An interview with Gavin Newsom, part 5

 

SH: There is a hardcore element [of homeless campers] who won’t leave the streets. They like it out there. What do you do with them?

GN: Small percentage. I’ve found those who are service-resistant to be one of the great myths of all times.

SH: We just had a string on nextdoor.com and someone quoted a homeless guy at Lake Merritt [in Oakland] who said, “We’re not going anywhere. We like it out here. Let them try to move us.”

GN: That’s an understandable response when it’s framed in the context of getting rid of an encampment and being punitive and, quote-unquote “getting tough.” But my experience is, maybe the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth time [you’ll get success]. You have to meet people where they are. Someone who’s service-resistant, who claims they have no interest in getting off the street, and they have not been able to get the appropriate supportive housing unit that allows for couples, or they have a dog and don’t have the appropriate opportunities to accommodate a dog, or, frankly, they’re not willing or capable on their own of getting clean and sober, and they’re not willing to go to a program that says everybody has to be clean and sober. So, by definition, people develop a resistance. But if you can meet people actually where they are, when you don’t give up, in my humble experience [of] 17 years in government of doing this, the overwhelming majority of people are indeed not service-resistant. So that’s to me an excuse for not doing our job. But this is a statewide problem and a national problem. I’m going to elevate this issue, and I’m going to call out the federal government that also needs to do significantly more.

SH: I want to hit on some other things before Nathan throws me out! Safe injection sites?

GN: Not ideological about it. It’s a tough issue. I like experimentation. We’ll see what the Governor does. If he doesn’t sign the legislation, I’ll look at it in detail. It’s something I pursued, full disclosure, at the end of my tenure as mayor, and I got my hand slapped because the community had no interest in it. We were talking about a site in Haight-Ashbury.

SH: You mean the greater community, or the drug community?

GN: The greater community. Many people felt they were overwhelmed by over-concentration of services, and so I think it’s site-specific. But in broad strokes, we pursued it. But I don’t know the details of what this legislation offers.

SH: Tasers for cops.

GN: With training and transparency, I’m open to it and have been for a long time. But there’s real abuse, and one has to be very, very cautious about it.

SH: Let’s touch on the National Guard at the border.

GN: [I] do not support it. Jerry [Brown] and I disagree on this. I think he made a mistake and I think he did it because it was a reaction to Jeff Sessions and what happened with the assault on the sanctuary [city] policy, and I think he was trying to show that he was willing to reach out and collaborate. I don’t see that he or this country, let alone the State of California, has benefited from that collaboration.

SH: I was reading in a San Diego publication that the California National Guard is assisting [U.S.] Border Patrol agents making arrests.

GN: Yeah. That was not what we intended. To the Governor’s credit, he was very prescriptive with the memorandum of understanding, but I’m not convinced, based on some of these reports—and you’ve just added another as a proof point—that they have indeed had limited utility. I think they have done things that were never intended, and I have no interest in continuing that policy.

SH: Does the Governor have the power to take all the troops [back]—?

GN: Yes. We do. And I would.

SH: You’d get hit so hard from the right.

GN: Bring it on. First of all, it’s a de minimus number of people [i.e. the number of National Guard actually deployed]. It’s completely symbolic. It’s only marginally substantive. At the end of the day, it was feeding Donald Trump’s political narrative and I have no interest in doing that. And by the way, I support border security. I am not an open-borders Democrat. And I do not believe sanctuary policy should be a shield to criminal activity, and I reject the assertion by the right that I believe in any of those policies! I simply do not.

SH: Thank you for making that clear. It’s important to get that in. Do you remember a couple of months ago, a restaurant called The Red Hen asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave?

GN: I didn’t feel very comfortable with—

SH: And following that, Maxine Waters called for mass harassment of Trump supporters to tell them they’re not welcome anywhere.

GN: I’m just not comfortable with that. Look: I have family members that align with Trump and Trumpism and I’m not going to have a litmus test for every customer that walks in [to a PlumpJack facility]. I’m uncomfortable with that, as a merchant, as a restaurateur. Good people can disagree. Quite literally: good people can disagree, even if I find them disagreeable. If they play by the rules and they’re honest, even if they don’t believe in the same things I do, I just think it’s a slippery slope, I think it’s dangerous.

SH: When you say that good people can disagree—

GN: And I don’t mean that from a white nationalist perspective!

SH: Well, I was going to say, because the mind automatically goes to Charlottesville and Trump’s infamous “fine people on both sides” remark. So did Trump have a point?

GN: No. No. Nazis, I do not subscribe to that point of view. White supremacy, I do not subscribe. But my point is specific to Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I don’t think she’s a white nationalist—my personal opinion. And I don’t think she’s a Nazi. And I don’t think there’s evidence to bear that out. And with Maxine, I understand the spirit of what she’s saying: Get off Facebook and get in people’s faces. But if we’re going to get in people’s faces, let’s do it in a way that doesn’t excite or incite violence. I just think we need to soften the edges, and we can get in people’s faces in a more benign and enlightened way. She could have softened the language.

SH: Are Democrats like me just too angry?

GN: No. People have a right to be angry. I’m in the spirit of Reverend Lawson, of Doctor King. Meaning, I think you can meet resistance and you can be resolved without crossing that Rubicon, of inciting the other side to violence. I worry about this nation fraying at the edges. We’re better than that. You lose your moral authority when you cross that line. I think we have the moral authority; the President does not. Honestly, I spent a couple hours with Rev. Lawson, who studied Gandhi. He had more impact in terms of making the vernacular of the Sixties more gentle to life in this world. And I approve that approach, or at least support it, as opposed to the Antifa approach, which I do not support.

SH Let’s end on a lighter note. What do you do for relaxation?

GN: Nothing! It’s a big issue. Quite literally, and it’s becoming a bigger issue. I love photography; I vaguely recall doing it. That was my relaxation. That would be my third life, business being my first, politics my second.

SH: I remember back in the day you’d jog down at the Marina.

GN: I do a little of that. I try to get to the gym. All last week I missed it. Today, I did it. So there’s a little of that.

SH: Where is your gym?

GN: In Marin [County]. I already met some Make America Great folks. One guy walks in everyday with a Trump shirt, I’m told, because I’m there. I want to tell him, I know you’re doing this because you need attention. I’m happy to hug you and offer you whatever attention I can give you. But, honestly, think about these mixed-status families, and what you’re communicating, how threatened they feel by your simple act of neediness. Anyway, I want to hug this man. In fact, I helped him the other day. He was leaving, and he left a bottle on top of the car, and I ran over to the car, and he literally thought I was about to tackle him, and I said, “Oh! You left the bottle.” And I think he’s still processing that I wanted to help. Because I see his humanity. I see it in everyone. And that’s the spirit of what I’m trying to communicate. I don’t wish to see anyone hurt. I just don’t. I’m empathetic to people struggling, suffering, people who are wrong-headed, naïve, I’m empathetic to that. And I think you can find something in everybody. That’s the spirit of renewal, rebirth that’s needed in this country.

SH: I’m going to meditate on your words! [Newsom erupts into laughter] I’m not there yet, Governor! Are you reading anything?

GN: Interestingly, I had never read “My Life,” Bill Clinton’s book. I read it last weekend, 950-plus pages. Fascinating on so many levels. Fascinating particularly at this moment: everything changes, nothing changes. Also because I’m a Bobby Kennedy fanatic. It’s obvious to me, so much of Clinton’s [thinking] all comes out of Bobby. I didn’t fully appreciate it [before]. Plus there’s a nugget that comes out of that that’s relevant to this, and that was, when Clinton lost, two years after he was [first] elected [Governor of Arkansas, in 1978], Jerry Brown [who then was Governor of California] reached out to him and asked him to be chief-of-staff, after Gray Davis left.

SH: Really!

GN: And Clinton thought about it, and was persuaded not to do it by Mickey Kantor [who later was campaign manager, in 1992, for the Clinton-Gore campaign]. Jerry made an argument that people come to California and they make careers and opportunities. If nothing else, what a nugget!

SH: One of the great What-ifs of history.

GN: What if he had gone to work for Jerry Brown?

SH: History would have pivoted off in a different direction.

GN: Isn’t that incredible? I’m going to see President Clinton next week, and I’m really looking forward to picking his brain on how we can—

[At this point, Newsom’s scheduler was frantically motioning to him. He was very behind on his next appointment.]

SH: Okay, gotta move on. Last movie you saw?

GN: What was that movie? I cried, oh my gosh. My kids were like, “Yeah.”

Nathan Click: Coco.

GN: It was for the kids [but] it touched me in a deep way.

SH: Favorite T.V. shows.

