Newsom Brings His A Game to SB

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom packed a Santa Barbara waterfront hall to the rafters tonight, putting on an impressive performance at a town hall meeting to boost his fledgling campaign for governor.

An SRO crowd of more than 250 filled the Veterans Auditorium for a town hall meeting, as Newsom confidently strode before them, melding smiles and substance in answering two hours worth of questions about health care, schools, mentally ill homeless people and other policy issues.

The 41-year old Newsom, who made a fortune in business before entering politics in the late '90s, showed himself an adept and smooth salesman, and the product he was selling last night was San Francisco.

Time and again he responded to questions about what he would do as governor by pointing to his record as a two-term mayor, saying that on a host of intractable urban problems, "we decided to stop talking about it and decided to do something about it."

In particular, he emphasized San Francisco's Healthy Care Plan, saying it had made his the nation's first city to provide universal health care services for every citizen, regardless of income or even immigration status. By the time he was finished talking up its virtues, one local Democratic activist cracked that "now everybody is going to move to San Francisco."

The one flaw in Newsom's presentation is that Healthy Care is not quite the unqualified success he portrayed it to be. As a front line health care worker said in a recent San Francisco Chronicle report on the project, "the concept is good, but I think it is dishonest to tout it as if it were working now."

Newsom also came up short on details about how he intends to finance the sweeping agenda of health care, education and environmental programs he set forth last night. In response to a question about paying for health care, he tap danced for five minutes, at one point lurching inexplicably into a discussion of "locally produced, sustainable salad bars in our schools." Pressed by philanthropist and literary agent Lee Rosenberg of Santa Ynez, Newsom finally acknowledged that funding for San Francisco's health care program included higher taxes on 15 percent of the businesses in the city and substantial money from grants that may or may not be sustainable, in addition to reallocation of $109 million in existing programs and modest point of service fees by patients.

Newsom also shrugged off a question about the massive state budget deficit, saying that passing a budget was "the basic job" of those elected to office without ever quite detailing his plan for that whole, you know, multi-billion dollar chronic deficit thing.

With the 2010 Democratic primary still 15 months away, however, Newsom's brief visit to Santa Barbara, part of a wider weeklong swing through Southern California, accomplished exactly what he came to do: gather names of a bunch of potential supporters for his facebook/twitter brigade, and make a very strong first impression on folks who hadn't met him before.

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