The Most Expensive Meal In California: How One Lockdown Lobbyist Dinner Sent Gavin Newsom Spiraling

The Most Expensive Meal In California: How One Lockdown Lobbyist Dinner Sent Gavin Newsom Spiraling

Gavin Newsom's high-priced dinner in the heart of Napa Valley's wine country might cost him his job. If it doesn't, it'll cost millions to keep it.
Tristan Justice
By

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Californians were barred from maskless indoor gatherings of more than three households when Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom enjoyed fine dining at one of the state’s most exclusive restaurants for the birthday party of a well-known lobbyist.

On Nov. 6, a maskless Newsom relished in the luxury of the French Laundry, a three-star Michelin restaurant in the heart of Napa Valley’s wine country where prices run up to $350 a plate, at a dinner party that would define the governor as a nationwide mascot of lockdown hypocrisy.

“I made a bad mistake,” Newsom said, who went on to implement even tighter statewide restrictions on the same day. Yet it now appears Newsom’s high-priced dinner might cost him his job. If it doesn’t, it’ll cost him millions to keep it.

The fall scandal served as a catalyst for a recall effort. Organizers have submitted more than 2 million of the fewer than 1.5 million signatures needed to force a referendum on the ballot this year. And it’s not just Republicans who want Newsom out of office — the movement spans party lines. Anne Dunsmore, who runs the recall committee RescueCalifornia.org, told The Federalist more than a third of the signatures are from Democrats and independents.

“A lot of people just want him gone,” said Matthew Conder, a long-time L.A. property manager for the needy who conceded while he doesn’t read much political news, he heard about Newsom’s maskless dinner at the French Laundry.

Speaking downtown over a cigarette, Conder sounds like a typical California Democrat. Many of his friends are liberal. He says the public should adhere to diligent mask-wearing. He’s sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement, citing his experience with a black daughter, and he says police need broad reform. But on Newsom, Conder struck a different tone.

“They’re representatives! Walk the walk, you know? If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. People should wear their masks,” Conder told The Federalist. So despite keeping an arm’s length from the news coverage, Conder said Newsom’s recall effort “doesn’t surprise me from what I hear.”

California’s last Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to power after voters ousted Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in a 2003 recall, issued a warning to Newsom in Politico this week, telling the magazine the same energy fueling the incumbent’s removal today is the same that existed more than 15 years ago.

“People are just angry,” Schwarzenegger said. “People have to have a way to let out their anger. And this recall is a way to let out their anger.”

That anger went viral across the internet in December when Angela Marsden, an L.A.-area restaurant owner, posted a video airing righteous outrage at a movie set’s permit for a more than 100-person catered event next to her shut-down outdoor patio in the same parking lot.

https://twitter.com/jakecoco/status/1334993874276786178?s=20

“I am losing everything,” Marsden says in the video. “Everything I own is being taken away from me.”

Marsden told The Federalist she went in that day to give her staff their last paychecks until further notice after officials shut down her establishment again, along with bundles of groceries stocked with items that would otherwise go bad under the closure.

“My mind just went blank,” Marsden said, still choking back tears five months later. “It gets me so angry that people are just allowed to do this to peoples’ lives.”

Marsden didn’t expect to go viral, and now says she deals with survivors’ guilt after donations poured in to save her business, which was then weeks from going under. Many of her friends with small businesses have not been so fortunate.

So often politicians get blamed for things they don’t deserve. President Donald Trump was blamed for the more than 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the run-up to election day. In this case, however, Democrats deserve the blame ascribed to them. Newsom’s orders demanded Marsden shut down her business. Newsom demanded Marsden forgo her income. Newsom declared Marsden’s life non-essential.

Her bar still operates today, but is only breaking even after she poured more than $80,000 in temporary outdoor enhancements to comply with government guidelines. Her cooks are forced to wear not one, but two facial coverings. Newsom violating his own orders at the French Laundry she says, now as a local activist, was a “huge, huge turning point” in the recall movement.

The governor’s lockdowns driving California into a state of self-destruction can be felt across Los Angeles, a once star-studded city still boarded up from the riots that erupted last year after residents pent up at home for 10 weeks wreaked havoc on the community following George Floyd’s death.

Despite suffering some of the harshest COVID restrictions in the country, California remains only two spots below Florida, a state with a far higher proportion of senior residents, in its COVID-fatality rate. California simultaneously ranks 48th in unemployment at a rate of 8.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fueling Newsom’s unpopularity.

A new poll out last month shows more than 58 percent of California voters believe it’s “time for someone new” in the 2022 election. Only 42 percent said they would vote to keep Newsom in office in an upcoming recall, and Democrats are panicked.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents a district in San Francisco, urged Democrats last week to remain out of the race to replace Newsom to keep the party unified behind their incumbent. And Newsom is calling the recall racist out of desperation.

“[The recall] has to do with immigration, the ‘browning’ of California,” Newsom dismissed in March.

In the meantime, Californians are fleeing, businesses are going under, and homelessness is rampant in the decaying metropolis home to Hollywood.

“Los Angeles has one of the biggest homeless crises in the country,” Conder told The Federalist, and there are few signs the problem is abating. While no means a unique feature to Los Angeles, homeless camps are everywhere, from downtown city blocks to highway underpasses and municipal parks.

William Hernandez has been working with the Valley Food Bank in Pacoima, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles for 17 years, and has rarely seen such high demand.  The donation-based charity went from feeding on average 3,900 families per month to 10,000 within a few months’ span distributing upwards of $1.5 million worth of groceries each 30 days.

“It’s a challenge,” Hernandez told The Federalist, as the facility has had to adjust its operations to remain in compliance with coronavirus protocols, which means reducing staff while faced with higher need. But, Hernandez added, they’ve so far been able to manage thanks to generous donations which have reinforced his faith in public charity. “People want to help.”

Newsom hasn’t been much assistance. As Florida’s experience has shown, the best stimulus a state can get is the freedom to re-open.

Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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