GN: Increasingly, The Eleventh Hour [on MSNBC]. I’m a huge Brian Williams fan.

SH: He’s killing it.

GN: He is brilliant, and he is so good.

SH: I do think that he happens to be employed by a liberal network so he has to be the late-night liberal. I don’t know if his heart is in it, but that’s fine. He’s doing yeoman’s work.

GN: And of course, Rachel [Maddow] tonight has Hillary Clinton, which is so exciting.

SH: Have you ever been on MSNBC?

GN: I’ve had to focus on this campaign, put my head down and avoid the bright lights. But I’ve been on Rachel 5, 8, 10 times, [and] Meet the Press, This Week, I did all that for years and years. And so I don’t feel I need to do it, except that to the extent it helps the State of California.

SH: Desert island food?

GN: Oh gosh. I mean, it’s my go-to, Pasta Della Casa, a North Beach restaurant. That’s what I demand for my Death Row last-eat session! And I’ll take a bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc!

[The scheduler is begging with him. “You’re super-late for your next meeting.”]

GN: I know, but this is personal.

SH: Okay, last question! Songs on your playlist.

An interview with Gavin Newsom, part 5

GN: [Looks at his phone] This proves I have kids! My playlist. [He plays a silly kids song.] My daughter is downloading everything! All these young boys. I mean, my daughter’s heart is breaking at nine! Seriously. But for me, I have Chvrches. And I’m deep into Peter Gabriel.

SH: Okay, thank you Governor! Let’s take some pictures.

An interview with Gavin Newsom, part 5

 

 

An interview with Gavin Newsom, part 4

 

SH: Why did you give me this interview? I mean, a little blog–

GN: Because it’s more than 25 years (of friendship)! Loyalty. Loyalty. That’s what I told them [his schedulers], “What? You got 85 people [lined up for me]? You’ve gotta get Steven.” And I got angry, because I was like, “What’s taking so long?” And then they told me you had to do it on the phone, and I was, like, “Well, that’s Steve’s problem, not mine.” I mean, now I know why it was taking so long, because I thought it was just a phone call. I was like, “This is so easy to do.”

SH: I don’t do phone.

GN: I didn’t know that. And when they told me that, I said, “Oh, now I know why it’s hard.”

SH: Well, let’s move on to some issues. You’re in favor of single payer [healthcare].

GN: I believe in single payer. I’m not sure how to achieve it. It’s going to be a challenge.

SH: Republicans already are slamming you. I just saw an article in Forbes that said you running on single payer as a campaign issue will be your “demise.” How do you feel about that?

GN: Well, I mean, fifty days to go, we’ll see what happens. But there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s going to be our demise.

SH: It wasn’t clear from the article what their implication was. Maybe it was that after you’re elected and push for it, you’ll find out—

GN: Well, I’m not reckless. Assuming—if they know nothing about me, and it’s just lazy punditry, and they’ve not bothered to research my twenty years in elected office, if they think I’m—but if they believe I’ll take the risk to do something, they’re absolutely right.

SH: But the funding is really questionable.

GN: Well, the funding requires waivers from the federal administration, it requires all kinds of concurrence and collaboration from the executive branch in Washington, D.C. It requires changing the Gann Limit, and Prop 98, [and] requires a ballot initiative; there’s a tax reform component. It requires a series of levers that’s profoundly complicated, and I’ve been very honest about that.

SH: You’re saying the lion’s share of the money would come from Washington?

GN: Well, the vast majority already, about 70%-ish, and that’s a loose percentage, of our existing [budget] is single payer, which is a great irony: maybe Forbes could do a little analysis themselves on that, for the Veteran’s Administration, Medicaid, Medicare, etc. That said, the lion’s share of that money does come from the federal government.

SH: But you’re still need more money from the tax payers.

GN: We would need [it] in the transition, and that’s the challenge, going from something old to something new. That’s why no one’s been able to figure it out.

SH: So you’ll look for some source of revenue within California?

GN: I’ve got a team; there’s 30-ish people working on this. I’ve just literally come back from lunch with healthcare advocates having a conversation on this. We have probably gone deeper than any candidate for a statewide office in modern times on this issue.

SH: But no resolution yet?

GN: It is exponentially more complicated than people believe.

SH: Would you be in favor of ending the Prop 13 limit on corporate taxes?

GN: Yeah, but that also comes at a big price. I was also meeting this morning with green tech companies that want to bring manufacturing back under the provisions the Governor just advanced, and they said, [If] you get rid of that [Prop 13 limit, which is] the only thing that creates stability in terms of our commercial rates, then you’re not going to get any of those manufacturing, middle class jobs in this state. So I’ve long supported a split role. I have supported it, but it’s something that can’t be done without considering the consequences.

An interview with Gavin Newsom, part 4

SH: Homelessness is such a massive issue, and I don’t pretend to know the solution, but two questions. One, you call for a region-wide approach, so instead of San Francisco dealing with it on their own—

GN: –or any city–

SH: What does that mean?

GN: One of the great realities, tempered by experience, is that everyone has a role and a responsibility to play. And no one city is going to do it alone or should have to do it alone. Everybody needs to step up; everyone needs to be accountable. I want to attach real dollars for incentives to good behavior, and I want to be punitive for bad behavior. So we’re putting together a regional plan. I have 15 points that we’re doing, from assisted living waivers, specific strategies we laid out on brain health and mental health, substance abuse treatment. It’s predicated on a housing-first model. We’re going to require regional plans and we’re going to incentivize along the lines of what the [inaudible] grants were under the Bush administration, these super-urban area grants. There’s a framework in terms of allocating state dollars that will encourage and incentivize regional collaboration. That’s the spirit we’re seeking.

SH: And what is the punishment?

GN: Same with housing production. I’ll give you the specifics on housing. We want to tie [in] regional transit dollars and we want to hold those back if you’re not meeting your housing element, under your general plans. And that’s an example of how you can begin to, not just be organized through incentives, but be punitive in terms of disincentivizing.

SH: I don’t want to go too far down the homeless rabbit hole, but I live in downtown Oakland and it’s really—

GN: Out of control.

SH: Horrible. And it’s tearing liberals apart.

GN: Compassion fatigue.

SH: Right down the middle, Democrats versus Democrats. What is the answer? There’s 4,000 homeless people and [Oakland Mayor] Libby Schaaf is building 200 Tuff Sheds.

GN: Yeah. It’s not going to do it. There’s no way a city can do it alone. You will bankrupt the cities.

SH: What is “it”?

GN: Housing first. Housing first. Housing first. Housing and supportive services.

SH: How long does that go on?

GN: Permanent supportive housing.

SH: So if you’re homeless for the rest of your life, you can get, what? Healthcare–?

GN: The alternative is to pay exponentially more on the back end. Quite literally, there are individuals who cost a million dollars a year to the taxpayers. That’s the status quo. I’m not interested in perpetuating that.

SH: Is the high cost of housing the cause of what we see now in our cities?

GN: Partially. But substantively, you’ve got, for the single adult population you see out in the tents, streets and sidewalks, that is not your [entire] homeless population. That’s a subset of it. And the vast majority of those folks are self-medicating on drugs or alcohol [or suffering from] bipolar disease, paranoia. And if they don’t have those issues, they’re going to develop them. Then you have deep physical health issues, mental health issues, and then your vocational deficiency issues, educational issues, and I would argue, Skid Row, parts of L.A., a disproportionate number have criminal records which are a big part of this. So it’s criminal justice reform, it’s health reform, it’s blended interventions, and this, again, intentionality, support from the state, matching local contributions, amplifying good behavior, disincentivizing bad behavior, holding accountable these regions that aren’t doing a damn thing, and then we have to nationalize the issue, because the state can’t do it alone, just like the cities can’t do it alone. We have a national problem manifesting in the state, we have a state problem manifesting in the cities.

Wednesday: Newsom on homeless people who resist services, safe injection sites, tasers for cops, California National Guard at the southern border, mass public protests of Republicans, Democratic anger, and Antifa

An interview with Gavin Newsom, Part 3

 

SH: In our last interview you predicted that Trump’s base would “desert” him because he could not deliver on his promises.

GN: I think that’s happening.

SH: He’s still at 90% [favorable] among Republicans.

GN: Yeah, but there’s some erosion. It’s softening. There’s a core base, but he certainly hasn’t delivered save one important issue: tax reform.

SH: Well, he got Gorsuch on the Court.

GN: And we’ll see what happens with Kavanaugh, but you’re right. Look, at the end of the day, these guys will hold their noses, the evangelicals, they no longer care about character, they just care about choice.

