S.F. mayor Newsom a hot commodity at Democratic convention
July 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
In many ways, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's schedule at the Democratic National Convention befits an ambitious young politician on the move--by day he tours Boston's low-income housing projects, and by night he's honored at celebrity-laden parties. But there's one conspicuous place Newsom--who gained notoriety last February as the nation's most prominent crusader for same-sex marriage--won't be seen this week: at the podium, addressing the convention. "Unless there's an outbreak of the flu or something and they're desperately searching for someone," Newsom said with a laugh.
It's an interesting turn of events for the 36-year-old Newsom, whose combination of glamour and earnest policy wonkishness positioned him as a rising star in the Democratic Party when he was first elected in December. After launching San Francisco's high-profile gay wedding spree in February, Newsom became something of a political hot potato for top Democrats bracing for a fight over a Republican-backed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as well as a Massachusetts court order setting a May 17 date for gay couples to begin to wed legally in that state."I had this little idea; you think they would have embraced it," Newsom later joked.
The California supreme court ordered a halt to San Francisco's gay marriage experiment in March, and the court is expected to rule soon on whether Newsom overstepped his authority in allowing same-sex weddings to take place.
Publicly the Kerry campaign had little to say about the decision not to offer Newsom a speaking spot.
"We have so many elected officials, and we'd love to have them speak at the convention," spokeswoman Allison Dobson said. "We're thrilled to have him as a delegate, and he's certainly part of the convention." Some strategists said Newsom probably could have gotten a speaking slot--during the day, away from prime time--had he pushed. Others said the appearance of being snubbed makes Newsom a more visible and influential symbol.
"Even though he isn't speaking, he is one of the most sought-after people at this convention because his courageous deeds have spoken louder than anything that could be said in a speech," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane.
He's the guest of honor at parties hosted by Salon.com and GQ magazine. GQ's extravaganza, already gaining buzz as one of the "hot" convention parties, is expecting director Rob Reiner, comedian Al Franken, and Andre 3000 of hip-hop band Outkast among its guests Tuesday night.
On Sunday, Newsom appeared unfazed and said he was too new in his job as mayor to warrant a major role at the podium. But in a recent radio interview, Newsom acknowledged that his presence in John Kerry's orbit might be a bit too radioactive for the campaign to handle. "If there is a photo op of Kerry and I...there are 320 reporters following him around. What are they going to ask?" Newsom told San Francisco radio station KFOG. Newsom said Kerry's job right now is to appeal to swing voters.
Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said she is satisfied that the Kerry campaign had taken steps to feature supporters of gay rights at the convention as well as prominent gay and lesbian speakers, including Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin, who addresses the delegates Monday. "I think it reflects the priority of this country at this time," Stachelberg said.
Convention speaker or not, Newsom said Sunday that what he set forth in San Francisco had "significantly" helped the Democratic Party and helped with the eventual defeat of the anti-gay marriage amendment in the U.S. Senate. "It took pressure and focus away from Massachusetts and the fact that people are getting married here every day," Newsom said. "And it forced Bush's hand early in terms of his support for the constitutional amendment. They miscalculated, they failed, and they were embarrassed." And Newsom said one goal for his convention-week schedule was to witness legal gay marriage in Massachusetts firsthand. "I want to go to a registrar or a county clerk, just to see it," Newsom said. "To me, it's an extraordinary thing to see human beings and their relationships being validated."