News & Views from 465 California Street

Eric & Gavin’s Divorce

Clint Reilly

It was a déjà vu moment.

Last week’s big political story was the resignation of Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign manager, Eric Jaye. Newsom is vying for position with Attorney General Jerry Brown for the Democratic nomination in next year’s primary.

Jaye’s abrupt departure took me back 20 years to my own resignation as Dianne Feinstein’s campaign manager in her gubernatorial primary campaign against then Attorney General John Van de Kamp.

Both Newsom and Feinstein built their reputations as Mayor of San Francisco. I managed Feinstein’s 1983 re-election campaign and later directed her victory over a high-profile recall effort. In that race, she obliterated the recall with 83 percent of the vote.

Now 50 years old, Jaye broke into political consulting 25 years ago with Clint Reilly Campaigns. The young Jaye was a political natural. Even then he had a brilliant mind and the stamina of a marathon runner.

It didn’t surprise me when years later he steered a young, dynamic San Francisco supervisor – Gavin Newsom – into the mayor’s office. Four years later, he engineered Newsom’s re-election victory.

Political consultants are dependent upon the fate of their clients. Likewise, when candidates like Feinstein and Newsom try to move up the ladder from mayor to governor, they initially lean on their existing cadre of experts, including their former consultant.

But moving from mayor of San Francisco to governor of California is a long, arduous march. It requires raising tens of millions of dollars and appealing to diverse constituencies, from farmers in the Central Valley, to a huge statewide Latino population, to a majority of voters located in the Los Angeles basin and the Inland Empire.

The inner circle of a successful politician must change to respond to the coalitions necessary to win. New voices regularly enter the room seeking a place at the table. Sometimes they bring long knives with them, but often they are just power brokers doing what power brokers do: protecting their interests and promoting their agenda.

The volatile pressures on both candidates and managers often strain relationships and challenge old loyalties.

Like Jaye this past week, in 1989 I resigned as Feinstein’s campaign manager. At the time, I was criticized for leaving when Dianne was recovering from a hysterectomy, claiming that she “lacked fire in the belly.”

In fact, I never said those words but they made great copy for reporters and commentators nonetheless.

I had hired Dee Dee Myers, who later became White House press secretary, to fill the same role with Feinstein’s campaign. She would earn her salary by fighting off speculation that my resignation was a fatal blow to Feinstein’s campaign. She was right.

Feinstein quickly hired two pros, Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata, and her new team helped her defeat Van de Kamp by a wide margin. Although she lost narrowly to Pete Wilson for governor, Feinstein has since become California’s most beloved and respected politician and a highly regarded U.S. Senator. Today, my wife Janet and I are good friends with Senator Feinstein and her husband, Chairman of the UC Board of Regents, Richard Blum.

Eric Jaye and Gavin Newsom may not realize it yet, but over time, the bonds that were forged in the trenches building their mutual careers will come back. Both will continue to rise on the strength of their own respective talents.

Newsom? Who knows where his path might take him?

As for Jaye, well, four years after I resigned from Feinstein’s campaign, (in the very next gubernatorial race), Kathleen Brown hired me to manage and chair her bid – but only after firing her campaign manager and media consultant only months before the primary.

I used to say that campaign consultants overestimate their indispensability to politicians and politicians believe that their ballot box success is totally due to their charisma and talent.

The truth is that they are inextricably intertwined. Each needs the other more than either would prefer.

Comments (3)

  • I usually am a headline/first paragraph newspaper reader, but I really liked your article about the resignation of Gavin’s campaign manager. Your article revealed the move as a normal change and dispelled the journalistic hysteria hype that damages people and their careers. I remember when Ms. Feinstein’s career was under attack, and I’m sure that she would have appreciated some rational journalism at the time. Very interesting and well-written. I read the entire article.


    Jennifer F

    Posted by: Jenny | August 4th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

  • I enjoyed reading your commentary about the Newsom/Jaye break up. I
    also appreciate your mentioning of the need for the candidate to win
    the Latino vote -for which, he could hire Latinos, Latino-friendly and
    knowledgeable consultants that understand the difference between
    having a “Garcia” last name, speaking Spanish, being fully bilingual
    and bicultural and what happens to new immigrants when they become US

    Posted by: Lupita | August 4th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

  • I enjoyed your public service message in today’s paper. Having worked
    in public relations in health care for many, many years – and advised
    more than one board member on his or her re-election campaign – I can
    appreciate your viewpoint about the intertwined relationship of campaign
    director and candidate.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.


    Posted by: Victoria | August 4th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

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