OAKLAND, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday he should not have attended a fancy dinner party honoring a top political adviser after facing immediate social media backlash — and just as the governor is trying to discourage households from gathering for the holidays.
The Democratic governor, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and people from several other households gathered outside this month at The French Laundry to celebrate the 50th birthday of lobbyist Jason Kinney, a longtime friend. The dinner at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
While Newsom’s office said the outdoor meal hewed to protocols, the governor conceded that he erred in joining the gathering.
“While the First Partner and I followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, I should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner,” Newsom said in a statement.
Kinney is a partner at lobbying firm Axiom Advisors, a Sacramento powerhouse that has a long list of clients ranging from Facebook to dialysis companies DaVita and Fresenius. He has been a longtime political adviser to Newsom.
Axiom spokesperson Molly Weedn defended the 12-person dinner as a “small, intimate” gathering that broke no rules.
“The restaurant was open for normal dining, consistent with state and county health guidance,” Weedn said in a statement. “All of the restaurant safety protocols were adhered to – and the guests followed those protocols.”
Napa County, like the state overall, says that gatherings of more than three households are prohibited. However, that guideline may only apply to gatherings in private residences. Restaurants operate in a gray area and do not explicitly have a ban on more than three households, according to the last guidance California released in July.
The news came less than two hours after Newsom strongly discouraged residents from traveling for the holidays or bringing together multiple households for Thanksgiving.
Regardless of the governor’s assertion that the meal abided by coronavirus restrictions, he faced an immediate backlash on social media over his decision to partake in an event at an opulent, multiple Michelin-starred restaurant as businesses around the state reel from the pandemic and Californians chafe under social limitations. Some drew a connection to the governor sending his four children to private school classrooms while most of the state’s public school students continue to do remote learning, as POLITICO reported last month.
Multiple counties in California have receded into more-restrictive tiers this month as cases, infection rates and hospitalization numbers rise. More than half of the state’s 40 million residents now live in a county under California’s strictest purple-tier rules. Additional counties are likely to face the same restrictions next week as case counts rise across the state.
Newsom has regularly implored Californians to remain vigilant by wearing masks, avoiding mixing with other households and practicing social distancing, repeating a mantra that individual behavior can make a difference.
“I am concerned truthfully that we may get overexuberant,” Newsom said this week of progress toward vaccine, exhorting Californians to not “let your guard down.”