San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom says he’ll see job through

Governor, on eve of vote, not dwelling on mistakes

- By Alexei Koseff

After a tumultuous year and a half, in which a never-ending pandemic consumed his governorsh­ip and landed him in only the second gubernator­ial recall election in California history, Gavin Newsom owns up to his mistakes. Well, one of them.

His attendance last November at a birthday dinner for a longtime friend and political adviser at the French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley, in violation of his own restrictio­ns at the time on mixing between households, has dogged him ever since.

The party helped breathe new life into the recall drive against the first-term Democrat and has provided endless fodder for the candidates seeking to replace him. Even as public polling

indicates that Newsom should defeat the recall this week in a landslide, more than half of California­ns — including a third of Democrats — recently said they see the governor as someone who believes he is above his own rules.

Newsom thinks he deserves a bit more credit.

“I made a mistake, and I recognized it. A lot of folks don’t even acknowledg­e mistakes, and we did that,” he told The Chronicle in an interview Saturday, after a campaign rally in Oakland with volunteers from local unions.

To his mind, his public apology three days after The Chronicle broke the news of the party was his fresh start. His leadership through the past 10 months has been making the case to California­ns that he still deserves their trust.

“That’s the work we’ve been doing since,” Newsom said, “and I’m working hard and I will continue to work hard.”

When it comes to potential missteps of governance, however — a botched early reopening of the state, perhaps, or a slow vaccine rollout that he eventually turned over to a private entity, or an excruciati­ngly prolonged return to inperson school instructio­n that infuriated many California­ns — Newsom is not feeling reflective.

There were difficulti­es, sure. Headwinds. “External challenges that put a little sand in the gear in some of the progress we were hoping to make,” as he put it at one point during the interview.

But he doesn’t care to discuss any lessons he might have learned from his mistakes over the past 18 months, or even identify a mistake at all.

“I think California’s led,” he said. “I mean, we’re the first state in America to do a stayat-home order. We think that impacted the rest of the states across the country. I think it saved lots of lives.”

Newsom pointed to his recent mask mandate for schools and vaccine requiremen­t for health care workers, which he has repeatedly highlighte­d in the final weeks of the recall campaign as the most important reason not to remove him from office. Leading replacemen­t candidates have promised to overturn those orders as soon as they take office.

“We’re continuing to stay on the cutting edge,” Newsom said.

Nor should California­ns who’ve been disappoint­ed with his handling of some the state’s most intractabl­e problems, including widespread homelessne­ss and recordbrea­king wildfires, expect much of a change in approach from the governor should he survive the election, which wraps up Tuesday.

Newsom is proud of what he has done so far. He repeatedly returned during the interview to the record large budget that the state adopted this summer, which he called a reflection of his agenda that delivered on “so many things I promoted as a candidate.”

Because of a huge and unexpected surplus, there was “transforma­tive spending” to expand the state’s health care program for the poor to undocument­ed immigrants 50 and older, increase tax credits for working parents, add more slots to prekinderg­arten programs and make up for cuts to university funding.

His signature homelessne­ss program — to convert hotels, motels and other vacant buildings into supportive housing — is a collaborat­ion with local officials such as California has never had, he said. “As a former mayor, I don’t think this, I know this, because there was no engagement, there was no strategy, no plan before I became governor on the issue of homelessne­ss.”

And though he has come under criticism for not doing enough to clear overgrown forests that have fueled devastatin­g wildfire seasons for the past two years, he said he supported funding increases that will begin to make up for a century of insufficie­nt vegetation management.

“We’ve seeded a lot of investment­s that I think are going to pay huge dividends. So I really just want to reinforce to folks that I’m committed to finishing the job,” Newsom said. “But you can’t overpromis­e. These things don’t overnight change. You can’t make up for decades of neglect.”

After all, any smart politician knows that making promises you can’t keep is definitely a mistake — especially when you might be on the ballot again in just 14 months, asking the voters for a second term.

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