SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom attempted to distinguish himself as a common-sense gubernatorial candidate at a forum at the University of San Francisco on Monday, painting himself as a pragmatist with a soft spot for the common man.
“My purpose has always been to fight for those who are struggling,” Newsom said.
Newsom was responding to a thinly-veiled barb from former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who hinted that Newsom is an out-of-touch member of the liberal elite.
Villaraigosa pulled out his oft-used criticism of “Davos Democrats,” at a university forum last week, tying Newsom to the political glitterati that congregate once a year at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.
“Is he being fair?” asked moderator Carla Marinucci, of Politico.
In a nod to the Jesuit university, the former mayor of San Francisco replied he has always been inspired by the Catholic framework and the idealism of the 60s.
“I think the effort there is to discredit that past and my record of sorts and I don’t believe it’s particularly resonant and that’s why I’m being dismissive toward it,” Newsom said.
In that vein, Marinucci turned to the rise of homelessness, which has exploded throughout the state in recent years. California accounts for 21 percent of the nation’s homeless population, according to figures from the state Senate’s Committee on Transportation and Housing.
“It’s been the biggest issue everywhere I go,” said Newsom, whose controversial “Care not Cash” mayoral initiative cut money given to homeless people from county general assistance programs in exchange for housing and other services. The idea, which voters passed as a ballot measure in 2002, was to prevent cash welfare from being used on alcohol and drugs.
“Do you bear some responsibility for what the situation is today?” Marinucci asked.
“This issue is dominant throughout the state,” Newsom said. “So I wouldn’t connect one local initiative to the broader macro-challenges. It requires leadership and that leadership has been lacking for decades in California. There has been no intention of supporting local efforts to address the issue of homelessness from Sacramento. There are no statewide goals to end homelessness. There is no vision. That will change if I am successful as governor.”
Newsom said he would invest in expanding Supplemental Security Income in California and improve on pre-release programs in the state’s prison system.
“One of the most important investments we can make is aggressive SSI advocacy. It provides baseline of money to people to allow folks to get housing and supportive services,” Newsom said, adding that reaching inmates before they’re released can also help stem the flow of homelessness. “Focusing on in-reach is profoundly significant,” he said. “Sixty percent of money that’s going to come from cannabis legalization is money that can be used for drug treatment programs and behavioral health services.”
He also promised a homeless czar to “commit full time attention on this critical issue.”
On crime, Newsom dismissed claims by Republican opponent Assemblyman Travis Allen from Orange County that Proposition 47, which reclassifies some felony crimes to misdemeanors and reduces criminal penalties, has led to a spike in property crime in San Francisco.