SACRAMENTO — As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared himself a candidate for lieutenant governor Friday morning, he took an important first step in the race — demonstrating that he understands what the job entails.
Newsom, who disparaged the position as a ceremonial post before and after dropping out of the race for governor in late October, said in an interview that he was in a different place when he made those statements and that he did not grasp some of the responsibilities held by the lieutenant governor.
"Let's be straight, I was running for governor and I was focused on that race, and I think it's only appropriate and understandable that one's focus will remain on what we were doing," Newsom said by telephone from San Francisco.
Newsom, 42, proceeded to tick off some of the things the lieutenant governor does and explain why he wants to do them:
Being chairman of the State Lands Commission is "very significant in terms of environmental stewardship and environmental protection," one of his focuses as mayor.
As a regent of the University of California and a trustee of the California State University, he would be working on the same issues as when he organized college students for his governor's run. "The primary focus of our candidacy was the importance of education — work force development," Newsom said.
That the lieutenant governor is chairman of the California Commission for Economic Development "was even lost on me, to be quite honest," but he said biotechnology, life sciences and the coordination of agricultural and urban interests were areas where he has been active.
Newsom refused to address the criticism recently leveled at him for his turnaround on the lieutenant governor's race by his former strategist Garry South, who now represents Newsom's Democratic opponent, Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn, who also has been attacking him. "I admire Janice Hahn; I respect her work," Newsom said.
Another Democrat, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, dropped out of the race Friday and endorsed Newsom. The mayor said he had been encouraged by support from new Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Two Republicans are in the race: state Sens. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley.
Newsom backed off his comment earlier this year that his former opponent for governor, state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is 71 and served as governor in the 1970s, didn't have "fire in his belly." He said he made the remark when Brown was delaying his formal entrance into the race and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also a former San Francisco mayor, hadn't officially ruled out a run for governor.
Noting the "strong family ties" between him and Brown (Newsom's grandfather was godfather to Brown's sister, Kathleen), he said their policy differences never diminished his admiration for the party's now presumed candidate for governor.
"We're lucky that someone in this position, at this point in his life, would be willing to put himself out," Newsom said. "He does not need to do this."