09/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gavin Newsom's Impressive Town Hall in Sacramento

In Sacramento yesterday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, with grace and clarity, laid out his vision for California and the reasons why he is running for governor. To a packed town hall meeting at the city's main library filled with people of all ages and backgrounds, Newsom gave a masterful performance similar in style and content to what we've grown accustomed to seeing Barack Obama accomplish in that type of intimate setting. Newsom offered up an impressive array of innovative new ideas about how to solve some of the most vexing problems facing the state including our perennial budget crisis and the deadening effects of the two-thirds requirement that hands over de facto power to a retrograde Republican minority. Whatever the topic he addressed -- educating California's children, saving California's environment, alleviating poverty, or promoting equality -- he connected pragmatic policy solutions with the underlying values that inform his views. Mayor Newsom showed he is the right gubernatorial candidate to lead California in the 21st Century.

One point Newsom made that stood out to me was that even as bad as things have gotten under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republicans a Democrat is not destined to have a free ride into the Governor's office in 2010. His Republican opponent will most likely be a billionaire, and the state's voters have a tendency to elect Republican governors: George Deukmejian for two terms, Pete Wilson for two terms, and Schwarzenegger for two terms, (with only a Democratic interregnum in between). His bid for governor will not be easy and Newsom showed that he holds no illusions about what a difficult campaign he faces.

Therefore he believes that his only chance for success will come from building a grassroots social movement. He knows he cannot simply rely on the traditional organizations tied to the state's Democratic Party to win. That is why he has held some twenty-nine town hall meetings across the state to reach out directly to voters and to build a new organization with web-based efficiency. He says he hears the same desires for change and new thinking about the state's future coming from Californians in both liberal and conservative areas he visits.

Newsom outlined pragmatic yet inventive solutions and illustrated some of the "best practices" he has adopted as San Francisco mayor. He has built bridges between the public sector and private sector for directing resources from local institutions, including hospitals, colleges, non-profit organizations, and businesses, to tackle urban social problems. Regarding homelessness his administration brought services to where the people are: In the streets. He networked with the Department of Motor Vehicles to help homeless people attain identification cards and brought in FedEx to use its database to assist homeless people in contacting relatives with whom they have lost touch. He also pointed out how irrational it is to have a state that produces most of the world's fresh produce while Californians living in nearby cities import their food from as far as 1400 miles away. We should be eating fruits and vegetables that are grown right here in our state. He faced some ridicule when he created a vegetable garden near City Hall but the criticisms stopped when Michelle Obama did the same thing outside the White House.

Newsom is not afraid to admit he has made some mistakes in the past and he offered a mea culpa of sorts about not being "humble" when he uttered some incendiary things during the Proposition 8 conflict. He hit the issue head on and with honesty. He promises to respect the views of those who oppose gay marriage but was clear to point out that we live in a Constitutional democracy. He gave an impassioned analysis of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case that struck down bans on interracial marriage. He reminded us that polls at the time showed that 70 percent of Americans agreed with keeping interracial marriage illegal. Sometimes, he said, the courts have a duty to step in and protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

All in all, Mayor Newsom is the most exciting thing to happen to California politics in years. He has started his campaign early, enlisted the help of an army of energetic young people who represent the future of the state, and promises to lift California out of the morass the deadening hands of the Republicans have submerged us in.