Art Agnos

Why Mission Bay isn’t a train wreck


Now that the city planning director is comparing neighborhood activists to war mongers and meanies, it’s worth a moment to look back at how the city wound up with what the Chron is now calling a vibrant success of a medical-tech development at Mission Bay.

That site used to be a Southern Pacific railroad yard, but in the early 1980s, the old robber barons realized that a lot of their property had more value as real estate than as railroads. So SP decided to develop Mission Bay, eventually spinning off Catellus Corp. as the developer. The first plan was a disaster, a mix of highrise office buildings, hotels and a little bit of housing. Then-Mayor Art Agnos got it toned down a little, but the proposal he and Catellus put forward in the late 1980s was still a mess — more office space than housing, nowhere near enough in the way of community amenities, something an old-school builder with no concern for public process might have gotten away with in another city, but it wasn’t going to fly here. Of course, Catellus and the mayor both argued that this was the best deal the city could possibly get; more housing or different uses just wouldn’t pencil out.

Those same darn crazy activists that the planning director hates forced a public vote on the plan — and it was overwhelmingly rejected.The next day, Catellus came back to the table — and offered dramatic improvements in housing and amenities. In the end, UC decided to move into the site, building what I consider a hideously ugly campus with not a single decent piece of architecture — but without giant highrises and with at least some open space and community facilities. There’s actually a chance that this could become a viable neighborhood — thanks not to the developer, the mayor, or city planning, but to meddlesome neighborhood people.

Funny how that works.


Proposal to raze I-280 linked to train and real estate deals


It’s a bold idea, discussed for years behind closed doors and recently announced in a strangely understated and pro-growth way: Tear down the last mile of Interstate 280 and replace it with an wide boulevard – reminiscent of the removal of the Central and Embarcadero freeways – in order to facilitate the extension of electrified Caltrain and high-speed rail tracks into the Transbay Terminal.

For almost three years, city planners have been discussing the idea and drawing up closely guarded plans to tear down the freeway, discussions sparked by the state’s Environmental Impact Reports on electrifying the Caltrain tracks and bringing high-speed trains into town. With an increasing number of trains traveling those tracks, access to the rapidly growing Mission Bay area from the west on 16th Street would turn into a traffic nightmare, either with long waits for an at-grade train crossing or the creation of ugly and uninviting underpasses for cars and bikes.

Mayor Ed Lee and other top politicians have long sought to bring those trains downtown in Transbay Terminal through a still-unfunded tunnel, rather than having them stop at the existing Caltrain station at 4th and King streets. But the existence of the I-280 pilings made it structurally impossible to send the train underground before it got to 16th street.

So the idea was raised to raze the elevated 280 freeway and better integrate Mission Bay and the Potrero Hill/Showplace Square area, where Kaiser plans to build a huge new medical facility, creating a bike- and pedestrian-friendly corridor without the shadow of an antiquated freeway overhead.

“If you get the freeway out of the way, it’s a ton of space,” said Greg Riessen, the city planner who developed and studied the idea. “The whole corridor of the freeway is blocking the ability to do anything else.”

But it wasn’t until the political class and their capitalist partners also realized the enormous development potential of the idea – raising money that could be used to fund the train tunnel – that it was finally floated as a public trial balloon for the first time this week. The Chron’s Matier & Ross led their Sunday column with a short item on the idea, apparently tipped off to its quiet debut a couple weeks earlier.

The city’s Transportation Policy Director Gillian Gillett unveiled the idea in a Jan. 7 letter to the Municipal Transportation Commission, repeating it Jan. 10 at a forum on high-speed rail held at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. The letter was a response to the MTC’s request for information on “San Francisco’s policy goals and objectives regarding the much-needed electrification of Caltrain.”

Yet rather than deal directly with that issue, the letter said the answer “must be broadened to address the need for growth in the downtown and South of Market areas,” which it said requires funding to bring the trains into Transbay Terminal and to then let developers have at the 21 acres of land surrounding the existing Caltrain station, where transportation officials planned to store the trains.

“We need to create a faster and cheaper DTX [Downtown Extension project] alignment, realize the full value of the 4th & King Streets Railyard site, and eliminate the intrusiveness of I-280 in Mission Bay by terminating it at 16th Street and replacing it with a boulevard, based on the lessons learned from the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway to create a new Rincon Hill neighborhood, and the Central Freeway to create the new Market-Octavia neighborhood. Reenvisioning Caltrain electrification and the DTX could increase ridership, reduce costs considerably and create additional real estate value that would, in turn, provide for both more jobs to create revenue for both Caltrain and DTX and attract investment,” Gillett wrote.

She calls current plans to electrify Caltrain “shortsighted because it reduces the City’s ability to meet its regional job growth allocations, because more than 20 acres are covered with trains, and it eliminates an important opportunity to create real estate value which can be used to fund transit and Caltrain investments,” she wrote.

The letter doesn’t address where the increasing number of trains coming into San Francisco would be stored if the railyard is turned into luxury condos and commercial spaces, which has long been a goal of SPUR and other pro-development cheerleaders. High-speed rail officials have suggested Brisbane, but sources say city officials there have balked at the idea. Although Gillett hasn’t returned our calls with follow-up questions, the Mayor’s Office seems to see such logistical questions as secondary to this cash-cow idea.

So a staff-level proposal to solve a transportation challenge with an elegant multi-modal solution that follows in the city’s tradition of tearing down freeways has morphed into a real estate deal. Quentin Kopp, the father of high-speed rail in California, has already derided the Transbay Terminal project (which is funded by the sale of state land surrounding the site to office tower developers) as little more than a real estate deal, and now the city is apparently seeking to extend that deal further into Mission Bay.

Former Mayor Art Agnos, who worked on both the Embarcadero and Central freeway tear-downs, told us, “In general, I really support the concept of demolishing freeways that bisect the city.”

Yet he said there are many key details and questions that need to be addressed, particularly given the Mayor’s Office support for the new Warriors arena on the Central Waterfront, a project whose unaddressed traffic impacts would be exacerbated by an intensification of development at the Caltrain station, into Mission Bay, and further south.

“It could drown the city, this tsunami of cars, particularly with all the development planned all the way down to Hunters Point,” Agnos said. “I like the idea, but we need a serious discussion of the details, particularly with all these development proposals.”


Critics urge caution on fast-moving Warriors arena deal


UPDATED The proposal to let the Golden State Warriors build a new sports arena complex at Piers 30-32 is moving forward quickly, with the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee considering approving its fiscal feasibility tomorrow (Wed/14), the Land Use Committee hearing its design and transportation aspects on Monday, and the full board scheduled to move it forward on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving. After that, it will undergo an environmental study and work on myriad fiscal and administrative details, coming back to the board for final approval, probably in the fall, with the goal of opening by the 2017 basketball season.

[UPDATE 11/14: The Finance Committee today voted 3-0 to approve findings of fiscal feasibility for the project after Sup. Jane Kim made amendments delaying the EIR scoping session until January and ensuring the Citizens Advisory Committee will be given more time to review the project and its term sheet. City officials and the Warriors also signed a deal this morning requiring that at least 25 percent of its construction jobs and half of its apprenticeship positions go to local residents or military veterans. We’ll have more details and analysis of what happened in the coming days.]

Critics of the project say it is being rammed through too quickly, with too little public notice or attention to blocking off views of the bay, and on terms that are too costly to city taxpayers. To some, Lee’s quest for a “legacy project” is reminiscent of the groupthink boosterism that characterized the initial America’s Cup proposal, before it was revealed to really be a lucrative waterfront real estate scheme that was great for developers but costly to the public, and later abandoned.

And just like last time, when the Guardian, then-Sup. Chris Daly, Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, and others forced a major scaling back of the developers’ ambitions, there are some prominent voices of caution now being raised about the Warriors arena deal and its potential to fleece city taxpayers, including concerns raised by someone with decades of experience shepherding some of San Francisco’s biggest public works projects.

Rudy Nothenberg, who served as city administrator and other level fiscal advisory roles to six SF mayors and currently serves as president of the city’s Bond Oversight Committee, yesterday wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors urging it to reject the deal.

Among other things, he criticized the 13 percent interest that city taxpayers would pay on the $120 million in pier restoration work that the Warriors will do. “Quite simply, I would have been ashamed of such a recommendation,” Nothenberg wrote. “In today’s markets it is incomprehensible to have such a stunning recommendation brought to your honorable Board in such haste.”

Project spokesperson PJ Johnston and its main advocate City Hall, Office of Economic and Workforce Development head Jennifer Matz, each disputed Nothenberg’s characterization, citing a report by the project consultants, the Berkeley-based Economic and Planning Systems Inc. (EPS), that 13 percent is a “reasonable and appropriate market based return.”

Matz told us the rate was based on the risky nature of rebuilding the piers, for which the Warriors are responsible for any cost overruns. And she compared the project to the massive redevelopment projects now underway on Treasure Island and Hunters Point, from which the city is guaranteeing powerful developer Lennar returns on investment of 18.5 percent and 20 percent respectively.

Johnston, who was press secretary to former Mayor Willie Brown and worked with Nothenberg on building AT&T Park and other projects, told us “ I have great respect for Rudy.” But then he went on to criticize him for taking a self-interested stand to defend the views from the condo he owns nearby: “They don’t want anything built in their neighborhood. They would rather leave it a dilapidated parking lot.”

But Nothenberg told us his stand is consistent with the work he did throughout his public service career in trying to keep the waterfront open and accessible to the public, rather than blocking those views with a 14-story stadium and surrounding commercial and hotel complex.

“I have a self-interest as a San Franciscan, and after 20 years of doing the right thing, I don’t want to see this rushed through in an arrogant way that would have been unthinkable even a year ago,” Nothenberg told us. “I spent 20 years of my life trying to deal with waterfront issues.”

Among those also sounding the alarm about how quickly this project is moving is land use attorney Sue Hestor and former Mayor Art Agnos, who told us the supervisors should heed the input of Nothenberg and make sure this is a good deal for the city.

