When he was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003, Gavin Newsom, who was 36, was the youngest mayor the city had had in a century. By that time, he had already founded and built up PlumpJack Associates, a 700-employee business that encompassed wine, retail, and dining. Today, Newsom is lieutenant governor of California—a role he openly admits to finding vexing. Often controversial, always energetic, Newsom stopped by the green room to take a few questions before his appearance at Zócalo.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I had Greek yogurt and a banana and a grande China green-tip green tea at the local Starbucks in Westwood.
What’s the nicest thing you can say about Los Angeles?
Well, I’m not starting with the Dodgers, but that’s just a bias from any Northern Californian. I actually love this place. I’ll tell you the best thing I can say about L.A.: Although I met my wife in San Francisco, she was living in L.A.
What’s the most frightening natural disaster you’ve experienced?
The ’89 earthquake. That was personal. I lived in the Marina district in San Francisco, and on both corners we had one building that collapsed and another that ultimately caught on fire. That was one of the most frightening experiences I ever had.
The San Onofre nuclear plant is perhaps about to power back up. Should we be happy about that?
As the every-other-year chair of the state lands commission, I can say this is front and center of my consciousness. I mean, the idea that it was placed where it is, is an extraordinary thing. It is beyond imagination what they were thinking when they placed it.
If you could eradicate any mammal, which would it be?
What is it they say? If we eliminate all insects, human life would be extinct, and all mammal life would be extinct? But if you eliminate human beings, all insect and mammal life would flourish? It kind of puts us in perspective as human beings.
I think I have the headline now: “Lieutenant Governor Advocates Eradication Of Human Life.”
Geoffrey Sachs has a wonderful line about putting human beings in perspective. That said, I am actually a pro-human, so I don’t want to be accused of eradication. I’m also pro-mammal, and so I’m unwilling to answer that question.
Even the Malayan field rat?
We all serve our purpose. There’s that web of mutuality Dr. King talked about. We’re all in this together.
Who’s your favorite living statesman—or stateswoman?
Living? Why do you do this to me? So hard to choose. I’ll tell you, one of the living legends I admire greatly and am blessed to know is Dolores Huerta.
President Obama has only blue suits and gray suits, according to Vanity Fair. What colors do you have?
Blue suits and blue suits, period. This is my uniform. If I have a tie, it’s blue, my suits are blue, and my shirts are white. But I don’t do it to limit my decision making every day. It’s just what I have.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of the job of lieutenant governor?
I think the biggest surprise is that I haven’t been necessarily surprised. I interned for Leo McCarthy when he was lieutenant governor. Even though I mocked my own job, saying “What does a lieutenant governor do?” I knew intimately what a lieutenant governor does. But we need to run lieutenant governor and governor as a ticket. The position needs to be dramatically reformed, with or without me.
Who gives you more grief—those on your political right or those to your political left?
Oh, left. Unquestionably. I’m a former mayor of San Francisco, buddy. Definitely left. People always wonder why I do all these trips with Republicans. It’s much more relaxing on the other side of the aisle.