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Newsom’s gay chief of staff returns

by Matthew S. Bajko
Sunday Aug 10, 2008

The openly gay aide who helped craft Mayor Gavin Newsom's pro-same-sex marriage policies will return to City Hall this month on a six-month interim basis.

Steve Kawa plans to revive his duties as Newsom's chief of staff for the remainder of the year, as Human Services Agency Director Trent Rhorer announced last week that he had postponed taking on the position due to "personal reasons," according to a report in the San Francisco Examiner.

Newsom had announced in July that Rhorer was his choice to replace Phil Ginsburg, who resigned as his chief of staff in order to spend more time with his family. Ginsburg's last day will be August 15.

Kawa, one of the few LGBT people to attend Newsom's Montana wedding last month, expects to officially start at 5:01 p.m. next Friday. He said he agreed to return to City Hall because "the mayor asked me."

Having worked for former Mayor Willie Brown as his top aide, Kawa carried on in the post during the first three years of Newsom's first term in office. In December 2006 Kawa announced he was ending his 15-year career with the city in order to focus on his family.

Kawa and his husband, Dan Henkle, are raising two young children. He is taking a leave of absence as executive director of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at San Francisco State University and plans to return to that job sometime next year.

"If I can continue to contribute to this great city of ours by making government function better then that is what I need to do," he said.

If I can continue to contribute to this great city of ours by making government function better then that is what I need to do.

Openly gay Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a close friend of Kawa's, welcomed the news of his return.

"Steve is doing it for his love of the city. I think it is wonderful that he is helping the mayor over the next six months," said Dufty. "Steve perhaps is the classiest guy ever to work in City Hall."

Kawa returns to the job at a time when fighting between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors has reached a fever pitch. Newsom's favored pick for chair of the local Democratic Party, openly gay incumbent Scott Wiener, was ousted last month by Board President Aaron Peskin, with charges of cronyism and threats from both sides in the fight.

Fallout continues over Newsom's firing earlier this year of out lesbian Susan Leal as general manager of the city's Public Utilities Commission. Newsom is opposing a clean energy measure on the fall ballot that many local LGBT leaders support, including Leal. [See story at]

And beginning next month, City Hall will be focused on the seven supervisor races up for grabs this November. Moderates aligned with Newsom are angling for control of the board against progressive candidates backed by Peskin and Supervisor Chris Daly.

Asked about the acrimonious atmosphere right now, Kawa seems unfazed.

"I am not doing the political job; I am doing the government job," he said. "I hope people turn their hearts, passion, and energy to making the city better, and that is what I am focused on."

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