Agnos said, “Rudy Nothenberg stands apart from every other department head and CAO in the modern history of San Francisco for his financial and managerial expertise in bringing major projects with complex finances to completion that worked for our City. That is why the past six mayors…whether conservative or liberal…trusted him to advise them and administer the biggest projects in this city from Moscone Convention Center to the new main library to the Giants baseball park and Mission Bay. “

Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose released his initial analysis of the project on Friday. The $120 million plus interest that the city is paying to the Warriors would be partially offset by the $30 million the team would pay for Seawall Lot 330, a one-time payment of $53.8 million (mostly in development impact fees), annual rent of nearly $2 million on its 66-year lease of Piers 30-32, and annual tax and mitigation payments to the city of between $9.8 million and $19 million.

But the report also notes that many city departments and agencies – including the Department of Public Works, Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Police Department – have yet to estimate their costs. Both Johnston and Matz emphasized Rose’s conclusion that the project is “fiscally feasible” – the determination that supervisors will have to agree with to move the project forward – but the report also noted “the finding of ‘fiscal feasibility’ means only that the project merits further evaluation of environmental review.”

The full text of Nothenberg’s letter follows:

Dear Supervisors:

My experience as a high level financial advisor and city administrator for Mayors Moscone, Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan, Brown, and Newsom, and current President of the City’s Bond Oversight Committee cause me to write in the hope that you will reject the outrageous 13% interest rate that the developers of the waterfront arena are proposing to charge the City for their cost of replacing Piers 30/32. 

In my years as General Manager of Public Utilities, the Municipal Railway System, Water and Hetch Hetchy, and later as the Chief Administrative Officer for the City and County of San Francisco, I took probably more that a billion dollars worth of various debt instruments to the Board. 

Never…even in the worst days of highest modern era interest rates of the 1970’s hovering at 20% …never did I ever bring a 13% City borrowing to the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors for approval.  Quite simply, I would have been ashamed of such a recommendation.

In today’s markets it is incomprehensible to have such a stunning recommendation brought to your honorable Board in such haste. 

Even more remarkable is the fact that just weeks ago, Allentown, Pennsylvania has just procured a 4.78 % interest rate for $224.4 million of taxable bonds to help build with private contributions a hockey arena for 8500 seats. 

Yet, you are being told the best our city can do is 13% for $120 million.

No Board of Supervisors I ever appeared before would tolerate such dramatic discrepancy.

It is with this in mind, I would most respectfully urge you to send this proposed deal back to the developers, instructing the City’s negotiators not to bring it back without a far more favorable interest rate for City tax payers not to exceed a maximum of 7.5%.

And that would still be almost twice what the City would need to pay for City issued debt and more than amply compensate the developers for any risk premium that they allege that they are taking. 

Any such instruction from you to the City negotiators should also make it clear that they are not to make any new concessions to the developers in exchange for achieving a still high, but eminently more reasonable interest rate.

Thank you for your attention.

Rudy Nothenberg

Chief Administrative Officer (Ret.)


1.     The Warriors Arena negotiates 13% interest on $120 million from San Francisco when the City of Allentown in Pennsylvania just issued $224.4 million of taxable bonds for an arena at an average interest rate of 4.78%. 

13% for SF versus 4.78%  for Allentown

City of Allentown – PA – Official Site

The official website for the City of Allentown, PA. Learn about all the exciting events going on in the city of Allentown, from music, arts, theater, and sports. Allentown is the largest city in the 

2.     Allentown hockey arena bonds cost $4.2 million to issue…/allentown_hockey_ar

Oct 10, 2012 – About $224.4 million in municipal bonds were sold last week to help finance arena construction. City officials say the issuance costs are about 



Realtors and tech spending big to flip the Board of Supervisors


Wealthy interests aligned with Mayor Ed Lee, the real estate industry, big tech companies, and other downtown groups are spending unprecedented sums of money in this election trying to flip the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors, with most of it going to support supervisorial candidates David Lee in D1 and, to a lesser degree, London Breed in D5.

The latest campaign finance statements, which were due yesterday, show Lee benefiting from more than $250,000 in “independent expenditures” from just two groups: the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth PAC, which got its biggest support from tech titans Mark Benioff and Ron Conway; and the Coalition for Responsible Growth, funded by the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

Lee’s campaign has also directly spent another nearly $250,000 on its race to unseat incumbent Sup. Eric Mar – bringing total expenditures on his behalf to more than $500,000, an unheard-of amount for a district election. Mar has spent $136,000 and has $24,100 in the bank, and he is benefiting from another $125,000 that San Francisco Labor Council unions have raised on his behalf.

Breed has benefited from more than $40,000 in spending on her behalf by the two groups. Her campaign is also leading the fundraising field in her district, spending about $150,000 so far and sitting on more than $93,000 in the bank for a strong final push.

Incumbent D5 Sup. Christina Olague has done well in fundraising, but the reports seem to indicate that her campaign hasn’t managed its resources well and could be in trouble in the final leg. She has just $13,369 in the bank and nearly $70,000 in unpaid campaign debts, mostly to her controversial consultant Enrique Pearce’s firm.

Slow-and-steady D5 candidates John Rizzo and Thea Selby seem to have enough in the bank ($20,000 and $33,000 respectively) for a decent final push, while Selby also got a $10,000 boost from the the Alliance, which could be a mixed blessing in that progressive district. Julian Davis still has more than $18,000 in the bank, defying the progressive groups and politicians who have pulled their endorsements and pledging to finish strong.

In District 7, both FX Crowley and Michael Garcia have posted huge fundraising numbers, each spending around $22,000 this year, but Crowley has the fiscal edge going into the final stretch with $84,443 in the bank compared to Garcia’s less than $34,000. But progressive favorite Norman Yee is right in the thick of the race as well, spending $130,000 this year and having more than $63,000 in the bank.

The following is a detailed look at the numbers (we didn’t do Districts 3, 9, and 11, where the incumbents aren’t facing serious or well-funded challenges) for the biggest races:


Independent Expenditures


Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth PAC

The downtown-oriented group is run by notorious campaign attorney Jim Sutton. It has raised $447,500 this year, including $225,000 in this reporting period (Oct. 1 to Oct. 20).

It has spent $107,808 this period and $342,248 this reporting period. It has $243,599 in the bank and $105,334 in outstanding debt.

Donors include: Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff ($100,000), venture capitalist Ron Conway ($35,000), San Francisco Police Officers Association ($25,000), Healthplus Share Services out of Walnut Creek ($20,000), Committee on Jobs ($47,500), and Operating Engineers Local 3 ($10,000)

The Alliance has spent $143,763 this year, including $16,921 in this reporting period, supporting D1 supervisorial candidate David Lee and attacking his opponent Eric Mar; and $10,205 each in support of D5 candidates Thea Selby and London Breed.


Coalition for Sensible Growth (with major funding by the SF Association of Realtors)

Raised nothing this reporting period but $225,000 this year.

Spent $75,636 this period and $287,569 this year. Has $170,744 in the bank and $152,000 in outstand debts.

It has spent $101,267 supporting D1 candidate David Lee, $26,405 support of David Chiu in D3, $2,739 each supporting FX Crowley and Michael Garcia in D7, $12,837 opposing Norman Yee in D7, $29,357 backing London Breed in D5, and $20,615 promoting Prop. C (the Housing Trust Fund).

The San Francisco Labor Council Labor & Neighbor PAC has raised $84,563 for its various member unions and spent $93,539 this year on general get-out-the-vote efforts.

The Labor Council also supports three Teachers, Nurses and Neighbors groups supporting Eric Mar in D1 (raising $125,000 and spending $85,437), FX Crowley in D7 (raising $50,000 and spending $40,581), and Christina Olague in D5 (raising $15,000 and spending $15,231)


Supervisorial Races:

District 1

Eric Mar

Raised $18,270 this period, $135,923 this year, and got no public finances this period.

He has spend $61,499 this period, $187,409 this year, and has $24,180 in the bank with no debt.

Donors include: Sup. David Chiu ($250), board aides Judson True ($100) and Jeremy Pollock ($100), redevelopment attorney James Morales ($200), developer Jack Hu ($500), engineer Arash Guity ($500), community organizer James Tracy ($200), Lisa Feldstein ($250), Marc Salomon ($125), Petra DeJesus ($300), and Gabriel Haaland ($200).

David Lee

Raised $4,174 this period, $140,305 this year, and no public financing matches this period.

He has spent $245,647 this year and $55,838 this period. He has $5,871 in debts and $26,892 in the bank.

Donors include the building trades union ($500), property manager Andrew Hugh Smith ($500), Wells Fargo manager Alfred Pedrozo ($200), and SPO Advisory Corp. partner William Oberndorf ($500).

District 5

John Rizzo

Raised $5,304 this period (10/1-10/20), $29,860 this year, and $14,248 in public financing

He has $19,813 in the bank

Donors are mostly progressive and environmental activists: attorney Paul Melbostad $500), Hene Kelly ($100), Bernie Choden ($100), Dennis Antenore ($500), Clean Water Action’s Jennifer Clary ($150), Matt Dorsey ($150), Arthur Feinstein ($350), Jane Morrison ($200), and Aaron Peskin ($150).


Julian Davis

Raised $8,383 this period, $38,953 YTD, and got $16,860 in public financing in this period (and $29,510 in the 7/1-9/30 period).

He has $67,530 in YTD expenses, $18,293 in the bank, and $500 in debts.

Some donors: Aaron Peskin ($500), John Dunbar ($500), Heather Box ($100), Jim Siegel ($250), Jeremy Pollock ($200), BayView publisher Willie Ratcliff ($174), and Burning Man board member Marian Goodell ($400). Peskin and Dunbar both say they made those donations early in the campaign, before Davis was accused of groping a woman and lost most of his progressive endorsements.


London Breed

Raised $15,959 this period, $128,009 YTD, got $95,664 in public financing this period.

Total YTD expenditures of $150,596 and has $93,093 in the bank

Donors include: Susie Buell ($500), CCSF Board member Natalie Berg ($250), Miguel Bustos ($500), PG&E spokesperson and DCCC Chair Mary Jung ($250), SF Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jim Lazarus ($100), Realtor Matthew Lombard ($500), real estate investor Susan Lowenberg ($500), Municipal Executives Association of SF ($500), Carmen Policy ($500), SF Apartment Association ($500), SF’s building trades PAC ($500), and Sam Singer ($500).


