Jockeying to replace Feinstein ramps up as Newsom faces pressure to act


Newsom is expected to announce his pick within days, not weeks, though he wants to make sure enough time passes to be respectful of her death, according to an advisor who was granted anonymity to relay internal discussions.

The governor’s task is further complicated by an already heated race to replace Feinstein, who had announced her retirement in February.

The governor had previously pledged to name a Black woman should Feinstein die before the election.

Newsom must also contend with his personal connection to the late Senator, a close friend and mentor, not to mention calculations about his own political future.

Newsom and his top staff are handling the appointment process, further complicated by conflicting loyalties among aides and advisers with ties to the three House members running for Feinstein’s seat: Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.

The world of San Francisco politics is so small that some of the potential appointees are also clients of Bearstar Strategies, the same powerhouse political firm Newsom uses.

The governor had hoped to avoid the politically charged decision of selecting a second senator following his appointment of Alex Padilla to the seat left by Kamala Harris.

He will have to move swiftly as a budget standoff has the government on the verge of shutting down, and Senate Democrats could need every vote.

“He, you know, wants to be respectful and not name somebody while folks are still grappling with their grief,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. Kaine said, but “we cannot afford to be one down. We really can’t.”

Newsom issued a statement expressing sadness at her death without mentioning the task of choosing her successor.

Even though Newsom committed to selecting a Black woman to the seat, he later clarified that he would pick an interim replacement rather than elevate Lee amidst a heated contest.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said she had no interest in a Senate appointment — although she said she’d support Newsom choosing Lee. “He made a commitment,” Waters said, referencing Newsom’s pledge to choose a Black woman, “and I expect him to keep the commitment.”

Lee’s allies were still hoping that Newsom would pick the congresswoman, who has consistently trailed Schiff and Porter in fundraising and polls.

“He made that pledge to appoint a Black woman, and then he caveated out the leading Black woman for that position,” said Ludovic Blain, a Lee supporter who oversees a progressive fundraising group. “He has an opportunity to rethink and really fulfill his commitment by not just appointing a Black woman caretaker for a year and a half, but actually to set up a progressive Black woman to be in the Senate for the next term.”

Lee aside, Newsom has other challenges. He must find a candidate qualified for the job yet satisfied with a brief tenure — and willing to give up any current elected position. That’s a short list.

Two of California’s most prominent Black women officeholders are busy running major cities.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is less than a year into her first term after prevailing in a bruising and expensive mayoral contest and emphatically denied interest in a Senate earlier this year. San Francisco Mayor London Breed is also focused on her city, said a person familiar with her thinking, as she works to allay homelessness and property crime while building toward a reelection bid.

Some political insiders floated Bay Area Transit Board Member Lateefah Simon, who is running to succeed Lee, as a contender. But Simon is poised to possibly serve for years in the House after consolidating Democratic support for her congressional race.

Others speculated that California’s Secretary of State Shirley Weber could be in the running. Newsom appointed Weber, a widely respected former state Assembly member from San Diego, to her current position overseeing elections. Weber won a full term in 2022 and is eligible to serve through 2030.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said in an interview that she was flattered to be considered but was focused on a county of 10 million people, citing “tons of critical work to do here.”

Newsom could also select someone who no longer holds political office and would be more amenable to exiting after a year in the Senate. Sacramento observers cited former Assembly member Autumn Burke”

Linda Darling-Hammond, the first Black woman to lead the California Board of Education, was quick to dismiss the notion that she would be considered. “No way would I be among the names to replace Dianne Feinstein,” she said Friday. “I’m here doing the State Board work for the governor. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not doing anything else.”

Another possibility is Laphonza Butler, the head of EMILY’s List and a well-known entity in Newsom’s orbit. The governor considered the Mississippi native, and Washington D.C. resident, to be his first chief of staff, and she was a one-time partner in a political consulting firm with his main strategists.

Nicholas Wu and Dustin Gardiner contributed to this report.


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