On Monday, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that amid rising Covid-19 cases in his state that he would be “pulling the emergency brake” on reopening plans. On that same day, he apologized for, at best, skirting his own rules when it comes to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.
The details are these: On November 6, Newsom and his wife, Jennifer, attended a 50th birthday party for political consultant and lobbyist Jason Kinney, at the uber-exclusive French Laundry restaurant in the heart of the state’s Napa Valley. They were two of a dozen people at the event, which was held at an outdoor table in the courtyard of the restaurant. Photos obtained by Fox 11 in Los Angeles show Newsom sitting closely packed with other guests – and none wearing a mask. (There is also some debate as to whether they were fully outside, as the woman who took the photos at the restaurant told Fox 11 that the group was loud and sliding doors were closed to keep the room quieter.)
“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said by way of apology on Monday. “I should have stood up and … drove back to my house. The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted. I need to preach and practice, not just preach.”
Yes. To all of that.
Unfortunately for Newsom, this episode of do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do is likely to negatively color his overall handling of the virus, which to this point had won plaudits from many – including me!
Newsom was the first governor in the country to issue a stay-at-home order (on March 19) and was generally quite proactive in his response to the evolving virus. But this episode has so many things wrong with it: Skirting his own rules to dine at a restaurant that costs more for dinner than many Californians make in a week to fete a lobbyist. Bad, very bad and really, really bad.
“The governor, who has been among the state’s most vocal advocates of playing by the pandemic rules that he himself has created, blew it. He did not, in his own tired phrase, meet the moment. I mean, they do say the food at the French Laundry is to die for. But is it?
“Newsom understood right away how bad that dinner looked. He had just foolishly handed his opponents ammunition on a silver platter.”
Now, to his credit, Newsom’s apology was fulsome – and without the sort of “sorry if anyone was offended” caveats that politicians love to lean on. And California is one of the most Democratic states in the country, so it’s unlikely that this error in judgment will seriously jeopardize Newsom’s chances at a second term in 2022 or his future national political aspirations. (And trust me, he has future national political aspirations.)
But for someone who had been leading the charge on what effective government response to this pandemic looked like, Newsom’s knuckle-headed decision to defy his own best practices is a bad look. A very bad look.