Christina Olague

Raised $7,339 this period, $123,474 YTD, and got $39,770 in public financing this period.

Has spent $54,558 this period, $199,419 this year, has $13,367 in the bank, and has $69,312 in outstanding debt.

Donors include: former Mayor Art Agnos ($500), California Nurses Association PAC ($500), a NUHW political committee ($500), the operating engineers ($500) and electrical workers ($500) union locals, Tenants Together attorney Dean Preston ($100), The Green Cross owner Kevin Reed ($500), SEIU-UHW PAC ($500), Alex Tourk ($500), United Educators of SF ($500), and United Taxicab Workers ($200).

Some expenses include controversial political consultant Enrique Pearce’s Left Coast Communications ($15,000), which documents show is still owed another $62,899 for literature, consulting, and postage.


Thea Selby

Raised $5,645 this period, $45,651 YTD, and got $6,540 in public financing this period.

Spent $29,402 this period, $67,300 this year, and has $33,519 in the bank.

Donors include:

David Chiu board aide Judson True ($100), One Kings Lane VP Jim Liefer ($500), SF Chamber’s Jim Lazarus ($100), Harrington’s Bar owner Michael Harrington ($200), and Arthur Swanson of Lightner Property Group ($400).


District 7


Norman Yee

Raised $8,270 this period and $85,460 this year and received $65,000 in public financing.

Spent $15,651 this period, $130,005 this year, and has $63,410 in the bank and no debt.

Donors include: Realtor John Whitehurst ($500), Bank of America manager Patti Law ($500), KJ Woods Construction VP Marie Woods ($500), and Iron Work Contractors owner Florence Kong ($500).


FX Crowley

Raised $5,350 this period, $163,108 this year, and another $25,155 through public financing.

He spent $76,528 this period, $218,441 this year, and has $84,443 in the bank and $7,291 in unpaid debt.

Donors include: Alliance for Jobs & Sustainable Growth attorney Vince Courtney ($250), Thomas Creedon ($300) and Mariann Costello ($250) of Scoma’s Restaurant, stagehands Richard Blakely ($100) and Thomas Cleary ($150), Municipal Executives Association of SF ($500), IBEW Local 1245 ($500), and SF Medical Society PAC ($350)


Michael Garcia

Raised $8,429 this period, $121,123 this year, and $18,140 through public financing.

He spent $45,484 this period, $222,580 this year, and has $33,936 in the bank.

Donors include: Coalition for Responsible Growth flak Zohreh Eftekhari ($500), contractor Brendan Fox ($500), consultant Sam Lauter of BMWL ($500), Stephanie Lauter ($500), consultant Sam Riordan ($500), and William Oberndorf ($500)


Agnos and other progressives rally for Olague


A string of prominent local progressive leaders today offered their support to Sup. Christina Olague – including former Mayor Art Agnos, who announced his endorsement of her in the District 5 supervisorial race – in a rally on the steps of City Hall.

In the process, many voiced a need to broaden and redefine progressivism as valuing independence and diversity of perspective more than just stands on specific issues, traits they said Olague embodies. But more than anything, the rally seemed aimed to consolidating progressive support around Olague as the best hope to beat moderate London Breed in one of the city’s most progressive districts.

“District 5 is often referred to as the most progressive of San Francisco’s supervisorial districts. It includes a diversity of views and opinions on how to meet the challenges all our communities face,” Agnos said. “And it takes a supervisor who know how to listen, to hear and respect those differing views, while working for a resolution that moves us forward.”

Sup. David Campos made only a veiled, indirect reference to the problems some progressives (himself among them) have had with some of Olague’s stands since she was appointed to the job by Mayor Ed Lee, but he said, “Those of us who have worked with her know what’s in her heart…She has been the independent person we always knew she would be and I’m proud to stand with her today.”

Several speakers made reference to Olague’s working class roots, her perspective as a Latina and member of the LGBT community, and her history of progressive activism in San Francisco. Cleve Jones, Gabriel Haaland, Sandra Fewer, and Sup. Eric Mar were among those there to offer support.

“It was a big give by the Mayor’s Office to appoint someone who wasn’t always going to agree with him,” said Sup. Jane Kim, but that was about the only positive reference to the Mayor’s Office, which turned on Olague after she voted to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, setting the stage for her return to the progressive fold.

“To be a progressive is to share an ideology that understands and believes that the best decisions for our city require the participation of all of us, no matter who we are, where we live, or how big our checkbook is,” Agnos said. “As with so many who have endorsed her, that progressive label says she is a politician who understand this fundamental truth.”

SF Rising board member Alicia Garza kicked off the rally by saying, “We are here to set the record straight that the progressive movement is alive and well in San Francisco.” Later, she praise Olague’s history as a community organizer, saying that, “She understands deeply what it means to empower communities.”

Sup. John Avalos, another supervisor who hasn’t always agreed with Olague in the last nine months and just endorsed last week, commended her for the courage it takes to assert her values instead of simply supporting the mayor who appointed her. He said Olague recognizes that, “We live in a city of extremes, with extreme differences between the haves and have-nots.”

Another new progressive endorsement, coming in the wake of one-time progressive favorite Julian Davis’ troubles, was Quintin Mecke, who said he first worked with Olague on anti-gentrification issues 13 years ago. “I trusted her work then and I trust her work today,” he said. Activist Lisa Feldstein – like Mecke, a former D5 candidate – echoed the sentiment.

“I’m here because I really trust Christina and want to fight for her,” Feldstein said. “She comes from a place of integrity and compassion.”

When Olague finally took the podium, she said, “I am humbled by the heartfelt words of my colleagues.” She also tried to help define progressivism in San Francisco, said that it “isn’t about a cult of personality.”

Instead, she said it’s about working to building people’s capacity to create an inclusive and just city. “It’s about building a movement that can weather any storm,” Olague said, closing by saying she’ll ensure “the progressive voice is always strong in District 5 and I’ll keep working to make it heard until I’m blue in the face…I am the most progressive person in the race.”

D5 shakeups flip the dynamics of that wild race


[UPDATED AND CORRECTED] Wild and unsettling political dynamics have rocked the District 5 supervisorial race, with three major candidates having prominent endorsements withdrawn, the most significant being this week’s mass exodus of support from the campaign of Julian Davis following his bad handling of allegations that he has mistreated women.

Those withdrawing their endorsements of Davis since Saturday include Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, and Jane Kim, Assembly member Tom Ammiano, the Bay Guardian, the Examiner, and the League of Pissed-Off Voters. The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club has scheduled a vote for Monday on whether to withdraw its sole endorsement of Davis.

Avalos gave his endorsement to Sup. Christina Olague over the weekend, and she seems to be getting more progressive support in the wake of Davis’ flame-out and her Oct. 9 vote in favor of reinstating Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. That vote triggered a strong backlash against Olague from Mayor Ed Lee and his allies, with San Francisco Police Officers Association withdrawing its endorsement.

But former Mayor Art Agnos reached out to Olague – who he didn’t know previously – after the Mirkarimi vote and is rumored to be considering offering her his endorsement and support. Agnos didn’t confirm or deny the rumor, but he did tell us, “I was very impressed by her commitment to the progressive issues we share.”

Olague has a long history of progressive activism and was a consistently good vote during her tenure on the Planning Commission, but many progressives were concerned by her early support for Lee, who then appointed her to the District 5 seat vacated by Mirkarimi’s election as sheriff, and by some of her votes and behaviors since then.

But now that she’s been viciously attacked by Lee’s staffers and allies over the Mirkarimi vote – and iced out by Lee himself, who she says won’t return her calls and who bailed out on a planned campaign appearance – Olague seems to have a newfound independence. “At the end of the day, we serve constituents and the city, and that’s who we should answer to,” Olague told us, agreeing that she feels freed up by recent developments, as difficult as they’ve been. “You don’t become an indentured servant.”

She told us that her decision last year to co-chair the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign to convince Lee to break his promise and run for a full term to the office he’d been appointed to was based on her belief that “we’d see an infusion of new energy and some more diversity” of both ideology and demographics in the Mayor’s Office.

“Sadly, I’m not seeing those changes happening really. I didn’t sign up for another four years of Gavin Newsom and those thugs, and I’ve seen a lot of that same behavior,” she said. “People who played prominent roles in the Newsom administration continue to play prominent roles in this administration.”

Olague said the schism with the administration began this summer when she supported Avalos in trying to bring in new revenue as part of the business tax reform measure that became Prop. E, which Lee had insisted be revenue neutral before compromising with progressives. That was when Olague said she got her first nasty message from Tony Winnicker, the former Newsom press secretary who now works for Lee and wrote Olague a text during the Mirkarimi hearing telling her “you disgust me and I will work night and day to defeat you.”

Some prominent progressives privately worried that schism was an election ploy designed to help Olague win the race for this progressive district given that Davis had captured most of the influential progressive endorsements. But with Lee and his allies continuing to be openly livid over the Mirkarimi vote – and with solid progressive John Rizzo running a lackluster campaign that has less than $5,000 in the bank – there is growing progressive support for Olague.

The big fear among many progressives is that London Breed will win the race, a concern that has been exacerbated by the support that Breed has been receiving from real estate and development interests, both directly and in independent expenditures by the Association of Realtors, which has spent more than $225,000 in this election cycle hoping to knock out progressives in Districts 1 and 5 and tip the balance of power on the board.

Breed told us that she doesn’t know the Realtors or why they’re offering such strong support, pledging to be an independent vote. “I’ve never made any promises to anyone that I would help anyone or that I would be this way or that,” she told us. “I’m not here to do anyone’s bidding, whether it’s Aaron Peskin or Willie Brown or anyone else.”

Brown helped launch Breed’s political career by [CORRECTED recommending then-Mayor Gavin Newsom] appoint her to the Redevelopment Commission, where Breed supported Lennar and other big developers, but she had a falling out with him earlier this year and made impolitic comments about him to the Fog City Journal, causing US Sen. Dianne Feinstein to withdraw her endorsement of Breed.