SH: Fiscal conservatives no longer care about deficits.

GN: These guys are bankrupting this country and a whole generation. It’s almost criminal what they’ve done to the deficit.

SH: It was written that you and [Senator] Kamala Harris had struck a deal [where she’d run for Senator and he’d run for Governor]—

GN: I read about that too. I wish I was in the room!

SH: Did that happen?

GN: I wish I was in the room when it happened.

SH: That’s all you’re going to say?

GN: That’s just nonsense.

SH: Did you guys, like, pick a card?

GN: No. We have many mutual friends, including mutual press secretaries—you’re looking at one right across from me right now, Mr. Nathan Click, the entire team is the same, everyone around us is the same, our friends are the same, our biggest supporters are the same.

SH: Do you feel, personally, more equipped for executive skills as opposed to legislative?

GN: Oh gosh, yes. Running businesses, running a city, it’s my mindset. I like business, I like the implication, the implementation, I am not one of those guys to just sit there and ask questions in a hearing. I’d last a week. Out of my element, not my passion. And Kamala has excelled. She’s now a leading candidate for President.

SH: You think? For 2020?

GN: By objective measures she’s a leading candidate. I think she can make a pretty compelling case. I think she’s going to be a very formidable candidate if she runs. [READERS: I wish I’d reminded Newsom that he’d previously said, concerning 2020, “I don’t think we’ll go for another novelty. I don’t think we’re gonna go for something untested.” But I didn’t. My bad!]

SH: How about Brown-Harris?

GN: Well, [they’re] both California, so that would never work. But I can see Biden-Harris.

SH: The minute you’re elected—and I’m assuming this has crossed your mind—suddenly you become a name on that [Presidential] list.

GN: I mean, if you come from California, that’s naturally been the case. It comes with that job.

SH: How do you feel about that?

GN: I don’t feel—it means absolutely nothing to me. It’s a distraction.

SH: Well, I’m just saying. You can’t say it. [Newsom laughs] I was watching Sen. McCain’s memorial service, which was very moving—

GN: It was.

SH: And Obama, when he spoke, said, “All politicians are alike in that they have big egos.” How would you describe your ego?

GN: Yeah. I don’t know about that. I think there’s also, all politicians are alike in another way: they have deep anxieties, and they often over-compensate for that.

SH: Do you have deep anxieties?

GN: No. I used to joke, most politicians didn’t get enough hugs from their mother.

SH: So is it something you crave?

GN: No. I always make a subsequent joke: I don’t want to go to therapy to find out that was the case. But I did get a lot of hugs from my mother, so it may not apply, necessarily. But the point is, I think about the archetype of a politician, those I admire and those I frankly don’t, who I think are doing it for all the wrong reasons. And I often wonder why they’re doing this.  And I think there is a need to be needed. There are, you know, probably some deeper-rooted issues. And then there are the enlightened souls there for all the right reasons. But I don’t know about all of us having big egos. I don’t think that’s true. I don’t honestly think that’s true. For Obama, I understand: I mean, Obama never denied, and certainly, [there are] legendary examples, books written about him, his closest friends and allies. There was never any self-doubt. Or didn’t appear to be, at least; I’m sure there is. But I’m not sure that’s the case.

An interview with Gavin Newsom, Part 3

SH: Since we’re on that topic, who were the best retail politicians of your lifetime?

GN: Oh, the best I’ve ever seen is Bill Clinton. It’s true. I’ve had experiences. I’ve sat there on the lines with him, I’ve been there with Jerry Brown and myself and Bill Clinton on typical campaign stops, in San Jose and one down at UCLA. I watched the contrast between the two: One [Clinton], a natural-born politician and then a natural-born political animal, meaning Jerry. Jerry’s at another level in terms of his political capacity and instincts, but he’s not natural to the position.

SH: He’s not a glad-hander.

GN: But intellectually, he plays three-dimensional chess. So he’s on par with Clinton in that respect, but there’s a natural expression that Clinton advances. I just remembered, at UCLA, when we were done speaking, we [i.e. Newsom and Clinton] immediately ran to the line to say hello to everyone, and Jerry took right off. I thought that was a perfect contrast and expression of the difference.

SH: Do you think you’re a good retail politician?

GN: I have a difficult time in town halls being told I have to leave. I love rallies, I love the energy of people. I think I go to a “15” on a scale of zero to ten when I’m around folks. But I also then just turn off afterwards. I have two speeds; I don’t have any middle. But I am wildly engaged and energetic around a lot of folks. So I’m natural for that; I want to feel people, to get a sense of where they are, I want to see physiology, I want—there’s an experiential quality to politics. It’s why I walk the streets, connect with homeless. I need to be out, I need to be engaged.

Tuesday: Newsom gets wonky: single-payer healthcare insurance, Prop 13 and homelessness

An interview with Gavin Newsom, Part 2

 

SH: Governor, now that you have got the nomination, how has your life changed?

GN: I don’t think it dramatically changed the concentration or the schedule, meaning being overwhelmed, which is the number of folks that we needed to reach out [to] after the primary. When you go from a scrum with 27 candidates and come down to two, you want to build back a cohesive framework, encourage those who opposed you to come onboard, to get those who may have been on the sidelines onboard, and begin to organize a narrative for the Democratic Party overall, since you are in essence the nominee of the Democratic Party.

SH: You had a sole police officer one time when we met at Whole Foods and you were Lieutenant Governor.

GN: Yeah. Certainly, as we discovered in our week-long bus tour, we [now] have a lot of “new friends” that are not necessarily very enthusiastic, so as a consequence, you have a few extra people around you, because there’s a few more folks with red hats.

SH: You mean MAGA hats?

GN: Make America Great! [laughs] They call me “traitor.” They’re showing up. So it requires a few more [security] folks around me.

SH: I get death threats.

GN: Oh yeah?

SH: For my blog, because of…

GN: So you get a sense of it.

SH: Where does your sense of social idealism and justice come from?

GN: My father. He was, I mean, social justice, racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice were [on the] tip of his tongue, part of the conversation, and it was also demonstrable, meaning it wasn’t just the words or the stories he shared, but it was the example: his leadership, his advocacy, and his engagement with me, despite being divorced and not raising me. All of my time with my father was spent cause-related.

SH: That’s a whole other—I feel like we could talk for an hour about your father.

GN: Yeah. But just on that, substantively, it was river trips, it was hikes, but always around some cause he was connected to. So that’s where it comes from.

SH: How’s he doing?

GN: I was literally just on the phone with my sister. He’s in the hospital again, so hard.

SH: I do wish your father well. Let’s go to the red hats. When I interviewed you last time, we had a bit of a contretemps, because you said, quote, “I wish Trump success.” This was shortly before or after the inauguration—

GN: You were so angry with me. [laughs]

SH: I was.

GN: That was sort of in the spirit of what Feinstein said.

SH: I was just going to call it Feinstein-esque.

GN: But it was also, it was a point, and I believe it. Look: I don’t wish other people ill. I wish people success. And I believe if you’re representing a country like ours, his success is our success.

SH: But your rhetoric has changed.

GN: Has it?

SH: I think it has, from reading the papers and T.V.

GN: Yeah. I don’t know that it has.

SH: You’re much more—

GN: I’ve been very consistent and constant, in terms of my critique and condemnation. But I’ve never deviated from a fundamental belief that I want to see—Look, someone who represents me and has the influence and power over the lives of so many people, not just here in the country but the rest of the world: I don’t want to see them trip on themselves. I don’t want to see them fall on their own face. I don’t want to see them fail. Because all of us suffer. I don’t want to see people suffer. I want to see someone elevate. I want to see someone meet the moment, and I wish that on everybody, including my worst enemies. I really do. I want them to change. I want them to be better.

SH: If the House reverts back to the Dems, do you favor impeachment hearings?

GN: I think we’re on that course.

SH: Do you favor it?

GN: I want to read the—look. I think obstruction of justice is pretty evident. I don’t know what more evidence you need of that, including what just happened. [He refers to Trump declassifying those intelligence documents.]

SH: With the release.

GN: There’s just more and more obstruction. I think on the collusion it’s more of a question. I do look forward to the Mueller report. But I think there’s an inevitability to it. That said, do I think it’s healthy for the nation to spend the last two years of an administration on impeachment hearings? I don’t think it was healthy for the nation during the Clinton years. I don’t know that it’s healthy for the system now. I don’t necessarily know that it will enhance our ability to work together and collaborate together, but I think it’s a necessity if indeed the Mueller report is as condemning as I think it will be, and obstruction of justice is in and of itself arguably impeachable.

SH: Do you think the House will flip?

GN: Yeah, unquestionably.

