The six candidates who took the stage at Tuesdays California governor’s debate squared off on a litany of contentious topics — immigration, jobs, housing and early childhood education — but nothing was more tense than the exchange in which Republican state Assemblyman Travis Allen referenced an affair Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom had with a city staffer while he was mayor of San Francisco.
During a televised discussion about “character,” Allen called out Newsom for having an affair with his appointment secretary Ruby Rippey Gibney in 2007. Gibney was married to Newsom’s friend and adviser Alex Tourk.
“If you can’t trust Gavin with his best friend’s wife how can you trust him with your state?” Allen said.
Newsom shot back: “It’s hard to hear from Mr. Allen — who’s a devout supporter of Donald Trump — talk about the about sexual harassment.
He continued: “As it relates to the issue that’s been referred to, I was honest about it. I was open about it. I apologized about it,” Newsom said.
In a Facebook message back in February, Rippey Gibney addressed the scandal that had rocked the then mayor’s office and San Francisco politics.
"I fully support the #metoo movement. In this particular instance, however, I am doubtful that it applies," Rippey Gibney wrote. "Yes, I was a subordinate, but I was also a free-thinking, 33-yr old adult married woman & mother. (I also happened to have an unfortunate inclination towards drinking-to-excess & self-destruction.)"
Former Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was also questioned about his extramarital affair with a television reporter when he was mayor of Los Angeles.
Newsom and Villaraigosa — who also faced an adultery scandal while he was mayor of Los Angeles — said they learned and grew from the incidents.
“I made a mistake. I lost my marriage. I lost my family for a time,” Villaraigosa said. “I took responsibility for it. My whole life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions."
He added: “I stand with the #MeToo movement.”
Also during the debate, Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen dismissed a harassment complaint filed against him as a minor issue ginned up by Democrats.
Other candidates also weighed in.
“Being unfaithful is something that is terrible, but beyond that using public money to cover up something that is totally inappropriate is double trouble where I come from,” said democrat and former schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.
“Character does matter, we need people to change the culture whether it’s in the capital Sacramento or Washington D.C., Hollywood, Silicon Valley — If you abuse your power and engage in sexual harassment, you’re unfit, unable to serve in office,” said former state treasurer John Chiang.
“To me it’s about power and responsibility,” said John Cox, a Republican businessman. “My mom was a single mom, I have four daughters who are in the workplace, I don’t want them harassed…this is about power. Mr. Newsom and Mr. Villaraigosa will have to answer for their moral failures.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.