Brown, Lee, and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak helped raise money for Olague, who has received the maximum $500 donation from such powerful inside players as venture capitalist Ron Conway (and his wife, Gayle), Michael Cohen, Victor Makras, Lawrence Nibbi, Mark Mosher, and John Whitehurst.

But that was before the Mirkarimi vote, which Lee’s allies seem to see as a litmus test on Olague’s loyalty to them. As Tenderloin Housing Clinic director Randy Shaw, who helped engineer the progressive split that brought Lee to power, put it on his Beyond Chron blog, “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.”

Olague says she’s disturbed by that viewpoint, and by those so blinded by their efforts to demonize Mirkarimi “and exploit and politicize issues around domestic violence” that they have failed to consider the price he has already paid for his actions or the legal standards for removing an elected official. “On something like this, it’s not a question of loyalty. It’s about principles,” she said.

Breed says that she has seen an increase in support since the Mirkarimi vote and the Davis meltdown, but she said that she doesn’t want to talk about those cases or exploit them politically. “I don’t take pleasure in the misery of someone else,” she said, adding her hope that the furor about Mirkarimi will die down. “The decision has been made and it’s time for the city to come together.”

Progressive leaders have made similar calls, but Mirkarimi’s critics are showing no signs of letting the issue go. San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee members Zoe Dunning and Matt Dorsey have put forward a resolution condemning the reinstatement vote and calling for Mirkarimi’s ouster, which the DCCC will consider on Wednesday evening, Oct. 24.

[CORRECTED At that meeting, the DCCC will also consider a motion] to reopen the D5 endorsement process, hoping to change the DCCC’s previous “no endorsement” vote, and sources tell us there is currently a strong backroom effort to give the endorsement to Breed. That vote will be a big test for progressives, which lost their majority control over the DCCC in the June elections.

Meanwhile, D5 candidate Thea Selby – who snagged one of the three endorsements by both the Guardian and the Examiner – continues to run a strong and well-funded campaign that has avoided the carnage taking place in the other campaigns. “I feel like I’m in the middle watching out for flying beams,” she told us, adding that both she and Rizzo have been “the grown-ups in the room, so there’s an opportunity there and I’m hopeful.”

But unlike Rizzo, who has seems strangely absent and didn’t return Guardian phone calls [see UPDATE below], Selby has plenty of money in the bank – nearly $60,000 as of the last official report two weeks ago – and could benefit from voter disgust with the ugly politics at play. “It’s my experience that is driving this,” says this small-businessperson, “and not my lifelong desire to be a politician, and that may ring some bells.”

How the ranked-choice voting system will play out in this mess is anyone’s guess, and even Davis seems to be hoping that he still has a shot, resisting calls by the Guardian and others to withdraw from the race. Poorly funded candidates Andrew Resignato and Hope Johnson this week announced they were joining forces for the “People’s Ticket” after being excluded from a University of San Francisco candidates forum.

But most political observers seem to think this race will come down to a two-person contest between Breed and Olague – who each have more than $45,000 in the bank with which to make a strong final push – and the distinctions between them are becoming clearer as more progressives get behind Olague and the moderates and monied interests get behind Breed.

Olague said she’s still “willing to work with anybody,” but that, “I’m worried that moderate forces will seize this moment to try to destroy us.”

UPDATE 4:45: Rizzo just got back to us and said he’s been actively campaigning and feeling good about his chances. “We have a great team and we’ll have enough resources to reach voters,” Rizzo said. He said that he’s had a stong fundraising push in the last couple weeks since the last campaign financing statement was released, and he noted his endorsements and active support by influential progressives including Ammiano, Campos, and Carole Migden. “We’re doing a lot of retail campaigning, meeting voters and getting the message out.”

Supervisors reinstate Mirkarimi, rejecting Lee’s interpretation of official misconduct


The Board of Supervisors has voted to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and reject the official misconduct charges that Mayor Ed Lee brought against Mirkarimi for grabbing and bruising his wife’s arm during a New Year’s Eve argument, for now ending an ugly saga that has polarized San Franciscans.

The vote was 7-4, two votes shy of the nine needed to sustain the charges and remove Mirkarimi, who now resumes the position voters elected him to in November with back pay going back to March when Lee suspended him. Sups. Christina Olague, David Campos, John Avalos, and Jane Kim voted in Mirkarimi’s favor, condemning the domestic violence incident but saying that it didn’t meet what is and should be a high and clear standard for overruling the will of voters, a concern also voiced by Sup. Mark Farrell. 

“I do take this job seriously, that we are public policy makers,” said Kim, a lawyer who emphasized their duty to set clear standards for officials during these unprecedented proceedings rather than being swayed by emotional responses to conduct by Mirkarimi that she called “incredibly egregious.”

But for most of the supervisors, that was enough. Sup. Eric Mar, who is in the middle of difficult reelection campaign against the more conservative and well-financed David Lee, said he thought is was important to have “zero tolerance” for domestic violence and his vote was “in the service of justice and a belief it will combat domestic violence.”

Earlier in the hearing, Kim had led the questioning of Deputy City Attorney Sherri Kaiser, whose broad interpretation of official misconduct standards and inability to set clear guidelines troubled Kim, just as it had earlier to Ethics Commission Chair Benedict Hur, the sole vote on that body against removal after it conducted six months worth of hearings.

“I agree with Chairman Hur, I think we need to take the most narrow view of official misconduct,” Kim said, echoing a point that had also been made by Campos, who quoted Hur’s comment from the Aug. 16 hearing where the commission voted 4-1 to recommend removal: “I have a lot of concern about where you draw the line if you don’t relate this to official duties.”

Farrell also shared that concern, which he raised in questioning Kaiser and during the final board deliberations almost seven grueling hours later. 

“I worry a great deal about the potential for abuse in this charter section,” Farrell said, warning this and future mayors to use great caution and restraint before bringing official misconduct charges. Yet he still found that the “totality of the circumstances” warranted removal because Mirkarimi had compromised his ability to be the top law enforcement officer.

Each supervisor expressed what a difficult and joyless decision this was, and even those who supported Mirkarimi strongly condemned his actions and the efforts by some of his supporters to minimize the seriousness of his actions and the need for him to change.

“I have tremendous mixed feelings about Ross Mirkarimi,” Avalos said, noting his many proud progressive accomplishments but adding, “I’ve always seen Ross as someone who has deep flaws….[This saga] offers a chance for personal transformation and I think that’s something Ross really needs to do.”

Mirkarimi seems humbled by the hearing, and the stinging criticism of his former colleagues and his one-time allies in the domestic violence community, and he pledged to work on “regaining their trust” as he tries to embody the city’s long-held value on redemption.

“I appreciate all the comments of by the Board of Supervisors and I hear the message. The next step is mending fences and moving forward,” Mirkarimi said. Later, he told reporters, “We’re absorbing all the comments that were made by the Board of Supervisors. They are my former colleagues and I take it very seriously.”

That need to heal the deep and emotional divide between San Franciscans who see this case in starkly different ways – which was on vivid display during the hours of public testimony – was sounded by several supervisors. “We will need to come together as a city on this,” Board President David Chiu said.

Most of those who spoke during the nearly four hours in public comments favored Mirkarimi and condemned the efforts to remove him as politically motivated, overly judgmental, and setting a dangerous precedent rather than resorting to usual method for removing politicians after a scandal: recall elections.

“If anything happens to the man, it should come back to me to make that decision. Don’t do their dirty work for them,” one commenter said.

The most politically significant person to speak during public comment was former Mayor Art Agnos, who said he was a friend and supporter of Mirkarimi, but he was more concerned with the scary implications of this decision. “I respectfully urge that this Board protect all elected officials from the dangerous discretion used in this case and reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.”

Most of those who spoke against Mirkarimi were domestic violence advocates, who were adamant that Mirkarimi be removed, casting it as a litmus test for whether the city takes their issue seriously. “This is a disciplinary proceeding, it is not election stealing,” said Beverly Upton, head of the Domestic Violence Consortium, who has lead the campaign to oust Mirkarimi since the incident was made public.

But the two sides seemed to be speaking past one another, each expressing righteous indignation that people didn’t see the issue like they did, indicating how polarizing these long-lingering proceedings have become and how difficult to heal that rift may be.

“It made my stomach turn to hear some of the comments that were made,” Sup. Carmen Chu said, condemning the actions of Mirkarimi supporters in vocally or visibly supporting one another. “That was wrong, this is not a joyous event.”

Yet Farrell said he was also concerned that Mirkarimi’s opponents would go after supervisors who made a principled stand against removing him. “I hope no one takes pot shots at the people who voted against this,” he said.

That principled stand – condemning Mirkarimi’s behavior but having a high standard for removing an elected official – was a trail blazed by Hur, who opened the hearing by presenting the Ethics Commission’s findings and a decision that he was the sole vote against. He noted the “challenge of my presentation” but made careful efforts to accurately represent the views of the commission majority.

Yet he ended up using almost half of his time at the podium — his allotted 10 minutes plus a few extra minutes to respond to questions from supervisors — to stress the danger of broadly interpreting the city’s official misconduct language and not requiring direct connection to an official’s duties.

“Public policy suggests we should interpret this more narrowly than proposed by the majority,” Hur said, later adding that his colleagues on the commission “did not provide a clear basis for how official misconduct is delineated.”

When Sup. Malia Cohen asked what he meant by the “public policy” interest at stake here, he replied, “The need to have policies that are clear…It does benefit the public when the laws are clear.” (Cohen later voted to remove Mirkarimi, stating with little explanation, “I believe the reading of the charter is narrow and appropriately applied in this case.”)

The issue of what qualifies as official misconduct — and whether there is a predictable way for officials to know where that line is drawn, or whether it’s entirely up to the discretion of mayors — was also highlighted by Kaiser’s long presentation, but probably not in the way she intended.

Kaiser appealed to people’s sense of outrage about the initial arm-grab and subsequent guilty plea — claiming Mirkarimi “attacked his wife” and “this conduct was serious!” — and seemed to think that was an adequate test of whether bad behavior by an elected official warrants his unilateral removal from office.

