Photos raise doubts about Newsom’s claim that dinner with lobbyist was outdoors amid COVID-19 surge
Newly published pictures of Gov. Gavin Newsom at a birthday dinner show him seated with top lobbyists for the California Medical Assn. around a table in a private dining room at an upscale Napa Valley restaurant, undercutting the governor’s description of the party being held outdoors.
The California Medical Assn. on Wednesday confirmed that Dustin Corcoran, the association’s chief executive, and its top lobbyist Janus Norman attended the Nov. 6 dinner at the Michelin-starred French Laundry in Yountville for Jason Kinney, a close friend of the governor and lobbyist with his own firm, Axiom Advisors.
The pictures, published by Fox 11 Los Angeles, show a group of 12 representing six different households sitting at a table in a private dining room with a roof, three walls and another wall open to the outside with sliding glass doors.
The event and the photos emphasized Newsom’s close ties to top lobbyists at the state Capitol and led to criticism that the governor is flouting the safety guidelines he has set for Californians. Newsom said Monday that he and his wife paid for their meals.
Their choices strike many as if they believe they are immune to COVID-19, by ignoring the safety precautions they have asked Californians to take.
Newsom publicly apologized on Monday for attending the dinner before the pictures were published late Tuesday night, saying “the spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted.” He noted that he and his wife paid for their own meals.
“It was an outdoor restaurant” Newsom said at a news conference. “As soon as I sat down at the larger table I realized it was a little larger group than I had anticipated. And I made a bad mistake — instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back down to my car and drove back to my house. Instead, I chose to sit there with my wife and a number of other couples that were outside the household.”
A spokeswoman for Kinney, who organized the event, insisted that the party requested outdoor seating and noted that the restaurant considers the dining area to be outdoors.
“The guests and the restaurant followed all applicable state and county public health guidance,” said the spokeswoman, Molly Weedn. “The guests specifically required outdoor seating. And that’s outdoor seating, as confirmed and provided by the restaurant.”
Newsom acknowledged his decision to visit the Michelin-starred restaurant with other families may diminish his moral authority on COVID-19.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the photos and pointed to pictures from a Town & Country feature story on the restaurant showing the open wall in the dining space.
California’s COVID-19 safety guidelines limit the number of households at a private gathering, but do not explicitly impose those same rules on restaurant patrons.
State guidelines updated in November allow private gatherings of no more than three households at a park or outdoor space. Rules for dining say restaurants should “limit the number of patrons at a single table to a household unit or patrons who have asked to be seated together,” without stating any limits on the number of households that can sit at a table. At the time, Napa County was in the state’s orange tier, which allows for indoor seating.
An Oct. 3 post from the Twitter account for the governor warned restaurant patrons to wear masks “between bites” while eating with others and also showed a contradictory graphic telling diners to limit the number of times they take their mask off during a meal.
None of the guests at the dinner are wearing masks in the pictures, including in one shot in which Newsom, his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and Kinney are standing together talking outside. Corcoran and Norman lobby in Sacramento on behalf of doctors, who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic and have been urging people to practice safety precautions.
Fox 11 quoted a fellow patron who described the party as loud and said at one point the doors were closed.
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