage from Howard Dean's book in which Bill Clinton told Dean he'd never be president as long as he supported civil unions in order to illustrate how far we've come in a short period of time. "The idea that separate is now somehow equal is anathema to me as a Democrat let alone as an American. I can't for the life of me imagine being in the position of some of my Democratic friends and colleagues and leaders and defend the separate status as equal. I think it's a tough position for these guys to be in. Politically, obviously I get why they feel they need to. Though increasingly the more these governors sign legislation, the more these states stand up, I think a lot more politicians will develop a spine and recognize that they need to reconcile the fifty-fifth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the fact is separate is not equal and that marriage is marriage, civil unions are something completely different. And this is again a principle that I think defines the best not just of the state of California, Massachusetts, but this country—the notion of equality. And that's why I have no qualms even as a candidate for governor where I state a majority disagrees with my point of view to continue to assert that point of view and to continue to fight for this regardless of what the punditry is saying I should do, regardless of what the polling implies that one should do. I think this is a fundamental issue and from these fundamental issues everything else is possible."
The most interesting aspect of his speech was his admission that despite his notoriety as a marriage-equality advocate, it was homelessness that drove him into politics. He related that he was shocked when President Obama was asked about homelessness, noting that candidates for the presidency—let alone presidents—are never asked about this pressing issue. He is also becoming an expert on health care, having signed San Francisco up for an innovative universal healthcare program.
After, Mayor Newsom seemed to make sure he spoke with everyone for at least some period of time. As he was leaving, he went out of his way to shake the hand of one nice guy he'd neglected until then, offering a hi and a goodbye.
I of course got my picture, which I hope to receive signed in a few weeks.
Having him to myself again for a moment, I asked him what I should tell my gay friends who are already angry with President Obama for dragging his feet on the gay agenda.
Mayor Newsom all but held his head in his hands, calling the situation "frustrating" and saying Obama could never get away with similar hesitating on African-American or gender issues. "It's separate but equal," he summed up. "And he won't be able to get away with it for another year; he'll have to act before then, and soon. And he has to do it—DOMA, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, these were campaign promises." My impression is that he is shocked that Obama has not come through, but practical about his reasoning and expects he will not break his promises.
I was later thinking that part of what impressed me about him was when he said that his passion for healthcare, marriage equality and solving homelessness would be major parts of his campaign. "I don't know that this polls well or is gonna get you votes, but it's again my soul and I am running exposed. I mean, I am not running for governor being someone else's poll-tested or focus-grouped candidate. I can't do that even if I wanted to do it. It's not gonna happen."
I am a big enough boy to realize he has his drawbacks, but I was ready to follow him to Africa for some Kool-Aid hearing all of that determined talk. I only wish I didn't have to leave and come home to find out what a mess has been made in the New York Senate...I guess I need to refocus on my own state after my one-night stand with California.