Kaiser took issue with Hur’s contention that a lack of clear, limiting standards gives too much power to future mayors to remove their political enemies for minor incidents.

“The mayor certainly does not agree with Hur’s argument for a bright line rule,” Kaiser said. She mocked the notion that mayors would abuse this expanded power. “The check on that is the Ethics Commission, and the check on that is this body.” Kaiser’s position was that the statute should be read as broadly as possible and that the process should be trusted to protect against political manipulations.

But Chiu also took issue with that standard, saying “having clarity in the law seems to make sense” and asking Kaiser how officials can know what standards they’re expected to meet.

“I don’t agree and I didn’t mean to convey the standard is murky,” Kaiser replied, but as she tried to elaborate, her standard began to seem ever murkier.

“It depends on the circumstance,” Kaiser said. “But that doesn’t make it too vague to apply. It makes it more nimble.”

A nimble standard might suit mayors just fine, but the idea seemed to bother the supervisors, even Farrell, who told Kaiser that her position “seems to me very contradictory.”

At the end of the hearing, Campos returned to Kaiser’s “nimble” comment as a reason for rejecting that argument and Lee’s charges: “I don’t think the analysis made me comfort. She said the interpretation was nimble, but I don’t know the difference between nimble and vague, and I think they are one in the same.”

“Most cases will be clear, but there are decisions on the periphery,” Kaiser told Farrell during the earlier questioning, not making it clear which category she’d put the Mirkarimi case into.

Kim was the next to try to pin Kaiser down on whether there’s a discernible standard for the city to apply to this and future cases, saying she’d like to see a “bright line rule or a test.” Kaiser said that it depends on the office, but that a law enforcement officer shouldn’t commit a crime.

“Then any misdemeanor the sheriff pleads to is official misconduct, is that right?” Kim asked.

No, she said, the conduct must be while someone is in office — seemingly contradicting her earlier point – and found to be so by the board and commission. But then she said, “It is true that any misdemeanor relates to the duties of a sheriff.”

Kim persisted: “This is where I get stuck. When does it fall below the standard of decency?”

“The charter doesn’t answer that question. It’s a case-by-case determination,” Kaiser said.

“What’s to guide us in the future?” Kim asked.

But again, there was no clear answer, it’s simply for mayors to decide. “It is a discretionary decision,” Kaiser said.

Kim, a lawyer, questioned whether the stance by Kaiser and Lee could lead the courts to strike down the city’s untested statute. “Does that open us up to the vagueness issue, which would make the clause unconstitutional?” Kim asked.

But Kaiser said San Francisco voters wanted to give the mayor wide power to interpret misconduct when they approved the broad new official misconduct language in 1995, part of a complete overhaul of the City Charter.

“Voters made a considered choice to put suspend and remove procedures in the charter,” she said, trying to counter the argument that recall elections should be used to remove elected officials. “These suspension and removal procedure is more nimble. It’s less expensive than a recall.”

Yet with a final price tag expected to be in the millions of dollars and proceedings lasting seven months, it’s debatable whether this process was really cheaper and more nimble.

Mirkarimi attorney David Waggoner began his presentation by saying, “There’s no question that on Dec. 31, 2011, Ross Mirkarimi made a terrible mistake.”

But it was a mistake that Mirkarimi admitted to, accepted the criminal punishment that followed his guilty plea, endured a forced six-month separation from his family, had his job and salary taken from him, was the target of a media and political campaigns that have deeply damaged his reputation, “his entire life’s work was destroyed almost in an instant.” All for pleading to a low-level misdemeanor.

“At the end of the day, the punishment does not fit the crime,” Waggoner said.

He noted that just three elected officials have been removed for official misconduct in the city’s history, each time for serious felonies. But now, it’s being applied to a misdemeanor with arguments that broaden a mayor’s ability to remove political adversaries.

“You must decide whether to uphold or overturn the will of the voters,” Waggoner told the supervisors.

He even took a swipe at the domestic violence advocates who have led the campaign to remove Mirkarimi: “Ironically, the very advocates who should be defending Eliana Lopez have been attacking her.”

Taking over from Waggoner, Mirkarimi’s other attorney, Shepard Kopp, said Mirkarimi had no official duties before taking the oath of office, and the charter makes clear there needs to be connection. “It says misconduct has to occur while an official is in office.”

Kopp also brought the focus back to the precedent in this historic case. “The other problem with the mayor’s position is it doesn’t give you any guidance or future mayors any guidance,” Kopp said, later adding, “To follow the mayor’s position is not workable policy and it doesn’t have any support under the law.”

Supervisors questioned Kopp and Waggoner, but it didn’t seem to reveal any new insights, simply reinforcing their points that official misconduct should be a rarely used tool applied only to serious crimes.

In her final five-minute final rebuttal, rather than letting her co-counsel Peter Keith speak or trying to mitigate some of the damage from her earlier testimony, Kaiser seemed to double-down on her tactic of using emotional arguments rather than addressing legal standards for removal.

She alleged Mirkarimi’s team offered “a theory that domestic violence doesn’t matter if you’re sheriff,” prompting an audible negative reaction from the crowd that Chiu gaveled down. That reaction was even louder and more outraged when Kaiser implied Mirkarimi “threatens the life of a family member.”

Those sorts of characterizations fed much of the crowd’s stated belief that this case was a “political witchhunt” designed to destroy a progressive leader, and the opposition expressed to some domestic violence advocates testimony could be used against the larger progressive community.

But Agnos, who sat in the audience throughout the long hearing, told us the frustration was understandable. “The crowd, after nine months of agony, expressed a lot of emotions, and that is inherent in mass crowds,” he said. “They didn’t mean ill will to the domestic violence community. There was no malevolent intent there.”

Supervisors who voted to reinstate Mirkarimi said they want to make clear their commitment to combating domestic violence. “I worry that this case has set us back because of the tensions around how we responded,” Avalos said.

“I think it’s important that no matter how we feel about this that we come together as a city,” Campos said. “People on both sides have legitimate viewpoints on this issue.”

Rally for Ross at noon today on the City Hall steps


Join Sheriff Michael Hennessey; Mayor Art Agnos; Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the UFW & Medal of Freedom Recipient; Supervisors Sophie Maxwell, Harry Britt, Doris Ward, Willie Kennedy and Carol Ruth Silver; Public Defender Geoff Brown, and others in calling for the reinstatement of Sheriff Mirkarimi this Tuesday before the Board of Supervisors Vote.


The San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, SF Labor Council, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Latino Democratic Club, Bernal Heights Democratic Club, District 5 Democratic Club, Padres Unidos, Bay Area Iranian Democrats, SF Green Party, San Francisco Guardian, Bay Area Reporter, Sunset Beacon, and Central City Democrats all Support Reinstatement!!

Come to the rally and show your support too!!!

Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the UFW, Medal of Freedom Recipient, Eliana Lopez and Friend

 If you can not make the Rally – Please call you supervisor today – Let them know you Stand with Ross and will not stand for anything but reinstatement!

Click to Donate to the Ross Mirkarimi Legal Defense Fund

or by sending a check to:
Ross Mirkarimi Legal Defense Fund
721 Webster Street
San Francisco, CA 94117


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


(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.  



Guardian Voices: Stop and Frisk didn’t work last time


Mayor Lee’s musings before the Chronicle editorial board, in which he revealed his thoughts about instituting a “stop and frisk” policy in San Francisco, set off a very quick negative responses from two of his high-profile supporters in the African American community, Willie Brown and Supervisor Malia Cohen. But that’s only part of the surprise the mayor will face if he pursues this policy.

It wasn’t a real good week for Mayor Lee, who seemed to repeatedly trip himself up:

— In  the chat about stop and frisk;
— In the admission at a Board of  Supervisors hearing by Sutter/CPMC that the economic modeling of the hospital chain’s proposed  project so undermined key elements of the deal that Mayor Lee demanded that it be redone;
— And in his testimony before the Ethics Commission on the Mirkarimi case that brought specific charges of  perjury he has yet to answer.

But the stop and frisk was the most sobering of the three, for it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of the city that he seeks to govern and an astounding insensitivity to its not-too-distant past.

The last time stop and frisk was implemented by the San Francisco Police Department was in 1974, at the height of the “Zebra” murders during which, over a six-month period from the end of 1973 to the beginning of 1974, 16 whites were murdered and another six wounded (one of whopm was a young Art Agnos) in shootings using a similar caliber hand gun. What made sensational headlines was the fact that the six survivors all agreed that the shooters were  black. 

Mayor Joe Alioto, facing a steep decline in tourist visits to the city and a drumbeat of headlines, surprised eferyone by announcing a stop and frisk policy aimed at young Black males. Within the first week some 500 stops were made. Not a single Zebra suspect was found.

The San Francisco NAACP and ACLU quickly filed suit in Federal Court where the policy was banned as being un-Constitutional racial profiling. The Zebra case was broken using the time tested technique of offering a reward for information. An informant stepped up, and in the summer of 1974, four men were arrested based upon his information. In 1976 the four men were convicted –and the stop and frisk policy had nothing to do with either their arrest or conviction.  Nothing remained of the failed policy for 38 years.

What did remain was a deep and bitter memory of stop and frisk in the San Francisco African-American community — a memory neither Willie Brown nor Malia Cohen forgot.

If the mayor really believes that stop and frisk will work in the face of deep seated community resentment, based on actual local historic experience – for his remarks were all about “getting the guns” off the street in African American neighborhoods — then he has a profound misunderstanding of the nature of San Francisco.

San Francisco is perhaps one of the two or three most humanly diverse cities in North America. There is a bewildering mix of humans in our city, which confronts any policy based upon appearances — such as stop and frisk — with complexities that often render its actual use on the street ineffective. Simply stated, people are not as they seem in San Francisco, and many San Franciscans prefer to live no other way. Good cops understand this and work hard to learn who is who on the street. That’s called community policing and it often works in San Francisco.  

But many times it doesn’t. Let me tell you a personal story.