SH: And the Senate?

GN: I think that’s still open. There’s a new poll showing Cruz up nine points [over Beto O’Rourke]. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Other polls have Beto slightly up.) That’s disappointing. But that said, there’s a chance, an opportunity. Every single day, I feel more optimistic, more hopeful, more expectant that the Democrats are going to have an extraordinarily successful November. And by a significant margin beyond the 23 seats [in the House].

An interview with Gavin Newsom, Part 2

SH: Let’s continue on that. I was watching Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC yesterday. She had Jerry Brown on, and she asked him, and he said he does not see, quote, a viable Democratic candidate for 2020.

GN: Except in the mirror.

SH: In the mirror?

GN: Yeah. He sees it every morning in the mirror.

SH: Do you see a viable candidate for 2020?

GN: I think Jerry Brown was the antidote to Schwarzenegger. In many respects he’ll be the antidote to Trump. I think we’re gonna dust off an old sage, someone that calms the nerves, that has a real history of execution and also a quality of imagination. I think in so many ways Jerry Brown is prototypically the answer. Now is it Jerry? Is it Biden, by extension? Perhaps. I don’t think we’ll go for another novelty. I don’t think we’re gonna go for something untested, because our nerves are too frayed. I think we need to calm them. Elections are often [about] contrasts. That’s why it’s a bit of an anomaly, if I’m successful as governor, then you have a two-term Democratic governor followed by another Democratic governor. I don’t think that’s happened in at least modern history, if we are successful, and I think Brown would tell you it’s unique, because he’s unique.

SH: So is that an endorsement?

GN: I think Jerry Brown would be—I don’t think there would be a more compelling candidate for President of the United States. By the way, I don’t need to say that. I’m not paid to say that. But I do think he has a unique set of skills and a record that few people can compete with.

Monday: Newsom on Trump’s base, Kamala Harris, his own Presidential prospects, the difference between Obama and Clinton, and why he gave me this interview

An Interview with Gavin Newsom

 

Part 1: Introduction

(The full interview will appear over the next few days)

The hair is a little greyer, the face more lined than when I first met Gavin Newsom nearly 30 years ago. But at the age of 50, he’s still trim and handsome. And there’s something striking there now that wasn’t earlier, or at least I didn’t see it: gravitas.

He was, in the early 1990s, just a private citizen, starting up a wine shop in San Francisco, with some help from his father, William, a judge on the California Court of Appeal, and the billionaire Gordon Getty, to whom Judge Newsom was a close advisor. Gavin’s subsequent success in building up his PlumpJack Group empire of wine shops, resorts, restaurants and bars got, at the very least, a considerable boost from wealthy and powerful people who loved him and wanted to help him.

Yet it is unequivocally true that everything that Gavin Newsom has achieved—not just the business empire but his political success as he sits on the threshold of being Governor of California– has come about through Newsom’s vision, hard work and inner focus. (Newsom himself would say that his greatest achievement has been his family, which includes his wife, Jennifer, and four kids.) The drive that was so palpable to those of us who knew him in the early 1990s is, if anything, even stronger today.

The political biography is a matter of record. In 1996, San Francisco’s mayor, Willie Brown, appointed him to the city’s Parking and Traffic Commission, a tedious sinecure that could not have held much interest for the young man, but it was a start… A year later, again with Brown’s help, Gavin found himself on the Board of Supervisors, the city’s legislative body, where, as has often been pointed out, he was the only straight, white male.

By then the trajectory was clear. He was re-elected to the Board several times before being elected, in 2003, Mayor of San Francisco. He had begun, by this time, to forge the political relationships that would be so important to his future career: Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, environmental activists. He was re-elected easily four years later.

As Mayor, Newsom was largely—not entirely—successful. His number one issue was homelessness, which he promised, if not to end, then to reduce. That he did not do so is obvious from the state of the city today–although he argues, not unpersuasively, that this was the fault of subsequent mayors for not following up on his lead. And what mayor, anywhere in America, has solved homelessness? Newsom at least made a concerted effort.

And yet, on another issue, Mayor Newsom made his mark, in the national media, in the history books and, in the minds of some of us, in the annals of moral courage. In 2004, he began presiding over same-sex marriages at City Hall, in violation of state law—the first mayor anywhere to do so. It was an audacious (some said outrageous) move. Newsom says he inherited that sense of justice and social equity from Judge Newsom; indeed, he inhaled, from his earliest days, what Republicans derisively call “San Francisco values,” Democratic ideals that inform his thinking to this day.

And then there were the two terms as California’s Lieutenant-Governor. Probably, from his point of view, the less said about that, the better: Newsom made no secret of his boredom with that largely ceremonial post. Probably he would have run for Governor in 2010, except for one barrier, and a formidable one it was: Jerry Brown. After two terms, he wanted the job again. It was a coronation for the popular Brown: the best, most graceful thing Gavin could do was smile and be the “heir and a spare.” He knew his day would come. Now, eight years later, it has.

He won, to no one’s surprise, the Democratic nomination for Governor last Election Day, and immediately hit the ground running. The position papers, the hustings, the interviews and fund raisers: the routines of a candidate. (Gavin Newsom no less than Barack Obama has mastered the art of fund-raising from an army of small supporters through social media.) Of all the times I’ve interviewed him over the years, this was by far the hardest to arrange, as I knew it would be. Getting an interview with a Mayor or even a Lieutenant-Governor is relatively simple. I had Gavin’s email. I would send him a request, he’d get right back to me, and we’d figure out where to meet. The last few years when he was Lieutenant-Governor, we’d meet in his San Francisco office, which he chose to be, not in the State of California building, a dreary, ugly complex in Civic Center, but in a shared workspace, a South of Market hive near AT&T Park. Newsom clearly preferred to spend his time with bright, creative twenty- and thirty-somethings rather than be stuck inside a drab office surrounded by bureaucrats.

But this time, getting an appointment took more time and effort. At first his people offered me a 15-minute telephone interview. I said, with some petulance and irritation, no. They told Gavin; he intervened and gave me thirty minutes in his new offices, in the Financial District. The half-hour extended to closer to an hour as our conversation kept on going and Newsom’s scheduler’s anxiety mounted.

Newsom is heavily favored to beat the Republican candidate, John Cox, whom he’s crushing in the polls in blue-blue California. As soon as he becomes Governor of California, the photogenic Newsom will be short-listed as a future Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate; as he points out, that goes with the territory of being Governor of the fifth largest economy in the world.

I began by asking Newsom how winning the primary has impacted his life.

 Tomorrow: Newsom on his father, campaigning, Trump, impeachment, the November elections, and a surprising suggestion for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate

An Interview with Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom part 3: Same-sex marriage, Republicans, running for Governor, social media, and hair

 

SH: How do you keep learning? How do you know what’s going on?

GN: One way is to have my Lieutenant-Governor’s office in an incubator.

SH: I was going to ask you about that. Why not in the State Building?

GN: I want to experience it. I don’t want to spend time with lobbyists, with security out front, 18 stories up, looking out over Civic Center–

SH: Do you have friends here? You meet all the guys?

GN: Every six months there’s a new group of people that come in. There’s energy.

SH: These are basically young entrepreneurs?

GN: Yeah, time-of-life youth, but also state of mind: There’s also older folks—

SH: You’re 47?

GN: Yeah.

SH: Do you feel the clock [ticking]? Is it important for you to reach out to people half your age, to stay current?

GN: Yeah. I mean, Bobby Kennedy said it: What the world needs are the qualities of youth, not a time of life but a state of mind. A quality of imagination. So if you can maintain that state of mind, predominance of courage over love of ease, that’s a mindset. I want to feel connected to the world around me, and I want to understand this, because, again, you can’t pave over the old cow path. Something big is happening. We’re not explaining it, no one really understands it, but it’s so much bigger than just focusing our attention on Wall Street and hyper-financialization. That’s part of it, but there’s also something big happening with technology and globalization.

SH: Are there any books you can recommend?

GN: One of the best I’ve read in the last year is The Second Machine Age, which talks about the nature of technology, basically says “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” we’re in the second half where every doubling will lead to exponential change. What’s happening now is it’s artificial intelligence, meaning big data, it’s synthetic biology and genomics, it’s 3-D printing. Our new bottle at Odette is a 3-D-printed bottle. So it’s not, for me, science fiction, it’s fact. The world is radically changing.

SH: Let’s move on to same-sex marriage.

GN: Yup!

SH: You know how grateful the LGBT community is to you, personally.

