Democrat Gavin Newsom decisively beat a Green Party candidate Tuesday to win San Francisco’s mayoral election, a race that had been viewed as a referendum on the Democrats’ strength in California and a battle for the liberal city’s soul.
With all precincts reporting, Newsom, a wealthy restaurateur who was backed by most of the city’s political establishment, received 118,651 votes, or 53 percent, to 107,030 votes, or 47 percent, for the Greens’ Matt Gonzalez.
Mentored by Brown
At 36, Newsom becomes the youngest mayor of San Francisco in more than a century. He will succeed Democrat Willie Brown, his political mentor, next month.
Gonzalez’s unexpectedly strong challenge had worried Democratic Party leaders, who flew in former Vice President Al Gore and former President Bill Clinton to stump for Newsom.
But in the end, Gonzalez’s insurgent campaign was overwhelmed by the same political machine he railed against. Newsom, who poured more than $3.6 million into the race, outspent Gonzalez more than eight times over and his professionally managed campaign organization overwhelmed the Greens’ volunteer-driven effort.
The race was tight up to election day, and coming so soon after Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election as governor, it was seen as a gauge of whether California’s Democrats had lost touch with their core constituents. The party has maintained a near stranglehold on elected offices in the city for decades.
Both candidates would be considered liberals in almost any other major city. But in this race, which hinged as much on looks and lifestyles as their approaches to homelessness and economic development, Newsom was cast as a Republican in liberal’s clothing, and Gonzalez, 38, as fringe spoiler.
Gonzalez, a former Democrat who switched parties three years ago, fueled his campaign with the frustration felt by many hard-core liberals over the pro-development direction the city took under Brown, 69, who governed with an autocratic touch after four decades in politics. The well-connected Democrat was barred by term limits from running again.
Some voters said Newsom’s connections prompted them to vote for Gonzalez.
“I didn’t like ’Gruesome Newsom.’ He’s backed by money and he’s a pretty face,” said Albert John Deasy, 75, voting in the city’s Mission District.
Both Newsom, a wealthy restaurant owner, and Gonzalez, a former public defender, are members of the city’s Board of Supervisors, where Gonzalez also serves as president.
Newsom jump-started his mayoral campaign a year ago with a ballot measure cutting the city’s generous cash handouts to the homeless and placed a commanding first in last month’s general election. He did not receive enough votes to avert a runoff, however.
In the five weeks leading up to Tuesday’s one-on-one matchup, Newsom portrayed Gonzalez as an ideologue who lacks both the will and practical ideas for creating jobs, housing and a renewed sense of well-being in a city that was hit hard when the air went out of the dot-com balloon.
“While I love everything on the left nationally, I think we’ve got too much left in local government,” said Cynthia Cummins, 46, a real estate agent who cast her ballot for Newsom.