The Board of Supervisors vote on Ross Mirkarimi’s reinstatement has left the city emotionally wounded. The problem is not that it left the city “divided”--- the Agnos-Molinari and Gonzalez-Newsom mayoral runoffs reflected sharp divisions but left the city energized---but rather that it split the city over domestic violence, a powerful emotional and personal issue. While I had no “inside” information preceding the vote, I assumed only Campos and Avalos would back reinstatement. I found Christina Olague’s deciding third vote surprising, and Jane Kim’s misreading of legal precedent as the basis for her vote disturbing. Sadly, the wounds from this battle will be felt at City Hall for some time.
The Board Debate
San Francisco had the nation’s most progressive Sheriff in Mike Hennessey from 1980 through 2011. Downtown and real estate interests never ran a candidate against our extremely pro-tenant Sheriff, and did not fund a candidate to challenge Ross Mirkarimi in 2011.
Yet if you heard the testimony of many who spoke at the October 9 Board meeting, Mayor Lee’s removal of Mirkarimi was all about a “political power grab” by the mayor, Willie Brown, and Ron Conway. Many speakers highlighted the Sheriff’s role in evictions, ignoring that the pro-tenant Hennessey was unable to use his office to stop a single non-fault eviction in his thirty plus years.
All of the supervisors expressed concern over testimony downplaying Mirkarimi’s act of domestic violence. David Campos went to extraordinary lengths to explain that he did not want his vote for reinstatement to be seen as reflecting insensitivity toward domestic violence, and he expressed discomfort with attacks from the left on domestic violence activists.
Yet what was striking about Campos’ comments was this: if a coalition of immigrant rights groups all took a particular stand on an issue, and a politician then voted against their position while claiming to be devoted to immigrant rights, Campos would be among the first to declare that politician a hypocrite. The same would be true for a politician claiming to care about tenants who votes against the positions of tenant groups, or who votes against environmental groups, gay marriage advocates etc.
The domestic violence groups argued in unison that reinstating Ross would send the wrong message about the impact of such conduct, and could reduce the willingness of victims and their neighbors to report abuse. And the four supervisors rejected their pleas.
One supervisor favoring reinstatement even suggested that the problem was that Mirkarimi did not have the chance to enter a pre-trial diversion program. This would have given him an alternative option to pleading guilty to a lesser offense. But recall that O.J. Simpson had access to such a program before later killing his wife. Domestic violence advocates fought to kill such diversion programs because they protected batterers.
There were many excellent speakers favoring reinstatement. I found activist Gabriel Haaland’s comments particularly compelling, as they elevated the conflict to the broader questions of redemption and rehabilitation. Olague echoed his line of thinking, though others noted Supervisor Wiener’s rebuttal that “redemption” does not mean you do not suffer major consequences for your wrong.
Campos went through a very long speech criticizing Mirkarimi’s behavior, and saying that the ousted Sheriff caused this entire problem. But what Campos did not say was that Mirkarimi continues to avoid accepting full responsibility for his actions. I heard a television interview at a rally prior to the hearing where Mirkarimi again blamed the media for not telling the story of his actions fairly.
That hardly sounds like someone who is ready for “redemption.”
The Olague Vote
Every person who contacted me about Olague’s vote told me that they assumed it was politically motivated. The common view is that Olague has been taking heat from the D5 left, and needed to show her independence from Mayor Lee.
I didn’t see it that way. I saw Olague viewing Mirkarimi through her lens of compassion for the downtrodden, the troubled, and the psychologically injured.
But Olague’s vote was an act of profound disloyalty not only to the mayor who appointed her, but also to those who pushed the mayor to do so.
Loyalty to those who have helped you in life is a critical principle. It is a profound value. Yet when Olague listened to speaker after speaker viciously attacking Mayor Lee, it did not lead her to conclude that since the Mayor had put his faith in her, she now needed to return the favor.
One wonders why Olague decided to encourage Ed Lee to run for mayor and to be a co-chair of the Run, Ed, Run campaign if she had so little faith in his judgment.
The Kim Vote
I found Jane Kim’s vote the most inexplicable of all.
Very early in the hearing Kim asked some questions of the Deputy City Attorney that raised flags with me that she had bought the reasoning of the one member of the Ethics Commission who backed reinstatement. This was confirmed when she emphasized later in the evening her view that the case of Mazzola v. City and County of San Francisco was dispositive of the issue, a position she reasserted in “A Message to My Community” e-mail.
Several hours earlier both the Deputy City Attorney and Board President and attorney David Chiu had address the Mazzola case and explained why it was not controlling here. And had Mazzola been controlling, the City Attorney could not have authorized Mirkarimi’s suspension from office in the first place.
Recall that the City Attorney’s Office issued its opinion upholding Mirkarimi’s removal soon after Dennis Herrera had lost a bruising campaign against Ed Lee that left few fond feelings between them. Herrera’s office had no incentive to twist legal precedent to help their former adversary, and as this City Attorney has always done they issued an opinion that followed the law.
As an attorney for thirty years I admit I am biased toward those with more legal experience, but I don’t understand why Kim, who is an attorney but chose politics rather than law as her career, would put her legal analysis ahead of both the nation’s best City Attorney’s office as well as the judges that have examined the Mazzola case and not found it dispositive here.
Kim could have announced her legal position, acknowledged she would defer to the City Attorney, and known that if her view was right Mirkarimi would win reinstatement in the Court of Appeal. Instead, Kim acted as if Mazolla compelled her vote, when in fact it did not.
I’ve heard a number of explanations for Kim’s vote, particularly one involving a recent conflict with the Mayor’s Office over appointments to the successor commission overseeing Redevelopment. Considering that her vote did not affect the outcome (the 3 votes for reinstatement were already there), Kim clearly wanted to make a statement by voting for reinstatement.
The Mayor and Board need to come together in putting a charter revision on the ballot to alter this poorly understood removal position. This process has made San Francisco look very bad, and put our elected officials in an untenable position.