None of us has any idea what kind of governor Gavin Newsom is going to be. But we do know this: He’s a patient and affectionate father.
When his 2-year-old son Dutch eclipsed Newsom’s inaugural address by bounding up and down the stage where his dad addressed the state in a televised speech Monday, the initial chatter around the Capitol was that the kid stole the show.
It’s true, but that instant analysis misses a larger point.
What the child did was adorable, but what the father did was significant. The kid was being a kid. And many of us who have raised children have had moments in public, at important events, where our kids went rogue. And we struggled to contain that humbling mixture of terror and joy in knowing that they were going to do what they were going to do no matter what we did.
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The governor handled it as all of us hoped we would. He first saw Dutch climbing up the stage out of the corner of his eye and he kept speaking, while pivoting to meet his boy and give him what the children need: a hug and a snuggle. Newsom barely broke stride, his face never betrayed annoyance or aggravation. And Dutch? He nestled his little head in the loving space between dad’s shoulder and cheek.
And then the child did something that brought tears to my eyes and destroyed even the most aggressive, hard-bitten colleagues I have. He rubbed his dad’s back as babies do when they pay you – the parent or guardian – the ultimate compliment.
That tiny gesture spoke volumes about how 2-year-old Dutch feels about the governor of California. You can’t rehearse that expression of love or fake or stage it. That bond between father and child is either there or it’s not.
Dutch’s gesture of love told me more about our new governor than anything I’ve heard him say for the past decade. And my friends, I have not been a Gavin Newsom fan. Last year, during the Democratic primary, I wrote a withering commentary about Newsom entitled: The Privileged Candidate. It started off like this: “The 50-year-old lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco is the living embodiment of privilege, and people seem to be OK with that. He has white male privilege. Class privilege. Wealth privilege. The privilege of good looks.”
It went on like this: “All (this) creates a Teflon exterior, protecting Newsom’s horrendous lapses of judgment and character, excusing his questionable background. It is simply accepted without eliciting the negative scrutiny that would dog or even derail lesser mortals.”
And it included this: “In 2007 Newsom had an affair with his appointments secretary. And she wasn’t just his secretary. She was married to one of his top political aides and best friend. After the affair became public, Newsom’s lover somehow landed a $10,000 payout in public money from a fund intended for city employees with catastrophic and life-threatening illnesses.
How can sleeping with Gavin Newsom be considered a catastrophic or life-theatening illness?”
There was more, much more, and yet Newsom cruised to victory in the June primary and got his fondest wish: a Republican challenger in the general election. How big a zero was this challenger? Newsom didn’t even have to mention his name and I won’t either.
Newsom enjoyed what may go down as the easiest path to the governor’s chair in state history and he inherits a massive surplus and veto-proof super majorities for the Democrats in the legislature.
After my column about Newsom, I heard the same refrain: “You’re right about Newsom, but I’m voting for him anyway.”
He’s charming, he’s handsome, he’s rich, he’s been supported his entire life by some of the richest and most powerful people in California. He is California’s anointed one. Our state may be diverse culturally but the corridors of power in California are monopolized by a small clique of rich people from the Bay Area and Newsom is a product of that.
When he spoke of being a busboy at one point and a small businessman, he wasn’t lying. He had done both. But he also has enjoyed the enduring support of the Getty family in all his endeavors. It’s the job of people like me to point this out and, quite frankly, to spend the next four years holding him accountable for his choices, allegiances and promises.
I’m ready. We’re ready. But what we learned on Monday thanks to Newsom’s son is that this new governor of California does possess an endearing love for his own children. We’ve had governors before whose kids and families seemed like props. Newsom’s life has been about self gratification and ambition. These impulses have manifested in good and odious ways.
But as he cradled his son, Newsom showed that he does have possibilities as governor if he doesn’t lose sight of his better nature. When he was a drinking, preening mayor of San Francisco I couldn’t stand the guy. When he didn’t pay a price for his transgressions and instead was protected by the San Francisco political mafia – and a Bay Area press corps that went too easy on him when they might have destroyed others – I couldn’t stand the guy.
But now he’s here. He’s moving his whole family here. And here he was, speaking to us and among us. What we saw was genuine and endearing. It was clearly the biggest day of his life, a moment he had meticulously planned while sitting on his hands for eight years as the lieutenant governor.
His speech was polished and reflected what he believed. It was his moment, until Dutch had other ideas. Instead of being rattled, the governor showed that his child meant more to him than the moment. He shared the moment with his child. He validated those of us who have kept our kids at the center of our lives when our elders scolded us for “coddling” them.
I still don’t know what kind of governor we’ve elected – maybe we regret the decision some day – but for today? We saw a good dad and a good dude. Hopefully, the governor won’t stray too far from that when the real business of governing California begins.