Confronting a political scandal that sounds more like a soap opera, the city’s handsome young mayor made an emotional apology Thursday for an affair with a former secretary — the wife of his own campaign manager.
“I want to make it clear that everything you’ve heard and read is true and that I’m deeply sorry about that,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said during a hastily called City Hall news conference at which he went on to apologize to the aide, his staff, his family and San Franciscans.
Political observers said the 39-year-old divorced mayor’s effusive apology, which came only hours after the story broke on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site, may have helped defuse a scandal that threatened to haunt his bid for re-election in November.
Newsom’s former deputy chief of staff, Alex Tourk, 39, resigned as manager of the mayor’s re-election campaign Wednesday after approaching Newsom about his relationship with his wife, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, 34, who worked as the mayor’s appointments secretary until last spring.
The brief relationship first reported Wednesday night on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site took place a year-and-a-half ago while the mayor was getting divorced from his wife, Fox News Channel host Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor and lingerie model.
Tourk, who had worked at City Hall since Newsom’s 2003 election, was one of Newsom’s top advisers and became manager of the mayor’s re-election campaign in September.
Before the affair became public, the mayor’s office released a statement in which Tourk explained he was leaving his campaign job for personal reasons and said it had been “an honor and a privilege to serve the Newsom campaigns and the city of San Francisco and its residents.”
When he was elected in November 2003, Newsom, then 36, was considered a rising star of the Democratic Party, but he was criticized within weeks of taking office after directing his staff to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Since his divorce became final last March, the dashing bachelor has half-heartedly lamented his appearances in gossip columns, where his active love life has been frequent fodder and included associations with a 20-year-old model and two actresses.
But in his first public statements since the affair was reported, a poised but emotional Newsom did not offer any excuses.
“I hurt someone I care deeply about, Alex Tourk, and his friends and family, and that is something I have to live with and something that I am deeply sorry for,” he said. “I am accountable for what has occurred and have now begun the process of reconciling it.”
Neither Tourk nor his wife immediately returned phone calls and e-mails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Newsom is seeking a second four-year term in November, and his spokesman, Peter Ragone, said the revelation would not affect those plans or the mayor’s ability to govern effectively.
To many observers, the scandal stirred memories of President Clinton’s affair with a young intern and his subsequent impeachment. But in contrast to Clinton, who famously denied “sexual relations with that woman,” Newsom quickly confessed and accepted responsibility.
Newsom “did a good thing, he told the truth,” said Neel Lattimore, the one-time press secretary to Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was first lady. “By the mayor telling the truth immediately, it begins a healing process now, as opposed to leaving a wound open and continuing to fester.”
A handful of San Francisco residents interviewed Thursday said the mayor’s dalliance had little bearing on their opinion of him as mayor.
“I could care less,” said Lee Simmons, 79, at a downtown bank. “Newsom is great. I voted for him last time and I’ll vote for him again.”
More than one recalled the romantic escapades of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who was long separated from but still married to his wife when he fathered a child with one of his fundraisers.
Tom Abbott, 36, an executive recruiter, said he would probably vote for Newsom come fall, but that having an affair with a loyal aide’s wife was “a total slime ball move.”
“Any guy who puts that much mousse in his hair can’t be trusted,” Abbott said. “You don’t screw over your own boys.”
Construction worker Geremy Curtis, 34, agreed that while the news made for interesting gossip, “it will be laughed off.”
“We put these people on a pedestal and think they are above all usual activities, and when they do something that is completely human, we are astonished,” he said.
Curtis predicted that San Francisco voters would forgive the mayor if he owned up to his mistakes.
Since leaving the mayor’s office, Rippey-Tourk, a former KFTY-TV anchor in Santa Rosa, has hosted a weekly radio show for Benefit Magazine, which covers philanthropy in San Francisco. A description of Rippey-Tourk’s radio program on the publication’s Web site says she interviews the city’s charitable movers and shakers, “like Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sharon Stone, Robin Williams … and others.”