SAN FRANCISCO – It was an intimate meal in a wood-paneled private dining room at one of California’s most exclusive restaurants. No one around the table wore a mask, not the lobbyists, not even the governor.
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Photos that surfaced this week of a dinner at French Laundry, a temple of haute cuisine in Napa Valley where some prix fixe meals cost $ 450 per person, sparked outrage in a state where Democratic leaders have repeatedly urged residents to be extremely vigilant in the middle. the biggest spike in infections since the start of the pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom, who attended the dinner with his wife, apologized, calling it a “big mistake”.
But that hasn’t appeased his detractors, who point to a cascade of other cases where Democratic leaders in California have been caught flouting state orders and guidelines on coronaviruses. The revelations come as Mr Newsom and other officials have called on Californians to make sacrifices to stop the spread of the virus, most recently begging them to stay home and avoid visiting extended family over Thanksgiving .
This week, state lawmakers were criticized for being slow to explain how they ended up at a conference held at a resort in Maui, Hawaii, just as California issued explicit guidelines for avoiding “non-essential travel to Hawaii. other states or countries ”. The conference was hosted by the Independent Voter Project, a non-profit organization, and called on lawmakers in attendance, including 14 from California, to focus on the theme of reopening economies amid the pandemic.
And Republican opponents across the country continue to make hay from footage that showed President Nancy Pelosi at a barbershop in San Francisco in violation of city rules that prohibited salons from operating indoors. Ms Pelosi said it was a setup by the salon owner, who made the security camera footage public.
More recently, Ms Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, the state’s senior senator, have both come under fire in Washington for what has been described as recklessness from the coronavirus.
Ms Pelosi was forced to cancel a majestic dinner on Capitol Hill for the newly elected representatives last week after details of the meal in a windowless room circulated on social media.
On Tuesday, images emerged of Ms Feinstein, 87, walking the halls of Congress without a mask. the the video was widely distributed on social media a day after California issued expanded orders for residents to wear masks when outside the home, with a few exceptions.
As California experiences its biggest increase in infections since the start of the pandemic, a 51% increase in one week, the state has imposed some of the country’s toughest restrictions, shutting down businesses and ordering that masks be worn outdoors at all times.
While lawmakers and governors in other states have flouted social distancing guidelines, authorities in California, a state that has bragged about its early and aggressive actions to mitigate the virus, have felt more hypocritical. The juxtaposition between strict orders and the behavior of lawmakers has undermined a defining message of caution that state Democrats have lectured throughout the crisis. And it generated sharp criticism from opponents and cynicism from residents frustrated by months of coronavirus restrictions.
The dinner at the French Laundry, the existence of which was originally reported by The San Francisco Chronicle, was hosted by prominent California lobbyist Jason Kinney. Photos of the rally, taken by a dinner party at a nearby table and shared with a local television station, also showed the CEO of the California Medical Association and the organization’s main lobbyist. In a statement, a spokesperson for the association, which represents and lobbies for some 50,000 Californian doctors, said the two were in attendance as friends of Mr. Kinney and that “the dinner was done. in accordance with state and county guidelines ”.
Mr Newsom described the dinner on Monday as taking place outside. But the photos show a table inside with a sliding glass door that opens onto a courtyard. Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click said on Wednesday the governor had no further comment.
“The spirit of what I preach all the time has been contradicted and I have to admit it,” Newsom said during a long mea culpa on Monday. “I need to preach and practice. Not just preach.
The dinner showcased the governor’s wealth and lifestyle. In a 2019 review of The French Laundry and two other Napa restaurants, New York Times critic Tejal Rao described being “overwhelmed with opulence” and feeling like being transported on a “1% spacecraft, now in orbit around a burning planet ”. Mr Newsom said in October his children, who attend a private school, have returned to face-to-face classes even as most states grapple with distance learning.
“Newsom and First Partner avoided state public health guidelines for dining with friends as the governor urged families to cut Thanksgiving plans,” the Sacramento Bee editorial board wrote on Friday. . He added: “If the governor can eat with friends – and if his kids can attend their expensive school – why does everyone have to sacrifice?”
Shawn Hubler contributed reporting from Sacramento.