GN: I hope so. I appreciate that

SH: So this is not a question, it’s just an acknowledgment. You have captured so many grateful people’s hearts for what you did. It was so fucking great. [I’m referring to then-Mayor Newsom championing same-sex marriage in San Francisco, which in my opinion led directly to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that upheld the legality of same-sex marriage in America.]

GN: Oh, God bless.

SH: And so courageous and heartfelt. I don’t think anyone ever felt, Oh, Gavin’s doing this to get ahead, because if anything, it was a huge risk.

GN: Big setback.

SH: How was it a setback?

GN: Because at the time, it was tough. Even in my family, my father was furious. Catholic, old school. He says, “Can’t you call it something else?” And I had the archbishop [then William Levada], who was a huge supporter of mine, they had a huge protest at City Hall. So it was tough. A lot of family, a lot of friends, and some in my party turned their back on me for years.

SH: Democrats? I didn’t know that.

GN: Oh, boy, they were the worst. The biggest hypocrites were my fellow Democrats, who preached but didn’t practice. And ran, didn’t walk away.

SH: And now they’ve all embraced it.

GN: They embraced it, but it took them, not 2005, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, it took a lot of time. 2010, finally [former Maryland Gov. Martin] O’Malley and [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, who were against it…they are friends of mine, I know them well, so I can speak from an authoritative position to tell you they were opposed…

SH: So where does this go? The battle does not seem to be over–

GN: Religious exemptions—

SH: Religious exemptions, there’s nullification out there, which Dr. King talked about.

GN: Yeah. You know, look, the Voting Rights Act didn’t stop Ferguson. And a Supreme Court decision is not going to stop homophobia. You have to change hearts, and that takes time. And I think it’s remarkable how fast this process has advanced, but we have an enormous amount of work to do, and you see that listening to folks like Mike Huckabee, who, I mean, will make a statement—not just in support of Kim Davis, that’s one thing—but when he made a comment that I just thought exposed him for who he is, beyond homophobic, this statement when there was a new appointee to head the Army, I can’t remember the gentleman’s name, just two weeks ago by the President, and Huckabee’s first reaction was, The only reason he’s been nominated is because he happens to be gay. It was to suck up to—

SH: Well, we know that about Huckabee. We know that about Santorum.

GN: These guys, they’re troglodytes.

SH: I want to talk about social media, which is huge obviously, and in the wine industry it’s become a real topic of conversation.

GN: Has it?

SH? How much should wineries get involved, should they invest money. And you’ve been a real pioneer, for a politician, in social media.

GN: You’re got to. If you don’t invest in the future, you’re not going to do very well there. You can deny it, but at the end of the day you’ve got to meet people where they are. It’s a world that’s gone mobile, local, social, a cloud crowd, and unless you’re there, you’re nowhere. So it’s not for me an after-thought. If it’s not integrated through your entire operation, if it’s a separate division, if you’ve got an I.T. guy or girl, you’ve missed the entire point. It’s got to be integrated into the entire body of work.

SH: A lot of small family winery owners are older, and they say, “I don’t tweet, I don’t blog, I don’t know how to do that.” What do you tell them?

GN: Yeah. You know, you get mentored by a twenty-something—

SH: Your nephew!

GN: Yeah. You hire a coach, so to speak, by hiring your grandkid’s best friend.

SH: How many platforms are you on?

GN: Oh, lots. I disproportionally invest heavily in twitter and Facebook and Instagram. We’ve got over a million folks on twitter, and a lot on Facebook and others. That’s where we dive deep. But I will play on all those others.

SH: Do you write your own stuff?

GN: Mostly. Or I’ll sign off on it. I’ll get “Here are three options, which one do you like?” Or I’ll just watch CNN and go—and those are the ones that are risky—someone on my staff will go, “What did you just say?!?” [laughs]

SH: Well, as long as you’re not CUI.

GN: What?

SH: Commenting under the influence.

GN: CUI? That’s funny! Yeah, I got into a twitter war with Huckabee a few weeks ago [laughs].

SH: Seriously? Mano a mano?

GN: Yeah. Then I did a big thing against Trump, you should check it out, we had a lot of fun.

SH: Who’s going to be the Republican nominee?

GN: As a Democrat, my biggest fear would be a Kasich-Rubio ticket.

SH: They are at least competent. They’re not—

GN: Yeah. And it’s geographically advantageous, with Ohio and Florida. There’s some freshness to that ticket.

SH: And a Latino.

GN: That’s exactly right. That’s the one I worry about, although I don’t necessarily see it taking shape. Kasich’s still struggling, although he may do well in New Hampshire. And Rubio’s the beneficiary of all this Trump back and forth with Bush and some of the others.

SH: Who’s the Democratic candidate?

GN: I still think it’s Hillary. I mean, unless there’s something deep that we don’t know about in the emails. Otherwise, I think at a certain point the drip-drip-drip exhausts itself. We’ve got another tranche of emails, maybe another two, three months of this, the Benghazi hearings are going to be critical, how she performs under that pressure… Even if Biden jumps in, and in some respects I think if Biden jumps in it really will help Hillary. It will sharpen her edges; she’s best when her back’s against the wall. She’ll, I think, take more risks. She’ll be more authentic. Her voice will be more resonant.

SH: And which party wins in 2016?

GN: I still think it’s—I look demographically, I look on the issues. If you look where the American people are, Democrats have seven of the top ten things the American people care about. And demographically, it’s very difficult for Republicans. And they’re doing such damage to their brand.

SH: They always damage themselves.

GN: But it’s extraordinary. They did that remarkable report, which they completely neglected, about what happened in the last Presidential election.

SH: I know! The “autopsy.”

GN: Dismissed it completely. Trump, Carly Fiorina, Rubio, who’s a hypocrite on every issue, he’s either flip-flopped or he’s in the stone age, climate change, women’s issues, choice, Cuba, I mean, it’s just as bad as it gets. With all due respect to Rubio, he’s an interesting guy, because he brands himself as fresh, but his policies are older than, I don’t know, I should try to be nicer.

SH: How is the Governor’s race going?

GN: It’s good. It’s nice running by yourself!

SH: No opposition?

GN: Not yet. But it’s so early, it’s tongue-in-cheek. There will be a lot of people in this race this time next year. But it’s 2-1/2 years for the primary, and this time next year there will be three or four people already announced that are quality people.

SH: Like who?

GN: The former Mayor of L.A. [Antonio Villaraigosa], the current Mayor [Eric Garcetti], one or two statewide electeds, couple billionaires, Tom Steyer.

SH: Are you not the prohibitive favorite?

GN: I like our starting position. But I’m taking nothing for granted, and that’s why I started early. So…

SH: Did you always have a plan for high elected office?

GN: No.

SH: I don’t mean when you were three.

GN: I’ve always like politics.

SH: But twenty years ago?

GN: No.

SH: Really? Because some of us who knew you then always felt like, this guy is working so damned hard, what is he working for?

GN: Yeah. But if I look back at my life, I kid you not, the happiest days of my life were running that wine store [the first PlumpJack, on Fillmore Street]. Sitting there stocking the wine late at night, in my jeans, listening to loud music, as some of the most blissful, relaxing, wonderful moments of my life. The energy of opening that, the passion, the camaraderie, friendship, family.

SH: Do you remember telling me, shortly after you opened, about a guy who came in and said he wanted a mixed case of whites and reds, he didn’t care what it was, you could pick them, as long as they were all Parker 90s or higher?

GN: [laughs]

SH: And you told me, “I wanted to throw that guy out on the sidewalk but I thought that wouldn’t be a good way to start my business.”

GN: Yeah. Now we love Parker because he gives us 100 points on our Odette! The 2012 Reserve. I’ll tell you, I’ll take the 2013s over the ‘12s. Unbelievable. But I mean, what we did—you might recall–we had some fun. There were a few Parker scores and a few Spectator scores that were ten points apart, and those were the only scores we put up. Eighty points versus ninety! Eighty-five versus ninety-five! To make a point, the subjectivity here. There are some basic tenets of good wine, but beyond that, the rest is so subjective. That said, the power of those scores is extraordinary.

SH: It is, and let me ask you—since this comes up a lot—the conventional wisdom is that Millennials don’t care about scores, they care about peer-to-peer.

GN: It’s part of social media. Yeah. That’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought about that. Yeah, I think there’s real truth to that.

SH: Because we know the big important critics of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s are either retiring, or getting older. I don’t see anyone really rising up to take their place.

GN: There’s no hot-shot. So that makes it, in many ways, easier for non-incumbents, and much more challenging for others. It will be interesting how that plays out. I think our approach, one thing we don’t do is we don’t sell those scores to distributors, to our key customers. We’re working our tails off 24/7 to try to maintain a mom-and-pop approach and really build those relationships. Gordon and I will go out a couple times a year, hit 15, 20 places.

