The Mirkarimi vote: Will there be some profiles of courage?

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(See the postscript for the Chronicle's shameful crucifixion coverage of Mirkarimi and a timely, newsworthy oped it refused to run by Mirkarimi's former girl friend. And how Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders ran the Nieves piece on her blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.)

On Jan. 6, 2011, the Bay Citizen/New York Times broke a major investigative story headlined “Behind-the-Scenes Power Politics: The Making of Ed Lee.” The story by Gerry Shih detailed how then Mayor Gavin Newsom, ex-Mayor Willie Brown, and his longtime political ally Rose Pak orchestrated an “extraordinary political power play” to make Ed Lee the interim mayor to replace Newsom, the lieutenant governor-elect.

The story also outlined the start of a chain of events that leads to the vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday on whether Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi keeps his job.

Shih reported that “word had trickled out” that the supervisors had narrowed the list of interim candidates to three—then Sheriff Michael Hennessey, former Mayor Art Agnos, and Aaron Peskin, then chairman of the city’s Democratic party.  But the contenders “were deemed too liberal by Pak, Brown, and Newsom, who are more moderate.”

Over the next 48 hours, Pak, Brown, and the Newsom administration put together the play, “forging a consensus on the Board of Supervisors, outflanking the board’s progressive wing and persuading Lee to agree to become San Francisco’s first Asian-American mayor, even though he had told officials for months that he had no interest in the job,” Shih wrote.

The play was sold on the argument that Lee would be an “interim mayor” and that he would not run for mayor in the November election. The Guardian and others said at the time that the play most likely envisioned Lee saying, or lying, that he would not run for mayor and then, at the last minute, he would run and overpower the challengers as an incumbent with big downtown money behind him.  This is what happened. That is how Ed Lee, a longtime civil servant, became the mayor and that is how the Willie Brown/Rose Pak gang won the day for the PG&E/Chamber of Commerce/big developer bloc and thwarted the progressives.

Let us note that the other three interim candidates would most likely never have done what Lee did and suspend Mirkarimi for pleading guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in an arm-bruising incident with his wife Eliana. In fact, Hennessey supported Mirkarimi during the election and still does and says he is fit to do the job of sheriff. 

This was a political coup d’etat worthy of Abe Ruef, the City Hall fixer at the start of the century. “This was something incredibly orchestrated, and we got played,” Sup. John Avalos told Shih. Sup. Chris Daly was mad as hell and he voted for Rose Pak because, he told the Guardian, she was running everything in City Hall anyway. Significantly, the San Francisco Chronicle missed the story and ever after followed the line of its columnist/PG&E lobbyist Willie Brown and Pak by supporting Lee for mayor without much question or properly reporting the obvious power structure angles and plays.

This is the context for understanding a critical part of the ferocity of the opposition to Mirkarimi. As the city’s top elected progressive, he was a politician and force to be reckoned with. His inaugural address as sheriff  demonstrated his creative vision for the department and that he would ably continue the progressive tradition of Richard Hongisto and Hennessey. That annoyed the conservative law enforcement folks. He could be sheriff for a good long time, keep pushing progressive issues from a safe haven, and be in position to run for mayor when the time came. So he was a dangerous character.  

To take one major example, the  PG&E political establishment and others regard him as Public Enemy No. 1. Among other things, he managed as an unpaid volunteer two initiative campaigns during the Willie Brown era. They were aimed at kicking PG&E out of City Hall, enforcing the public power provisions of the federal Raker Act, and bringing  the city’s cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to its residents and businesses for the first time. (See Guardian stories since 1969 on the PG&E/Raker act scandal.)

He then took the public power issue into City Hall when he became a supervisor and aggressively led the charge for the community choice aggregation (cca) project.  His work was validated in the recent 8-3 supervisorial vote authorizing the city to start up a public power/clean energy program. This is the first real challenge ever to PG&E’s private power monopoly.

Significantly, Willie is now an unregistered $200,000 plus a year lobbyist for PG&E. He writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle promoting, among other things, his undisclosed clients and allies and whacking Mirkarimi and the progressives and their issues on a regular basis.  And he is always out there, a phone call here, an elbow at a cocktail party there, to push his agenda.   The word is that he’s claiming he has the votes to fire Mirkarimi.

