Politicians love to try and manage the press. That’s why President Bush rarely holds news conferences and opts for elaborately staged photo-opportunities in front of friendly crowds … why Governor Schwarzenegger also uses advance teams to make sure the background and the lighting are just right for his events. But, sometimes, even in a carefully-staged press availability, you find a moment of spontaneity that reveals much.
In tonight’s I-Team investigation into the cost-overruns in the Fourth Street Bridge retro-fit, we needed a comment from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. We’ve been casting a critical eye at his administration, virtually from the beginning. So now, the mayor won’t agree to a sit-down interview with us – we have to catch up to him at some staged event and ask our questions. In this case, the mayor held a City Hall news conference in front of old posters from films shot in San Francisco to announce a jump in local production. We had to wait through the 45 minutes of public relations to ask why the 4th Street bridge project is more than a year over-due and twice the original price. Finally, Newsom dismissed officials from the film industry who were present to take questions on other topics.
Here’s the interesting part. Newsom apparently didn’t know that Matt Gonzalez – the former San Francisco Supervisor, the man who nearly beat him in the mayor’s race – had signed on to represent the construction company on the bridge project. We asked the mayor to respond to a point Gonzalez had made to us and no kidding – you can see this on the tape – when the words “Matt Gonzalez” came out of my mouth, Gavin Newsom reacted. Smiling, the Mayor walked away from the microphone and prematurely ended the news conference – several other reporters had questions to ask on other topics. Clearly, there’s some leftover animosity from the tight race with Gonzalez. It’s rare in these staged media events to get such insight into the personal feelings of public figures. Just another reason I still find this job entertaining after 25 years.