SH: They must flock to the door when you and Gordon Getty show up.

GN: The point is, we’re reaching out. And I think any good operation in the wine business does that.

SH: Will you be able to do that if you’re Governor?

GN: Not as much. But a little bit of that. If I’m going to show up somewhere, there’s no reason I can’t show up at one of my places for dinner, a winemaker dinner.

SH: Okay, last two fun questions. Tell me one thing we don’t know about your hair.

GN: [laughs] God. This is like Donald Trump. I took a little risk, did a little social media campaign, I kind of made fun of Trump’s hair, and then I realized that that’s not a very safe place for me to criticize! I’m open for a counter-punch. So I’m the butt of my own hair jokes. It’s fair game for criticism. There was a whole cartoon thing they did when I was Mayor, when I tried to stop wearing so much hair gel, and everyone said, “Oh, he’s going through a midlife crisis.” And then I put it back on. I can’t win with the hair.

SH: Would you ever just change the style?

GN: I did when I was Mayor! It lasted one week. There were, like, 25 articles about it. It was so preposterous, the reaction from a few well-known political pundits! [laughs]

SH: Question number two: Tips for staying in shape.

GN: Yeah. You gotta keep moving. You gotta move everyday. And if you’re not moving with intention every day, you gotta make sure that three, four days every week, you are. So, for me, minimum three, four days where I try to work out.

SH: Do you still run?

GN: A little bit.

SH: You used to run Marina Green.

GN: Yeah. I’m less running. If I run, I do sprints, not long runs. I’ll do the stationary bike, spinning bike, which I much prefer, get a good sweat quicker. And a little bit of weights.

SH: That’s it! Thank you Governor Newsom!

Gavin Newsom, part 2: Wine, homelessness and the gig economy

Part 2

SH: Let’s move on to wine. Thoughts in general on the California wine industry.

GN: I mean, it’s not like Donald Trump, “Let’s make America great again,” because it’s already great. We keep raising the bar. The drought’s been the big question mark, what is the drought going to mean, in the medium and long term, for the wine industry and California. Of course, even though America is so Napa-centric, we’re conscious, more broadly, in the wine industry, that clearly that doesn’t paint a picture of the California wine industry that’s been impacted in other parts of the state significantly…

SH: What is your involvement in your wineries?

GN: You know, I don’t get involved day-to-day in the micro-management. It’s more broad strokes, strategic and big decisions. By definition, I’ll sign off as the general partner.

SH: A big conversation among the wine pundits is alcohol level.

GN: [laughs] It’s getting too high, or it’s always been high.

SH: Any thoughts?

GN: Well, it’s funny, it comes up a lot, doesn’t it? Yeah, you skate to where the puck’s going, I guess. People like that unctuous, fat and sweet—

SH: Do you?

GN: I love California wines, so it’s interesting, it’s sort of like the frog, the water’s getting warm. My time in the industry has been the last 15, 20 years, where we’ve seen the dial go up, and it’s weird to go back and find an old Louis Martini from the Seventies, and you look at it, it’s 10.5%, 10.8%. It’s weird. So I think there’s a lot of fudging with those numbers, as well. They’ve been higher

SH: So you’re not especially concerned with higher alcohol?

GN: I mean, PlumpJack are big wines. These are big, in-your-face, smash-mouth wines, in terms of that ripeness, and there’s a drinkability to that in the short run which I think people like. The vast majority of these wines are consumed young.

Gavin1

SH: Now that you mention it, you and Gordon [Getty] and your team made that big step years ago of putting 50 percent of PlumpJack production under screwtops. Are you still doing it?

GN: Yes. Interesting; let me interject. We had partnered with U.C. Davis on a ten-year study that they just published a month ago.

SH: On the ageability?

GN: Yeah. So they used our wines, and some other wines, and they just came out with a report.

SH: Can you summarize it?

GN: I am getting a copy myself. But I got a summary from my winemaker, and from our GM, and it was conclusively inconclusive, meaning it’s a classic study, like the fracking study that came out recently, where the oil industry said “Great study” and the environmentalists also said “Great study.” You found what you were looking for.

SH: Have you tasted older vintages [of PlumpJack Cabernet]?

GN: Yeah, so many of these double-blind wine tastings, and all these experts all around us, and they’re absolutely convinced this one’s a screwcap and this one’s a cork. Without exception, the one consistent thing was the inconsistency. The outcome is challenged by the variability in the bottles that confounds you when you say “Screwtop’s not going to allow you any oxygen, or less oxygen, than the cork, so this is not going to age well,” and then you find out, when you taste it, the exact opposite.

SH: Are you surprised that more Napa Cabernet houses have not gone to screwcap?

GN: I’m surprised by how many have.

SH: On the high-end Cabernets?

GN: It’s not on the high end, but more broadly, we’ve seen it more and more acceptable. We know, because we’re seeing it, there’s a very famous First Growth Bordeaux [Ed: Margaux] that’s done screwcaps for their own internal investigation. So that suggests there’s a growing consciousness.

Gavin Newsom, part 2: Wine, homelessness and the gig economy

SH: What do you think of prices? Jon Bonne, in the Chronicle, recently suggested that Napa is getting out of control.

GN: I’m with you. When we started PlumpJack, we were pricing our Reserves substantially less than, say, Groth Reserve, or certainly Opus One, Silver Oak, or some of our neighbors: Screaming Eagle’s across the street. But we were way below, and people literally said, “What’s wrong with the wine?” So we had to adjust the price, just to be competitive. It was an interesting problem: we underpriced it, so people underappreciated it as a consequence, so we raised the price. I was dubious and nervous about that, but it was interesting; I got blowback from folks. But even now, I’ll tell you, there’s two minds on this. You look at Napa, and at our price points compared to other price points [e.g. Bordeaux], we’re pretty reasonable. So in some ways you can say they’re incredibly modest…

SH: Do you think—

GN: I think some things are wildly overpriced!

SH: I always wonder how all these triple-digit Napa Cabernets stay in business. There’s hundreds of them.

GN: I know.

SH: You know these people. How do they stay in business?

GN: Because it’s a globalized market. I went out and saw first-hand, in China, in Shanghai, in Beijing, in Hong Kong, I was there for PlumpJack and CADE and, soon, Odette, and the fact is, our market reach has expanded significantly. We’ll selling all around the world. The reality is, we’re selling out of everything, every year.

SH: Mazel tov.

GN: It is wonderful. And frankly, for us, it’s a question of how you allocate, particularly retail versus restaurants, and how you allocate your overseas. I’m thinking of those 2011s, a tougher vintage, but people loved it anyway. So it was a counter to your earlier point: it was a little more French.

SH: Lower alcohol. There were some beautiful ‘11s. There were some gorgeous mountain Cabs. I think there were more problems as you went out towards the Coast. Some Pinots and Chards were moldy or veggie. Well, let’s move on to the conversation about San Francisco, and real estate and housing. I know people in Oakland who have been pushed out. What do you think about the current situation?

GN: I think about it all the time. I remember being a supervisor at the time, in the late 1990s, and we were struggling, not dissimilarly, with success. And a lot of arts organizations were victims of success. A lot of residents were victims of success, with evictions. So this is in many ways a replay, a golden oldie. But for those impacted by it directly, it’s devastating. And it’s now impacting not just on the residential side, but commercial establishments that are doing extraordinarily well, but cannot afford the renewals on their leases. They’ve weathered earthquakes, recessions, but cannot weather this climate of success.

SH: Care Not Cash [Mayor Newsom’s homeless policy] in retrospect didn’t really work—

GN: It was a phenomenal success!

SH: What happened?

GN: They rested on their laurels. Care Not Cash is only as good as its application and implementation. We saw a 30%, almost 33% decline almost overnight in the homeless population. But that was ten years ago! I haven’t been Mayor for six damned years. This is getting worse and worse, and it’s tipped in the opposite direction, and I have a lot of strong opinions on it. I don’t want to be critical, but the outrage is understandable right now in San Francisco.

SH: [San Francisco Mayor Ed] Lee is coming up against a big backlash. How’s he doing?

GN: I think it’s difficult. Look, when I was Mayor we had the highest minimum wage in the U.S., the only paid sick leave, the only universal healthcare, including for undocumented residents, universal pre-school and after-school…these are not assertions, these are things that were fully implemented and exist in the city. These are usually the quivers you pull out in this environment, in order to soften the blow of success…but it’s still inadequate.

SH: Ultimately, you can’t put a brake—

GN: On the macro.

SH: On the macro.

