When Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom extolled Jerry Brown ahead of the governor’s final State of the State last month, he reached for a quote from another San Franciscan who shares a first name with the governor: Jerry Garcia.
Only a former mayor of San Francisco, Newsom reasoned, could possibly get away with the informality.
“He said, ‘You don’t want to be the best of the best,’ ” Newsom said, attributing his remarks to the late lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. “ ‘You want to be the only one that does what you do.’ ”
Newsom offered that the quote was a “wonderful way of describing our governor,” adding to the lawmakers assembled at the Capitol that the quip “really personifies this historic moment.”
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Newsom felt similarly before that. And before that. And before that.
In 2016, he quoted Garcia while introducing Hillary Clinton during a campaign rally at San Francisco’s Hibernia Bank Building. Newsom relied on the quote again two years before that, that time to mark the unveiling of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s official portrait in Sacramento.
Garcia “had a wonderful quote, saying, ‘You don’t want to be the best of the best. You want to be the only one that does what you do,’ ” Newsom said. “And it’s a way to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Newsom is a collector of inspirational quotes, some of the variety you might find in books for aspiring entrepreneurs. At his line of PlumpJack restaurants, employees were sent home with little white books that referenced droplets of wisdom: They should set “big, hairy, audacious goals,” to take risks and be willing to fail. “... We are dispensers of enthusiasm,” the booklet says. Commencement speeches he gave earlier in his career were collections of words spoken by Elvis Presley, Michael Jordan, Henry Ford and Dr. Seuss, as well as Wayne Gretzky and ... Jerry Garcia!
Indeed, of all the quotes in the candidate for governor’s well-worn repertoire, perhaps no sop to pop culture-starved audiences have seen as much use as those two lines.
And no honoree, it seems, was too small or obscure for the designation.
Newsom delivered the quote at a Girls in Tech meeting at Founders Den in San Francisco’s China Basin. He delivered it at the War Memorial Veterans Building to mark the second annual Mayor’s Art Award, which Newsom bestowed on the renowned ballet choreographer Alonzo King. “Only a mayor of San Francisco can get away with that,” he said at the time. Or, turns out, a lieutenant governor.
He delivered it at the opening of an event hosted by Google; and then in San Jose with then-Mayor Chuck Reed for a town hall coinciding with Newsom’s ill-fated first run for governor. And he delivered it during a Geary Boulevard Merchants Association luncheon in his city. “There is no other organization like the Geary merchants,” Newsom said, seemingly unafraid of offending the Fisherman’s Wharf Merchants Association, or the Chinatown Merchants Association, or the Mission Merchants Association. “To my point, you want to be the only one that does what you do.”
Garcia’s words made an early impression on him. Speaking with the journalist Joan Ryan for a piece in 2004, Newsom mentioned the words in relation to shaping the brand identification of PlumpJack.
Newsom would come to lean in on the lines in odd years, and in even ones. The San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series victory parade proved a fitting setting for him to cite the jam band’s leader.
But no time proved more appropriate than when Newson, casually dressed in jeans, a zip-up sweater and ball cap, took the stage at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass a month earlier to toast the festival’s late, great benefactor, private equity investor F. Warren Hellman.
“I want to quote, because it seems appropriate if you’re the mayor of San Francisco, at an event like this, you can get away with quoting this person, and that’s the late, great Jerry Garcia,” he said.
The crowd cheered, and then Newsom shared the quote, like he’d never done it before.
“That’s Warren Hellman,” he said, looking satisfied with the appreciative reaction. “No one else does what he does for a city like ours.”