Imagine the prototypical politician’s wife, and someone very much like Jennifer Siebel will come to mind. The 33-year-old actress—who became engaged to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in December—is blond, beautiful and brainy, with two degrees from Stanford and a long history of do-gooding. She’s so poised that she sometimes sounds like a Miss America contestant trying to win over the judges, especially when she’s going on about her desire to “make a difference and give back.”
But San Francisco is not a typical city, nor is Newsom a typical mayor. After making a name for himself nationally by legalizing gay marriage, he became a media darling, drawing more than a few snickers when, in 2004, he posed for a fashion magazine dressed in a tuxedo and splayed out on the floor of the Getty mansion with his wife at the time, Kimberly Guilfoyle. Roughly five months later, he and Guilfoyle announced that they were divorcing, and in February 2007 the news broke that while the couple were separated, Newsom had had an affair with his former appointments secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk—who was also the wife of his campaign manager. The mayor admitted to the relationship and to a drinking problem, and entered rehab.
Siebel’s reaction to the situation made clear that, for all her pageant-worthy poise, she’s not cut from the same cloth as Jackie and Hillary, willing to let sex scandals blow over in stalwart silence. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Siebel, who was not involved with Newsom at the time of his affair with Rippey-Tourk, proclaimed, “There are two sides to every story…the woman is the culprit.” Later, she posted a rant on San Francisco blog SFist.com that included the line, “Everyone near to her has stories and says she is bad news.”
The remarks set the San Francisco social world buzzing. Some believed Siebel was exploiting Newsom’s troubles in order to promote her career. “I think she was very intent on getting press in any way she could at that time for her film [The Trouble With Romance, which was then on the festival circuit],” says one local society journalist. “She understands the value of public relations.”
But Newsom’s close friends maintain, at least publicly, that Siebel had only her boyfriend’s best interests in mind. “Amongst the people who know Gavin, it was a woman standing by her man,” says Beach Blanket Babylon producer Jo Schuman Silver, who has known the Newsom family for years. “She came across as a supportive girlfriend.”
Today, ensconced in an overstuffed couch in the quiet lobby of San Francisco’s Four Seasons hotel, dressed in a chic black dress, Siebel seems eager to put the whole mess behind her. “I choose not to talk about the past,” she says. “I was just trying to be protective. I’m in a wonderful relationship, and that’s all that matters.”