During the school year, I try to pick up my two grandsons, Jalius and Jacob, every Tuesday. We spend some time together walking from their school, George Peabody, in the Inner Richmond, to the 33 Stanyan bus stop at Clement and Arguello for a bus ride back to the Haight-Ashbury. We walk and talk and then wait for the bus and talk some more.

A few months ago, we were waiting for the bus, the boys sitting on the bench, me standing and talking. I noticed a cop across the street doing a foot patrol, talking to merchants and customers. He kept looking at us. He was Chinese and my grandsons are half Chinese.  Finally, he walked over to us and with a polite smile asked me why was I talking to these children.

I had an idea that was why he came over so I was expecting the question. I smiled back to him and said, proudly, “these are my grandsons, Jalius and Jacob”.  He looked at me and then turned to the boys and said “is he?” They said “yes” and he looked back at me and said “just doing my job,”  and turned and walked away.

And what a tough job it is as people are often other than they look in San Francisco. Old white men are not always what they seem, and young black men are not always what they seem, no matter how low they ware their pants. Policies based upon things being exactly as they appear will be overwhelmed by the human reality of the City of St. Francis.

There is a connection between people in this physically compact city of ours that forms a foundation for a common political outlook when it comes to personal and group rights and freedoms. San Francisco is a center-left city on matters of civil and human rights. Local elections have shown time after time that on civil and human rights the usual political divisions between the various parts of San Francisco don’t obtain. Trying to push a center-right stop and frisk policy on San Francisco will politically isolate Ed Lee, making all other parts of his agenda that much more difficult to accomplish. And as a city we need to get some big things done, quickly. Let’s move on, together, and get them done.

“This was such a wipeout psychologically”: Mirkarimi tells the story Lee didn’t want to hear


As Ross Mirkarimi and his legal team prepare for a trio of legal hearings that could determine the future of his career, the suspended sheriff sat down with the Guardian for nearly two hours in his first extended interview recounting what happened during that fateful New Year’s Eve conflict with his wife, their actions in its aftermath, and whether any of it should cost him his job.

As the story continues to unfold, and the facts come out, it’s becoming more and more clear that neither of two central players – Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, and the neighbor who called the police, Ivory Madison – had any idea how this would play out, or, apparently, any desire for the incident to bring down the elected sheriff.

Mirkarimi has been in a bind for much of the last four months: Because of a pending criminal case, he hasn’t been able to tell his side of the story. And since he pled guilty instead of going to trial, his version of events is only now beginning to trickle out.

And the interview made clear that the man who has in the past been accused of arrogance has lost a lot of his ego.

“This was such a wipeout psychologically,” Mirkarimi said. “It makes me immensely insecure and has left me in vulnerable state.”

He looks it – the elected sheriff’s face is drawn, almost haggard. His once-frequent smile and laughter is almost gone.

>>Read our full Mirkarimi coverage here.

He’s a politician who freely admits he had marital troubles, was in some ways a bad husband, treated his wife poorly and, in an incident sparked by his own anger, physically hurt her. He knows he’s let down his supporters and damaged his once-bright political future.

He’s struggling to keep his job, arguing that the incident has been blown out of proportion and inappropriately used to remove him from elected office, with Mayor Ed Lee showing a reckless disregard for the truth before making the rare decision to institute official misconduct proceedings.

And you don’t have to endorse Mirkarimi’s actions or even agree that he should stay in office to find indications that the mayor’s case against him is shaky and at times clearly unfair.

Judge Harold Kahn will hear arguments today [April 19] that the City Attorney’s Office should be barred for overseeing the official conduct proceedings, and the next day he will hear Mirkarimi’s main challenges to Lee’s actions, including the arguments that the city’s official misconduct statute is unconstitutionally broad and that Mirkarimi was denied due process before being suspended without pay.

Then, on April 23, the Ethics Commission will convene to discuss procedures for handling the case.

Some key issues that could affect the outcomes of the city and court processes involve what Mirkarimi actually did – as opposed to what others have suggested he did. The whole thing may hinge on whether the sheriff did anything to hinder the domestic violence investigation, what his plea deal to official misconduct entailed – and whether the mayor made efforts to differentiate between fact and rumor.  

But let’s start at the beginning, just before lunchtime on New Year’s Eve, with a story that Mirkarimi told in great detail as we peppered him with questions seeking details on what happened, what his motivations and thoughts were at critical junctures, and what it all meant.

Around 11:45 am on Dec. 31, Mirkarimi, Lopez, and their nearly three-year-old son, Theo, got into their red 1998 Dodge Caravan to go to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria. Just before leaving their house on Webster Street, the couple had started talking about how Lopez wanted to take Theo on a trip to her native Venezuela to visit her father, who is battling cancer.

“It was not an unfamiliar topic,” Mirkarimi said, recounting how it had become an issue of increasing concern by him after her three previous trips had each been extended. They had been having marital problems, and he told us he was concerned that she might not come back – or that Theo could be at risk of kidnapping.

“We didn’t have a plan and there was no permission,” Mirkarimi said, with “permission” meaning his written permission to take their son out of the country, which he had learned from a lawyer was required. “The body of our quarrel on Dec. 31 is we need a plan.”

But Lopez told him in the car than she had also talked to an attorney and she contested that it was as clear-cut as Mirkarimi claimed. He later learned that the “attorney” Lopez was referring to was their neighbor, Ivory Madison, a writer who had attended law school and noted her “legal training” on the website she ran with her husband, lawyer Abraham Mertens. But Madison hadn’t taken the bar exam and wasn’t licensed to practice law in California.

“This was a sucker punch, it really walloped me,” Mirkarimi said of the news that Lopez was speaking with an attorney, and it made him angry. “I was acting inappropriately, I swore at my wife and said ‘where is this coming from?’ So I could have handled it better.”

“I decided, because we were quarreling, to make the unilateral decision against Eliana’s wishes to turn the car around,” he said.

This, he contends, was the act that constituted false imprisonment, the misdemeanor charge that he pled guilty to last month in exchange for prosecutors dropping misdemeanor charges of domestic violence, dissuading a witness, and child endangerment. Mirkarimi contends this was the only point in their conflict in which he restrained his wife’s freedom. Other reports suggest that he didn’t let her leave the house shortly after the conflict, which he denies.

Mirkarimi’s criminal attorney, Lidia Stiglich, told us false imprisonment is a very broad term, and because it was such low-level charge, there wasn’t a specific action it covered. In other words there’s nothing factual in the legal record or anywhere supporting the notion that Mirkarimi actually held his wife against her will.

“You don’t need to agree to a factual basis to plead to a misdemeanor,” Stiglich said, noting that Mirkarimi’s interpretation is reasonable, but prosecutors might mean something different by it. “We can agree to disagree,” she said, although she acknowledges that vagueness has opened him up to a variety of interpretations in the political arena.

In other words, the notion that a sheriff, who oversees the jails, has pled guilty of false imprisonment looks just terrible, and has been been played up in the press. But it’s not clear that he actually imprisoned anyone, beyond refusing to take his wife and son to lunch. It’s an oddity of law, and the nuance doesn’t play well in a scandal-crazed media.  

But back to the day of the incident.

“I was loud, I was gruff, I was just pissed off, and I am ashamed of my behavior,” Mirkarimi said. By the time they got back home, the sheriff-elect had calmed down, but Lopez was getting increasingly angry at being mistreated.

He said she quickly got out of the car and was brusquely trying to remove Theo, who was crying and upset over his parents’ conflict, from his car seat. “I got scared because Theo was in danger a little bit,” he said, his voice choking up and eyes filled with tears, saying that he reached back and grabbed Lopez’s right arm, with three fingers under her arm, while he was still seatbelted into the front seat.

“Eliana reacted like, get away from me, and she tugged her arm,” he said. “The incident was minutes.”

Inside the house, tensions quickly de-escalated, he said, and they didn’t discuss the conflict again that day. They went grocery shopping together, brought home takeout for dinner, and Lopez went out briefly that night while Mirkarimi stayed home with their son.

But the next morning, she showed him the bruise that had formed on her right bicep where he grabbed her. “She said, ‘Look,’ and it just crushed me,” Mirkarimi said, adding that he apologized for hurting her and that he agreed to go to couples counseling.

Lopez had been asking her husband to seek counseling for some time, he acknowledged, and he’d been putting it off. “I take full blame that that didn’t happen earlier,” he said.

Then, mid-morning, Lopez told him that she was going to talk with their neighbors, Madison and Mertens, who Mirkarimi considered “nice people. They were supporters during my race, but I didn’t know them that well.” He said that he didn’t think much of it or worry that she might talk about the previous day’s incident, although he said he did make the connection after she left that perhaps this was the “lawyer” Lopez has referred to the day before – something she later confirmed.

From Mirkarimi’s perspective, the next few days were uneventful. The family left for a long-planned vacation to Monterey the next day, staying at the Intercontinental Hotel and taking Theo to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He said they talked “a little” about their New Year’s Eve conflict. “We were trying to gauge each other and our comfort level in talking about this,” he said. 

But Mirkarimi didn’t know about the storm that was brewing. He said he had no idea that Lopez had heeded Madison’s suggestion on Jan. 1 to make a video in which Lopez tearfully recounted the grabbing incident and displayed her bruise. Lopez, a former Venezuelan soap opera star, has consistently denied publicly that Mirkarimi ever abused her and has said, directly and through attorney Paula Canny, that the video was intended solely to be used in child custody proceedings if their marriage continued to devolve and that Lopez assumed she was getting legal advice and that the communications were private and subject to attorney-client privilege.

But Madison, who has not returned calls from the Guardian or other media outlets, wrestled with whether to go to the police and sought counsel on the question from several people, as information obtained by Mirkarimi’s team during discovery showed, including Phil Bronstein, the former editor for the Examiner and Chronicle who now chairs the board of the Center for Investigation and Bay Citizen.

Madison had two phone conversations with Bronstein, the veteran journalist told us. He said he knew Madison socially and “she gave me a brief narrative of the events.

“I said you should do whatever you think you should do to keep Eliana safe,” Bronstein told us.

