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Yes, Gavin Newsom's Been Absent -- But Compare Him to Other Mayors? There's a Lot to Love

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For a little change of pace, I'd like to say something positive about our mayor, Mr. Style-Over-Substance.

Oops. Sorry. Let me start that over.

Gavin Newsom is looking pretty good these days, if you can follow his action on the overseas wire.

He got some grief for announcing a new San Francisco bicycle policy from Paris, and then for jetting to Davos, where working journalists may have outnumbered moguls this year and actual celebrities were in short supply.

Chronicle writers Andy Ross and Phil Matier titled their column last week, "Where's Waldo," about the mayor, who's been away from San Francisco a lot. In his defense, mayoral spokesman Joe Arellano told M&R that Davos is "where the mayor picks up many of his innovative ideas."

I'm sure those ideas are forthcoming, though the shared bicycle policy, called by cranky SF Bay Guardian writer and dedicated biker Steven Jones, "a really dumb and self-serving idea that has everything to do with Newsom being able to claim he started something sexy like bike sharing and nothing to do with actually promoting bicycling in San Francisco," was actually previewed by Mr. Newsom in France before the mind melding in Davos.

And it's true he was hobnobbing in Europe and not present for this year's San Francisco homeless inventory, where he might have been photographed clipping tags on people's ears to track migratory habits for an upcoming PBS special. But poor people were no doubt foremost on his mind as the swells gathered at the World Economic Forum were urged to "not forget the bottom billion" on the global economic ladder.

Mr. Newsom also had the choice in Davos of participating in the event's "Refugee Run," described by Slate columnist Daniel Gross as "a simulation of life as a refugee, complete with hostile, armed rebels, power outages and barbed wire." (Mr. Gross said he didn't need to travel 4,000 miles to see shell-shocked people living hand-to-mouth because, "I work for a media company.")

While only simulated, it had to have been easier on the mayor to deal with the virtual downtrodden than the real thing, a fact of life here that has flummoxed a succession of San Francisco's leaders.

But it is in comparison with many of his mayoral colleagues that Gavin Newsom shines most brightly in the last few weeks, and makes some of us happy we have him and not some other guy.

While we were enmeshed in the feral drama of now-ex Governor Rod Blagojevich, at a lower level a lot of Blago-wannabes and Newsom fellow mayors were getting popped at an alarming rate:

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, a former street gang leader and inspirational turnaround saga, surrendered to police last week on a bribery charge. Fast Eddy allegedly had a city contractor renovate his home and didn't pay the guy anything until authorities started an investigation. Gavin's home, which he's shared graciously with city supervisors and Prop 8 opponents in addition to rich people, is paid for out of his own pocket (or the pockets of friends).

Mr. Perez did follow Gavin's lead on seeking forgiveness and redemption. The contractor thing was "inappropriate and inexcusable," he said, even as he insisted he did not commit a crime. "I should never have allowed the perception of impropriety to color my administration."

Meanwhile, in the rest of the state, administrations have been rainbow-colored, and not in the diversity sense. According to AP, former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim is serving a nine-year prison sentence for mishandling $2 million in city contracts and former Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano is in the slammer for 37 years after sexually abusing two girls, a crime that emerged during a federal corruption investigation.

They're calling the state "Corrupticut."

In Portland, OR, Mayor Sam Adams has admitted to lying about an affair with a former male intern, whose romantic activities with Adams began when the lad was under 18. "I have let you down and made mistakes," Mayor Adams said in a video statement, also taking the clean breast route. "I ask your forgiveness." And like all of these guys, he wants to stay in office anyway.

A federal grand jury in Louisiana last Wednesday indicted Gulfport mayor Brent Warr and his wife on 16 counts of Katrina-related fraud for siphoning off over $220,000 in government grants to fix up their vacation beachfront home. With much of the Gulf Coast's residents still homeless more than three years after the Hurricane, we might have to give Mayor Warr the Blago award for Boldness.

As collateral submission for the prize, check out the mayor's quote in the Clarion Ledger: "Understand that what has been alleged toward my wife and me has no connection to me as mayor." Uh huh.

That's a lot more shameless than Gavin's, "I was toasted at the time."

Going the other way, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is about to be released from jail after resigning and pleading guilty last year to two counts of obstructing justice, down from charges and allegations that included corruption and marital infidelity. According to the Detroit Free Press, his attorney, James Thomas, said Kilpatrick is "about to be released. He's about to be rehabilitated."

See? Gavin already did rehab, and for lesser offenses. We should count our blessings.