GN: It’s a supply and demand problem, which goes back to, What’s the right price to sell your wine? Well, that’s determined by the market.

SH: You’re not in this to be the good guy.

GN: It’s a business. If you focus on excellence, it usually is rewarded. And by the way, San Francisco’s long been focused on excellence, but the downside is there’s a spread issue, and the income gap here, the Great Gatsby curve, is so acute here, it’s devastating. So you continue to do what you can to address that—I’ll tell you, I think about this a lot, I talk to the Mayor’s office a lot, comparing notes, what the hell more can you do, without a command-and-control approach to suppressing the macro economic growth.

SH: Would you have been in favor of the building moratorium in the Mission?

GN: No. The idea that you stop construction and somehow that aids affordability, in a market environment, where less supply only increases costs when the demand is so high? I’m at a loss to understand that, except that that was brought up when Willie Brown was Mayor, it was brought up when I was Mayor, rejected both times. It doesn’t surprise me that it was brought up again.

SH: When I moved to the City, after the [Moscone and Milk] assassinations, in the Seventies, when Feinstein became Mayor, exactly the same conversation was going on, thirty-something years ago.

GN: Again, the price of success. But there’s something else going on here: we’re at a hinge point in history, as the old economy is giving way to the new economy, and the industrial economy’s run out of gas. It’s an atrophy, and you’re seeing the contours of the formation of something radically different, these participation platforms, these contribution platforms, this on-demand work that exists with the shared economy.

SH: So thoughts on the gig economy, you brought it up. Is it a good thing?

GN: Well, the tech genie’s out of the bottle. And you can’t put it back in. So everything is reorganizing itself. We can lament about it, or we can organize a strategy to allow people to prosper and succeed in this environment. And on-demand work requires on-demand education, and a different mindset in terms of education, of K-12 education but also lifelong learning. It requires us to think differently about our rules and regulations…Right now we’re paving over the old cow path by offering solutions that frankly are inadequate to the challenge. And I repeat: the solutions we’ve offered in San Francisco that I promoted as Mayor, that this Mayor is promoting, are inadequate: higher minimum wage is inadequate. Paid sick leave is inadequate. Universal this, universal that is inadequate. Necessary, but hardly sufficient to deal with something that is so acute and so radically different in terms of a new distribution of wealth that now is concentrated in this technologically enhanced economic environment.

Gavin Newsom, part 2: Wine, homelessness and the gig economy

SH: The poster child for the gig economy is Uber [which recently announced it’s opening a huge office center in downtown Oakland]. Should their drivers be offered benefits and sick leave? The drivers themselves seem to be saying, Hey, we’re happy to be able to work when we want.

GN: Yeah, but I mean, drivers are—look, the bottom line is Uber is successful for one reason: excellence. They provide an exponentially better service than the old industrial taxicab industry, which I am not [just] familiar with, I am intimately familiar with, having chaired a task force twenty years ago, trying to manage it as Mayor, fighting to get more cabs, fighting to get them to pick up folks in low income communities, to get a centralized dispatch center, and the industry fought all those things. So invariably, a guy named Travis [Kalanik] comes along with an app to fill the void, and to create a competitive environment, and the taxicab industry was slow to adapt. Do I feel badly for these medallion holders? Of course. They’ve been on the wait list for decades. Do I feel badly for the poor guy who’s working his tail off in an old industry? I do. But the reality is, change and disruption are for real. And so, either adapt to this environment in real time, or you’re going to get run over literally and figuratively. And I get it—I’m not a techno-utopian, but the fact is, we have to wake up to this reality. Airbnb is the largest accommodation company in the world and it has no real estate. Uber is the largest taxicab company in the world and it has no taxicabs. You start thinking about these things, and something big is happening in real time that requires radically different thinking from a public policy perspective.

SH: Why is it that so many liberals get so upset at Uber?

GN: Because we are so used to a world that—[sighs] I think we’re just, we’re stuck on this romantic notion of security that served us well for 150 years, but it’s a world that no longer exists. And so we hold on to this past, which I understand: You work hard, play by the rules, and get ahead. That used to be the paradigm we were born into. But it’s not necessarily—

SH: It still is: You work hard, and get ahead.

GN: Not for everyone anymore, and that’s the challenge, from a public policy perspective. People are working their tails off, they’re not getting ahead, they’re stuck behind. So how do you deal with retirement in a 401(K) world where it’s now defined contributions, not defined benefits? How do you deal in an environment where competition is two billion people living overseas, not just two hundred folks who are living next door? So, again, something big is happening with the merger of IT ad globalization. It means we’ve got to step up our game and it requires a different way of thinking. I’d love the 9-to-5 days, the gold watch, strong retirement, I would love that, but…

Next: Newsom on gay rights, working in an incubator, social media, staying in shape, the upcoming Governor’s race in California, and the Republican and Democratic contests for President.

Gavin Newsom on wine, politics, his PlumpJack portfolio, San Francisco, Oakland, hair, and much more

 

Part 1

Gavin Newsom is a two-term Mayor of San Francisco and is currently serving his second term as California’s Lieutenant-Governor. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor in the 2018 election and is widely perceived as the prohibitive front-runner to succeed current Governor Jerry Brown. Beyond that, of course, there is a Presidential election in 2020, and Newsom has shown up on some short lists as a possible candidate. Even in 2024, he will only be 55 years old.

I met Gavin back in the early 1990s, when he and his partners, who included Gordon Getty, were forming what has now become their PlumpJack Group, a collection of wine stores, bars, clubs, resorts and hotels that has made 47-year old Newsom a wealthy man. (By the way, I don’t call him “Gavin,” as I used to, I call him “Governor,” which is the proper honorific for a Lieutenant-Governor.) We met in his office, in a sort of incubator, the Founders Den, near AT&T Park, where he chooses to work, rather than in the more traditional office of the Lieutenant-Governor, the California State Building in Civic Center.

I began by asking Gov. Newsom about his alcoholic beverage consumption, problems concerning which were widely reported in 2006-2007, when he was Mayor.

SH: When you were Mayor and had the problem with drinking, how’s that going? Do you imbibe alcohol these days?

GN: Yes, I absolutely do. I have for years. I stopped drinking because I wanted to stop drinking and I needed to stop drinking, and it was a good point of clarity. So I just stopped. Stopped. And a couple years later, I started trying a little wine again, and I have continued to this day. Which is a healthy thing, from my perspective.

SH: So are you in any sort of—

GN: I was never in anything.

SH: Never in rehab?

GN: No.

SH: You were in counseling with Mimi—

GN: Silber. Well, Mimi I’ve known since my birth, and she told me to stop drinking one day, and I stopped. And when she said it’s okay to drink, I went, Thank you, and waited a couple of months, and then thought, OK, I’ll start again. So it was important to me, in that moment, to reset, more than anything else.

Gavin1

SH: How are the PlumpJack companies doing?

GN: Everything’s great. We’ve got, I think—boy, I don’t know how many businesses we’ve got now. We just opened two new ones, Forgery, a bar down the road, and then a club right behind it called Verso.

SH: That’s the new Mid-Market [project]–?

GN: Yeah, Mid-Market, and then interestingly my sister is down, as we speak, at a new small property we just purchased, a hotel in Carmel. And we’ve got another bar we’re opening, in the Mission, by the end of the year. So the businesses have grown. I think there’s seventeen or so operating businesses.

SH: I have to ask, Mid-Market forever had this reputation as a sleazy, dirty, dangerous—

GN: Yeah, of course.

SH: My town, Oakland, is very hot.

GN: Yup.

SH: Oakland is arguably—

GN: The new San Francisco! That’s what everyone is saying.

SH: So would PlumpJack do something—

GN: In Oakland? Of course. I love Oakland. I love the culture there, the neighborhood character, I like everything about Oakland. I appreciate the new Mayor over there [Libby Schaaf].

SH: She seems to be doing a good job.

GN: She’s a solid person, and so she’s getting that city—of course, Oakland, in the past, has been the beneficiary of San Francisco’s success in many ways, in the 1990s, late Nineties. We’re seeing that now in a more sustainable way. The question is, How does Oakland deal with the challenges San Francisco’s had to deal with, as it relates to gentrification and being the tip of the spear of this new economy, at this hinge moment in history, as we move from something old to something new.

SH: Well, would you encourage your companies to do something in Oakland?

GN: Yeah. I’d love to. We have such a San Francisco centricity, because we’re all here, we live here, the businesses are spread out and established here. But absolutely. We’re now in Carmel, we’re in Lake Tahoe, we’re obviously in Napa, and so, yeah, absolutely.

SH: Uber announced they’re moving to Oakland.