Bronstein said he doesn’t know what happened between Mirkarimi and Lopez, but he understood from Madison that she was acting on behalf of Lopez, that the two women were communicating by text and e-mail, and that “I got the impression that Eliana was still trying to figure out what she wanted to do.”

“Eliana was continuing to e-mail with Ivory, saying he was being nicer now,” Bronstein said, but Madison was still concerned enough that she didn’t want to let the incident go, so Bronstein said she decided to call the San Francisco Police Department on Jan. 4 to get information on whether domestic violence incidents could be reported several days after they occurred, a decision he learned about after the fact.

“Ivory called the police hotline hypothetically to get information on when they can file,” Bronstein said, recounting a phone conversation they had on the afternoon of Jan. 4. But he said Madison was told by police that she could be charged with obstruction of justice for not reporting a crime – which isn’t exactly true under California law – and that SFPD had sent officers to her house to discuss the matter.

Shortly after that visit from police, Madison called Bronstein to tell him the story. “She was surprised that an inquiry had triggered a police investigation,” Bronstein said. Madison’s initial refusal to turn the videotape over to police, who needed a court order to seize it, is another indication that perhaps she didn’t want this case to explode the way it did.

In one version of events that Bronstein has discussed, Madison told him she wanted to help Lopez get in touch with three people who might be able to talk to Mirkarimi and convince him to seek counseling. Madison asked Bronstein if he had phone numbers for Aaron Peskin, Mike Hennessey and Art Agnos.

The odd thing about that is that Lopez already knew the three, and that their contact information was in the couple’s house.

But Mirkarimi had no idea any of this was going on, or even that his wife had discussed their conflict with Madison and made the videotape. “Everything happened on the 4th of January and literally I was the last one to know,” Mirkarimi told us.

Months later, Mertens wrote an op-ed for the Chronicle (“A neighbor’s side of Ross Mirkarimi case,” 3/20) in which he alleges Mirkarimi “paid a team of lawyers to relentlessly attempt to discredit, dissuade, and harm my wife,” although he didn’t return Guardian calls seeking comment or clarification of what he meant.

“The last time I spoke to Eliana was when she called me on Jan. 4. I recognized what I thought was Ross’ voice in the background as Eliana pressured me to destroy evidence and lie to the police. Then she repeatedly called Ivory, demanding that Ivory destroy the video, e-mail and texts from Eliana about the incident,” Mertens wrote. The allegation was parroted in the city’s official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi, which claim he “or his agents” sought to destroy evidence and obstruct the investigation.

But Mirkarimi and his lawyers say the charge is simply untrue. “The idea that he sought to get the videotape back or destroy it is nonsense,” Waggoner said, noting that Mirkarimi wasn’t even home as these events unfolded – on that fateful January day, he attended a ceremony marking the demolition of the old jail and then was in a long Budget Committee meeting, followed by a farewell celebration from the Local Agency Formation Commission. In other words, he couldn’t have been “in the background” during that call.

In fact, as far as we can tell, there is no evidence anywhere that Mirkarimi ever contacted Madison or Mertens. “I never talked to Ivory Madison and I never talked to her husband, Abraham Mertens, after any of this happened,” Mirkarimi said.

Mirkarimi said that Lopez first told him that she had told Madison about the grabbing incident by phone on the afternoon of Jan. 4, shortly after Madison told her in the street that she had called the police and they were on the way. Lopez didn’t know what to do and wanted to come meet her husband near City Hall. The officers that came tried to talk to Lopez, but she refused.

“She was panicked because she thought things were getting out of control with this neighbor and she asked for my recommendation,” Mirkarimi said, noting that Lopez literally ran from their home to City Hall and met Mirkarimi outside on Grove Street. It was then, he said, that Lopez first told Mirkarimi about making the videotape.

Mirkarimi said he greeted the news with stunned disbelief, and that his first instinct was to try to help his panic-stricken wife, but that he didn’t know what to do. “She was petrified about what was going on…She was frantic and I was getting frantic too,” he said. “I didn’t have a remedy, except oh my God, I think we need an attorney.”

They made a couple calls to find an attorney, and he said Lopez had the idea of having their friend, Linnette Peralta Haynes, a domestic violence advocate with the Our Family Coalition, reach out to Madison about why she had gone to police and what could be done at that point. “I had no idea what they were going to talk about,” Mirkarimi claims. Peralta Haynes didn’t return our calls and she is reportedly being sought as a witness by the City Attorney’s Office in the official misconduct proceedings.

Mirkarimi is adamant that he never did anything to gain possession of the videotape, dissuade his wife or any other witnesses from talking to police or prosecutors, or otherwise interfere with the investigation, even though Lopez was appealing to him to do something.

“She really wanted me to stop it, and I was like, dear, this bell has already rung and I don’t think we can unring it,” Mirkarimi said.

Lopez has said publicly that she felt betrayed by Madison, and Canny filed motions to suppress the video on the grounds of attorney-client privilege, conflicts that seem to have soured the relationship between the two women and fed feelings by Mertens that Madison was wronged for doing the right thing during the media circus that followed.

As a result, as part of Mirkarimi’s plea deal last month, the District Attorney’s Office insisted that Mirkarimi publicly apologize to Madison. It was an odd demand, since nobody (other than an op-ed writer in the Chron who gave no substantiation for his charges) had ever said that Mirkarimi had any contact at all with Madison.

DA’s spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman explained the insistence to us this way: “Ivory Madison’s actions were courageous. She found herself in a difficult situation trying to protect a friend who was in danger. In a surprising and disappointing turn, she was vilified for this act of courage. She suffered much unnecessary public scrutiny.”

Stillman wouldn’t deviate from that prepared statement when we asked specifically what Mirkarimi had done to Madison – or if there was any indication that the sheriff had ever done anything to “vilify” her – but she did said that the insistence on that direct apology was about encouraging witnesses of domestic violence, an underreported crime, to come forward. “We didn’t want other witnesses to be discouraged from reporting crimes after seeing what Ivory Madison went through,” she said.

Yet Stiglich said Canny’s motions and the divisions that developed between Lopez and Madison had nothing to do with Mirkarimi: “There were lot of actions taken by Eliana’s lawyers that caused a backlash that affected Ross.”

It’s not a minor issue: The allegation that Mirkarimi attempted to dissuade witnesses and used his official position to gain advantage is central to the mayor’s formal misconduct charges. But Mirkarimi and Stiglich maintain that there is nothing in the public record that supports the charge that he dissuaded witnesses or that he used his position as sheriff to gain advantage either before or after the incident.

“I was very surprised to see the allegation from the Mayor’s Office about dissuasion [of witnesses or interfering with the investigation] because there was no evidence of that,” Stiglich said. “He was the last person to know there was a video and that police were involved.”

It appears that Mirkarimi thought his guilty plea would end the case – and it was crafted not to give the mayor any grounds for removal. “I would not have entered a plea in a way that would inhibit my ability to be sheriff,” Mirkarimi said. “This was a very lucid conversation.”

In fact, he said, his instinct was to fight the charges all the way. “We were dying to go to trial,” Mirkarimi said.

But the cops and the DA’s Office did an excellent job of creating pre-trial publicity that made it almost impossible for Mirkarimi to get an impartial jury pool. Jury surveys showed that more than 70 percent of the potential jurors had already formed a negative opinion about Mirkarimi based on news coverage, he said.  

He has belatedly sought to address other oft-repeated misimpressions, disputing telling his wife that he would get custody because “I am a powerful man” (he says he told her the U.S. has powerful child custody laws) and saying journalists have distorted his comment that the conflict was “a private matter.”

In a charge that will be central to the upcoming legal battles, Mirkarimi and his attorneys say Mayor Lee wasn’t interested in hearing from Mirkarimi or discovering the truth about what happened before deciding to suspend Mirkarimi without pay and bring official misconduct charges against him. That, they say, denied the elected sheriff his due-process rights.

In his sworn affidavit in the case, Lee characterized his March 19 meeting with Mirkarimi – which he began by asking Mirkarimi to resign within 24 hours or be suspended – this way: “I explained to Sheriff Mirkarimi that I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk to me about this issue. It was a free flowing conversation with no time constraints. Sheriff Mirkarimi told me that he has not yet told his side of the story. I said, Okay, and waited for him to tell me his side of the story. He did not. Instead, after pausing, he asked me whether the suspension was based on his conduct as Sheriff. I responded that it was based on his conduct as a public official. I paused again and waited for Sheriff Mirkarimi to give me whatever information he thought important. He did not. Instead, Sheriff Mirkarimi asked me whether the suspension would be with or without pay. I told him it would be without pay. After giving him another chance to ask questions or give more information, I told Mr. Mirkarimi to consider my instruction to resign over the next 24 hours.”

But Mirkarimi said that narrative isn’t accurate or complete. He had sought to talk with Lee the previous week to explain what happened, but Lee refused. And when he showed up to talk to Lee on the March 19, he brought Sheriff’s Department legal counsel Freya Horne with him and asked that she be included in the conversation, but Lee refused, so there were no witnesses to the conversation.

“I went into that meeting with the express purpose to tell the mayor everything…As soon as I walk in the door, he gives me a little bit of preamble and then asks me to resign,”Mirkarimi said. “I said I’d really like you to talk to Eliana, can I give you her phone number? Nothing…I was asking questions and I wasn’t getting answers.”

Asked why he didn’t just start telling the full story, as Lee’s narrative indicates he was ready to hear, Mirkarimi insists that Lee simply informed him of the decision he had made and didn’t want to hear anything else. “He wanted the meeting to end after a minute, and I dragged it out by asking questions,” Mirkarimi said of the 15-minute meeting. Asked why he didn’t take a more forceful position, insisting on Horne being there or telling his full story, Mirkarimi said, “I’m the guy who’s trying to be contrite, not the one to walk in there with muscle.”

But now that those lines have been drawn, Mirkarimi says he intends to mount a vigorous defense, and he has some serious muscle on his legal team, including Waggoner and Shepard Kopp, who has worked on a variety of high profile cases.

Waggoner said the mayor’s affidavit, which he made under penalty of perjury, “is not truthful,” noting the inconsistency between telling Mirkarimi that he had made a decision to suspend him and saying he wanted to hear his side of story.

