Russoniello and Ryan in the cross hairs

Pub date February 27, 2009
SectionPolitics Blog

Text by Sarah Phelan.

As the city searches for a new police chief, the Board of Supervisors is intensifying efforts to oust the US Attorney for Northern California, Joseph Russoniello, and the former US Attorney for Northern California, Kevin Ryan, who is currently Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top crime advisor, and replace them with folks more in tune with San Francisco values.

Ryan and Russoniello, who were both appointed a year ago, have come under increasing scrutiny since July, when the mayor ordered the city to report undocumented youth to federal authorities the minute these youth are arrested on suspicion of committing a felony.

Immigrant rights groups nationwide have decried Newsom’s decision as robbing youth of their right to due process. But, city insiders say Newsom is refusing to reopen the conversation, in face of a Grand Jury investigation that Russoniello convened. Russoniello has claimed that the city’s previous policy direction, which included flying Honduran youth back to their families, was tantamount to harboring and thus was a violation of federal law.

At last Tuesday’s Board meeting, Sups. David Campos, John Avalos, Chris Daly, Eric Mar, Ross Mirkarimi and Board President David Chiu introduced a resolution urging President Barack Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to appoint a new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

The resolution cites five examples that “highlight Mr. Russoniello’s questionable judgment,” and states that the Board “recognizes the importance of having a U.S. Attorney that understands San Francisco’s diversity, values and commitment to equal justice, especially as s/he works closely with the City’s law enforcement agencies on public safety measures. The resolution also observes that the Board “has a duty to safeguard the well being of its residents and ensure their equal protection.”

The next night, Campos, who came from Guatemala to this country at age 14 as an undocumented immigrant, joined speakers at an immigrant rights forum that denounced recent changes in the sanctuary city ordinance, called for the ouster of Kevin Ryan and expressed disappointment that Newsom did not attend the forum.

“I understand Newsom sent a representative and I appreciate that, but for a lot of people it would have meant a lot if the mayor had attended himself,” Campos told the Guardian.

With the heat on Newsom locally and statewide—many voters in the upcoming gubernatorial race are of immigrant descent and/or have undocumented relatives here—will the mayor meet community members face to face? Or is he afraid of alienating the powerful Police Officers Association and losing vital campaign contributions?

Mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard reportedly told the Chronicle that, “the mayor supports Ryan but ‘is willing and eager to listen to feedback from the community.”

Asked if the Mayor has scheduled a meeting yet, Campos told the Guardian, “Newsom has said he wants to meet with me and members of the community, so until I hear otherwise, I will believe that is what is going to happen.”

Stay tuned.