The leak, a clear political maneuver, may backfire on Newsom

What’s a political junkie to make of last week’s leak of a confidential City Attorney memo, wherein Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office first denied, then the Mayor himself admitted to handing a “confidential” legal opinion – which more or less stated that “we could possibly be sued if we continue to flout federal law like we already do in multiple ways” – to the San Francisco Chronicle?

It’s but a few days on, and both (legitimate) legal analysis and a possible “formal investigation” are forthcoming but at least two facts have become clear:

1.Newsom or a Newsom handler told his staff to leak the memo to score political points.

2.And it hasn’t (yet) worked.

For cynics and critics of the Gavinator, there’s perhaps a third and most salient point to be made: not only was this a political maneuver that hasn’t (yet) worked and could quite possibly be illegal (so what better time for the Mayor to jet to Mexico?), but that this maneuver was made the day after it came out that ole Governor Moonbeam is kicking Newsom’s ass in both fundraising and at the polls.

Why do we say it might backfire? First, the legislation in question – a tweak of the city’s sanctuary city policies (which already flout federal immigration laws) authored by Supervisor David Campos that would make it city policy to hand over to the feds illegal aliens under the age of 18 only when convicted of a felony – is far from unpopular. In fact, eight of the city’s eleven supervisors have endorsed it, and eight is a Mayoral-veto-proof majority.

But by placing a “confidential,” “insider” story in the city’s largest (and from what we’ve observed, most Newsom-loyal) news organ, complete with stock quotes from Newsom, the District Attorney, the newly-installed police chief and even the local US Attorney (who has in the past not given a flying fuck about following federal law himself), Newsom’s camp could work to break that support. But the leak has not yet had that effect – the likeliest target, moderate supervisor and 2011 mayoral hopeful Bevan Dufty, told The Appeal on Monday that he is still supports Campos’ proposed legislation.

And as Campos pointed out in the Chronicle article (in what is perhaps the hatchet-job Chronicle piece’s one and only nod towards objectivity), there’s nothing new about challenges to SF laws in federal court. Healthy San Francisco could yet be heard by the Supreme Court; medicinal cannabis is not permitted under federal law; and there’s nothing on the books in Washington about allowing same-sex marriage, “like it or not”.

Why is it that any confidential legal opinions in those situations weren’t leaked?
“I’m sure (Newsom) received cautionary memos about same sex marriage in February 2004 – if someone shared that legal advice with the media, he’d be furious,” noted Supervisor John Avalos, who filed a complaint last week with the city’s Ethics Commission. “(Newsom) wants to be assured he can beat us (on the legislation), so he’s trying to pick off some people. But you just don’t do that this way.”

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