GN: I think that’s great. Oakland, for me, is a member of the family. As a fifth-generation San Franciscan and former Mayor, I’ll express my subjectivity and say I like to think we’re the spoke of the wheel, the center of it, but in so many ways [the Bay Area] is just one large community that needs to focus more regionally to address the respective needs of each community…When I think of the politics of San Francisco, the politics of Oakland, the politics within cities in the Bay Area, it’s clear to me and self-evident: none of these cities’ isolation can solve all of their problems. We have to think more regionally.

SH: Okay, well, Oakland people will be gratified that you are at least open to the possibility of—

GN: Open? I love it!

SH: But nothing now?

GN: No, but we’re always—you know, I was just in the East Bay. You know what was my favorite, great sandwich place?–

SH: Ike’s?

GN: No, it’s not that, I’ve heard about it, but what the heck? I’ve forgotten. Anyway, there was a business we were going to invest in partnership out there, so…my only point is, that’s evidence of sincerity. I’m not just saying it.

SH: Okay, I’ll give you a personal tour of Uptown and show you how exciting it is!

GN: By the way, my wife [Jennifer Siebel Newsom] is doing a new documentary, and her city is Oakland. It’s the backdrop, and she’s deep in the issue of social mobility and income inequality, and she’s been spending the last year filming three families in Oakland in a very granular, very nuanced and textured way, and it’s just reinforced my appreciation for the city and, more importantly, the entire region, the place we call home.

Tune in this week for more on Gov. Newsom on alcohol levels, screwtops and Napa prices, and the Republican race for President.

Catching up with Ben Flajnik

 

I met Ben around 2012, when he was the star of The Bachelor, and a principal in Envolve Winery, along with his old friends, Mikey Benziger and Danny Fay. Ben left the winery in 2014, although he’s still a silent partner. We met at Blue Bottle Coffee, a coder-heavy hangout on Mint Plaza in San Francisco, where Ben, 33, told me about his post-Bachelor, post-Envolve life.

BF: I have a few projects. I stayed in beverage. Started a local Fernet project, Fernet Francisco. Fernet is a part of the digestif family: before and after cordials, a distilled spirit. Fernet Branca is our main competitor. There’s about 12-15 Fernets on the planet. Branca claims the exclusive right to the word Fernet, but there’s other Fernet companies that produce. So we’re in a bit of a tiff with Branca. We’re working that out. We happen to be the third domestically-produced Fernet, and the only one out of California. My partners and I cut our teeth on Branca. Everybody did!

SH: Digestifs are big now. Huge. The category is growing like crazy.

Why? I think the resurgence of botanicals is on the rise. Seems to me, at least the crew I run with, is no one drinks vodka anymore. When they’re drinking something, they want flavors; they want to taste the Earth, as opposed to something very clean.

Ben1!

What is your Fernet made with? We have two base ethanols. One is made from grapes, a brandy, and we use an organic, non-GMO grain-based ethanol. So we’ll take the brandies and macerate “X” amount of herbs in them.

Is the herb mixture a secret? Well, I can disclose some of them, but not all. The main ones are rhubarb, bay leaf, chamomile, spearmint, peppermint and orange peel.

Where do you get your products? We source the herbs from Monterey. We try to source everything as local as possible. The goal is to create a product using botanicals that are native, that thrive in the state of California. And our ethanols are local too.

Where is the distillery? Out of Falcon Spirits, a small distillery in Richmond [California]. Our Master Distiller is Farid Dorishan, a brilliant man. Max Rudsten, my partner, and I interviewed a half-dozen master distillers before starting this project. I flew to some of the world’s most renowned distilleries and figured out process design and what it took to make Fernet. So coupled with Farid’s brilliance, we sat down and did blending sessions, the same way I blended when I made wine.

Was there financing? We actually raised $100,000 in really small rounds from friends, just buddies. We have 22 investors. They were like, “Let’s see if you guys can pull it off.”

How do you drink Fernet Francisco? Is it mixable? Everybody takes it as a shot, right? We are the only Fernet on the planet classed as a bitters, not a liqueuer, due to our lack of sugar. So we mix really well in cocktail programs. But we’re also a neat sipper, like bourbon or scotch.

How’s it selling? We started in early April [2015]. At first, Max and I pounded the pavement; we had 100 accounts in the first month. Then we got a distributor. Production is currently at 800 cases, in the first six months. Retail is about $40-$44.

Where is it sold? We just cracked 300 accounts statewide. All the Whole Foods, all the BevMos NorCal. And on-premise, we’re all over the place. It’s funny, even with the Bachelor and the growth we had at Envolve, I’ve never seen trajectory like this before. Fernet’s on another planet. We just opened up New York, D.C., Texas, Illinois.

Why is it so successful? We have a long way to go, don’t get me wrong. But here’s why I think it’s been so successful so far: Because Max and I recognized a niche product, a niche market that wasn’t being fulfilled. Branca is the only option, but we got tired of drinking it. So we went out and created an artisanal, small-batch Fernet. And there are a lot of Fernet drinkers out there.

Catching up with Ben Flajnik

Do you miss winemaking? I do. I miss wine. I miss the people in wine. I miss driving up to Sonoma. [Ben lives in San Francisco.] It was a nice drive, the only time of day I was able to call my friends and catch up and collect my thoughts. It was a nice cycle. [He usually biked up.] What we quickly learned, though, is that there’s no money in wine. You have to be very well funded, and we weren’t. I got a pH.D. in the wine business through Envolve, and I’ve applied all that to Fernet Francisco.

What is your day-to-day role? It’s not a fulltime job yet. Max and I probably spend 10 hours a week.

Where do you see it in five years? I’d be stoked if markets outside California were doing 30 to 50 cases a month. I’d like to see us get to about 5 percent market share of Fernet Branca in the U.S.

Fernet isn’t the only new thing you’re doing. Right. We have a live wine webcam from Sonoma, livewinecam.com, and also livefromSonoma.com. On the first, we’re trying to highlight wineries, the window in the world of wine. Someone’s sitting in their basement in the middle of winter in Ohio, longing to be in wine country, they can go. On livefromsonoma, we’re live on the Sonoma square. We already have 25,000-35,000 unique views a month, with zero advertising. People are interested in what’s going on, so we’re trying to extend that [through livewinecam.com] into the wineries, the vineyards, the crushpads.

Are they for profit? Right now it’s for fun. Later on, we’ll monetize livewinecam.com through advertising. There’s a minimal fee that the winery or vineyard incurs. We’re also talking with Jackson Family and Jean-Charles Boisset for livewinecam.com. Fernet and livewinecam.com. are side gigs for me. Ultimately, it would be nice to have them be fulltime gigs, but my primary business right now is The Gentleman [thegentlemanapp.com]. We plan great dates for people, especially guys. We’re like the Uber on-demand date service.

Sort of a date concierge. Exactly. You go online, fill out a simple survey so we know who you are. So it’s like, Okay, you’re Steve Heimoff, these are the kinds of cuisines you’re into, you like Iron Butterfly…

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby! We plan awesome dates for you. We’re starting in Los Angeles and San Francisco. My co-founder and C.T.O., Alex Sharp, is down there. I’m the specialist in San Francisco, for now. So, hey Steve, this restaurant is the latest and greatest, we’ve been able to reserve a table for our gentleman members. And it only costs you twelve bucks [for the booking]. Or you can be a monthly subscriber for $39.

Is it up and running? The beta release is today, as we speak. It’s a website now, will be an app.

How did The Bachelor experience inform your future career plans? Good question. While I was going through it, I thought wine was going to be part of my life forever. And it’s just a tough business. I couldn’t keep doing it forever, scraping by, trying to make it work. Passion is one thing; paying the bills here in San Francisco is another. I was always involved in some kind of technology project, and so it’s nice to be back in both, in tech and in beverage. The Bachelor opened a lot of doors and awesome contacts and friendships that are readily available for when we launch The Gentleman and Fernet needs to go into a new market, or whatever it is.

Do you still drink wine? OMG, do I ever. I drink more wine than I ever did.

Like what? Beaujolais. I drink a boatload of Gamay Noir. Steph [his girlfriend] and I drink more European than before; we have acid-driven palates. A lot of Burgundy—the stuff we can afford! I still drink a lot of domestic Pinot: Kosta-Browne, Baxter up in Anderson Valley.

Any final thoughts? Everything’s good! Just plugging away. It’s been an interesting year-and-a-half after leaving the winery and showbiz and all that stuff and trying to find my feet again. I’ve landed on these three projects that I’m very proud of, and I think they all have legs.

Thank you Ben!

Catching up with Ben Flajnik