The point is that the same forces that put Lee into office as mayor are in large part the same forces behind what I call the political assassination of Mirkarimi.  And so, when the Mirkarimi incident emerged, there was an inexorable  march to assassination. Maximum resources and pressure from the police on Mirkarimi. And then maximum pressure from the District Attorney. And then maximum pressure from the judicial process (not even allowing  a change of venue for the case after the crucifixion media coverage.)  And then Lee calls Mirkarimi “a wife beater” and suspends him with cruel and unusual punishment: no pay for him, his family, his home, nor legal expenses for him or Eliana for the duration.

And then Lee pushes for maximum pressure from the City Attorney and the Ethics Commission to try Mirkarimi and force the crucial vote before the election to put maximum pressure on the supervisors. Obviously, the vote would be scheduled after the election if this were a fair and just process.

Lee, the man who was sold as consensus builder and unifier, has become a polarizer and punisher on behalf of the boys and girls  in the backroom.  

And so the supervisors are not just voting to fire the sheriff.  Mirkarimi, his wife Eliana, and son Theo, 3, have already paid a terrible price and, to their immense credit, have come back together as a family.

The supervisors got played last time and voted for a coup d’etat to make Lee the mayor, rout the progressives, and keep City Hall safe for Willie Brown and Rose Pak and friends.   This time the stakes are clear: the supervisors are now voting on the political assassination of the city’s top elected progressive and it’s once again aimed at helping keep City Hall safe for PG&E, the Chamber, and big developers.

The question is, will there be some profiles of courage this time around? b3

P.S.1  Julian Davis for District 5 supervisor: “Supes mum on sheriff,” read the Sunday Chronicle head. Nobody would say how he/she would vote. And poor Sup. Sean Elsbernd claimed that he would be “holed all Sunday in his office reading a table full of thick binders of official documents related to the case plus a few that he’s prepared for himself containing some case law.”  (Anybody wonder how he’s going to vote? Let’s have a show of hands.)  

The last time I saw Julian Davis he was holding a “Stand with Ross” sign at a Mirkarimi rally on the City Hall steps. With Davis, there would be no second guessing and hand wringing on how he would vote. That’s the problem now with so many neighborhood supervisors who go down to City Hall and vote with Willie and downtown. Davis would be a smart, dependable progressive vote in the city’s most progressive district (5), and a worthy successor to Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi. If Davis were on the board now, I’m sure he would stand with Ross and speak for Ross, no ifs, ands, or buts. And his vote might be decisive.  

P.S. 2 The Chronicle's  shameful crucifixion of Mirkarimi continues  The Chronicle has refused to run a timely and  newsworthy op ed piece from Evelyn Nieves, Mirkarimi's former girl friend. She  wrote an op ed piece for the Chronicle four days before the Tuesday vote.  Nieves is an accomplished journalist who for several years was the San Francisco bureau chief for the New York Times.  She told me that she was notified Monday morning that the Chronicle didn't have room for the op ed in Tuesday's paper. I sent an email to John Diaz, Chronicle editorial page editor, and asked him why the Chronicle couldn't run her op ed when the paper could run Willie Brown, the unregistered $200,000 plus PG&E lobbyist who takes regular whacks at Mirkarimi, as a regular featured column in its Sunday paper.  No answer at blogtime.

This morning, I opened up the Chronicle to find that the paper, instead of running the Nieves piece today or earlier,  ran an op ed titled "Vote to remove Mirkarmi," from Kathy Black, executive director of the Casa de las Madres, the non profit group that advocates against domestic violence. It has been hammering Mirkarimi for months. On the page opposite, the Chron ran yet another lead editorial, urging the supervisors to "Take a Stand" and vote for removal because "San Francisco now needs its leaders to lead." It was as if Willie was not only directing the Chronicle's news operation but writing its editorials--and getting paid both by PG&E and the Chronicle.  And so the Chronicle started out with shameful crucifixion coverage of  Mirkarimi and then continued the shameful crucifixion coverage up until today. Read Nieves on Ross.

Well, the honor of the Chronicle was maintained by columnist Debra Saunders, virtually the Chroncle's lone journalistic supporter of Mirkarmi during his ordeal. Many Chronicle staffers are privately supportive of Ross, embarrassed by Willie's "journalism," and critical of the way the Chronicle has covered Mirkarimi. Saunders posted the Nieves column her paper refused to print on her Chronicle blog. Damn good for you, Debra Saunders.