“That claim is undermined by his statements after when he describes how the meeting went down,” Waggoner said, saying he’s hopeful that the courts will agree that Lee acted inappropriately. “All that language undermines his initial claim that the purpose of the meeting was to gather information.”

That’s a central question: Did the mayor give the sheriff a chance to defend himself before making the highly unusual decision to suspend him? Or did Lee base that decision on evidence (like Mertens’ opinion piece) that lacked substantiation without giving Mirkarimi a chance to rebut it?

In other words, was Lee’s decision already made when he met with Mirkarimi? And if so, did the city’s chief executive deny another elected official the basic legal right to a fair hearing?

That’s what the courts will address.

Then if the case moves forward, the Ethics Commission will hold hearings –and again, Mirkarimi is at a disadvantage. The Mayor’s Office, through the city attorney, is already sending subpoenas to witnesses and preparing testimony. The defense can’t do that – because there are, at this point, no rules of evidence, no rights for the defense to compel testimony and, frankly, nothing for Mirkarimi’s lawyers to go on.

Four of the five members of the Ethics Commission are lawyers. At some point, they’re going to have to find a way to make this case comply to the rule of law.

Mirkarimi claims Lee didn’t care what really happened


UPDATED BELOW Did Mayor Ed Lee ask Ross Mirkarimi what really happened in the conflict with his wife before removing him as sheriff? That question is not only important to understanding Lee and whether he was interested in the truth, but it could also be central to next week’s court hearing on whether Mirkarimi was denied due process before being suspended without pay.

In an interview published today in the New York Times, and in statements made today to the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that he sought to tell Lee the full story but that the mayor wasn’t interested. “He was clear that he was not interested in events or details, which were represented by me, even when I encouraged him,” Mirkarimi told The Bay Citizen, whose content the Times runs. “It was more than one occasion I offered to tell him my side of the story. If I had, it could have dramatically changed the mayor’s understanding of the situation.”

Yet the affidavit by Lee that was submitted to the court this week – which is written under penalty of perjury – paints a very different picture: one of the two men sitting in uncomfortable silence rather than Mirkarimi seizing the chance to shape Lee’s understanding of the situation.

“I asked Sheriff Mirkarimi to meet with me, because I felt that I needed to hear from him and consider what he had to say,” Lee wrote of the March 19 meeting where he gave Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign or be suspended, noting that he had reviewed the court records and “it appeared to me that he had engaged in official misconduct.”

“I explained to Sheriff Mirkarimi that I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk to me about this issue. It was a free flowing conversation with no time constraints. Sheriff Mirkarimi told me that he has not yet told his side of the story. I said, Okay, and waited for him to tell me his side of the story. He did not. Instead, after pausing, he asked me whether the suspension was based on his conduct as Sheriff. I responded that it was based on his conduct as a public official. I paused again and waited for Sheriff Mirkarimi to give me whatever information he thought important. He did not. Instead, Sheriff Mirkarimi asked me whether the suspension would be with or without pay. I told him it would be without pay. After giving him another chance to ask questions or give more information, I told Mr. Mirkarimi to consider my instruction to resign over the next 24 hours,” Lee wrote.

In an exchange of text messages with the Guardian, Mirkarimi maintains that Lee wasn’t interested in hearing from him or his wife, Eliana Lopez, what happened during the New Year’s Eve altercation or in its aftermath.

“On more than one occasion I offered details to Lee. He was either mute or changed the subject. Think about it – why else would they have DHR Miki Callahan [the city’s deputy human resources director] try to depose me after I was suspended without pay – they shoot first, then realize they better ask questions,” Mirkarimi wrote.

We asked why he didn’t use the opportunity of his meeting with Lee to tell his story.

“As I said, I did try. More than once. He wasn’t interested. In fact I told him how painful it’s been to not have contact [with Lopez, whom the court has barred him from contacting] since January 13, and encouraged him to get an independent account from my wife, Eliana; offered her phone number. Lee didn’t take it,” Mirkarimi said.

Paula Canny, Lopez’s attorney, has also said that Lee never tried to reach her and didn’t seem interested in what really happened. But the city’s official misconduct complaint makes a number of unsubstantiated allegations about that incident and what happened since that Mirkarimi and Lopez deny.

For example, the complaint claims that Mirkarimi “or his agents” asked Ivory Madison, the neighbor who helped Lopez make a videotape of her showing a bruise on her arm inflicted by Mirkarimi, to “destroy evidence,” a charge her husband, Abraham Mertens, made in a Chronicle op-ed. But in her own subsequent op-ed, Lopez says that wasn’t true and that Mirkarimi wasn’t even aware of the existence of the tape until after Madison had called the police and told them about it.

In the Times article, Mirkarimi also disputed another key allegation from the formal charges against him: “Sheriff Mirkarimi misused his office, and the status and authority it carries, for personal advantage when he stated to Ms. Lopez that he could win custody of their child because he was very powerful.”

That allegation also came from Madison, who hasn’t responded to calls from the Guardian, the Times, or other media outlets. But Mirkarimi told the Times that what he really told his wife was that California has “powerful” child custody laws that would make it difficult for her to take their son back to Venezuela if they divorced.

“I never said, ever, that I’m a powerful person,” he said. “It’s not even my style. I was quoting in the context of what had been a very familiar and painful reminder that, six months earlier, Eliana had been out of the country with Theo for two and a half months. I was referencing family law.”

Other news broken in the Times story was Mirkarimi disputing that he called the case a “private matter, a family matter,” saying that statement that so outraged domestic violence groups was “distorted by the press.” The article also quotes journalist Phil Bronstein minimizing the phone conversation he had with Madison before she decided to report the Mirkarimi-Lopez incident to the police, saying he only helped Madison contact “three people who Ross was close to” for reasons that weren’t clear. Bronstein, who hasn’t returned our calls on the issue [SEE UPDATE BELOW], was on the witness list for Mirkarimi’s domestic violence trial before Mirkarimi pled guilty to the lesser charge of false imprisonment.

The City Attorney’s Office isn’t commenting on the case, and when we asked the mayor’s Press Secretary Christine Falvey why Lee didn’t seek an account of what happened from Lopez or Mirkarimi, she told us simply, “The Mayor met with Ross Mirkarimi twice to discuss this.”

In the city’s response to Mirkarimi’s lawsuit seeking reinstatement of his pay and position until the official conduct hearings are resolved, which will be heard in Superior Court on April 20, they claim, “The Mayor met personally with Petitioner to discuss his intentions and has repeatedly invited Petitioner to tell his side of the story, an invitation Petitioner has repeatedly declined. But even more fundamentally, the due process claim fails as a matter of law. The constitutional right to due process is triggered only when the government works a deprivation of a legally recognized liberty or property interest.”

The city says caselaw is clear that elected officials can’t claim their office belongs to them. “A public office is always a public trust,” the city argues. But Mirkarimi’s attorneys say all employees have a clear property interest in their salaries, and they say it was illegal, coercive, and unfair to deprive Mirkarimi of his while he goes through the months-long official misconduct process. Police officers are almost always paid during their suspensions.

UPDATE 4/16: The message that I left for Bronstein seeking to speak with him about his conversation with Madison was nearly two weeks ago, and he called to take issue with my statement that he didn’t call back and with my characterization that he “minimized” his conversation with Madison in the New York Times article, although he did characterize their conversation as brief and fairly insignificant.

“Ivory Madison called me to say there were three people that Ross trusts and Eliana might want to get ahold of them, do you have their contact information, and I said I could probably get it,” Bronstein told us, noting that he never contacted any of them on her behalf. Sources tell us the three people were Aaron Peskin, Art Agnos, and Michael Hennessey. “No one was contacted, no information was passed, that was the extent of the conversation.”

Bronstein left those comments in a voicemail. I’m still waiting to talk to him about whether the conversation included talk of the incident and whether police should be involved, and I’ll update this post when I hear back.

Brown says Lee shouldn’t have taken Mirkarimi’s pay away


As Mayor Ed Lee continues to duck questions about why he suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi without pay or due process, even former Mayor Willie Brown – who helped elevate Lee into Room 200 – is second-guessing the decision and its legality.

In his Willie’s World column in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, entitled “Ross Mirkarimi needs cash in struggle to keep his job,” Brown wrote, “And on the salary point, I agree with Mirkarimi: He should not be suspended without pay. He should continue to get paid unless and until he ultimately is found guilty of misconduct by the Board of Supervisors.”

The issue isn’t just one of fairness or of Lee trying to coerce Mirkarimi into resigning to avoid city hearings that will determine whether grabbing his wife’s arm during a New Year’s Eve conflict constitutes official misconduct, as Lee charges. It’s also a specific legal issue, particularly to lawyers like Brown.

Mirkarimi’s attorney, David Waggoner, said it’s not surprising to see Brown publicly undercutting the mayor on this issue. “He’s simply stating what the applicable law is on the subject,” Waggoner told us. In this case, it was the Supreme Court, hearing the case Skelly v. State Personnel Board in 1975, that said an executive can’t just unilaterally take away someone’s livelihood.

“If you’re going to fire public employees, you have to give them notice, you have to let them respond, you need to observe due process,” Waggoner said.

That’s one of three causes of action that Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn will consider in a hearing set for April 18 at 9:30 am, where Mirkarimi is asking the courts to reinstate him and restore his salary pending hearings before the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors that could take months.

Given the pressure being applied by anti-domestic violence groups and many mainstream media voices, Lee may have felt like he had to remove Mirkarimi and that he could just blame supervisors or the process if it didn’t work. But if the courts find Lee acted illegally while attempting to put supervisors in such an untenable position, it could be a serious blow to Lee’s reputation and governing authority.

UPDATE 5 PM: I also placed a call on the issue to former Mayor Art Agnos, who just back to me and he agreed that Lee acted in a way that was unfair and probably illegal. “I think it’s heavy-handed,” said Agnos, who has been supporting Mirkarimi through the ordeal.

Agnos noted that former Sheriff Richard Hongisto served several days in jail for contempt of court for refusing to carry out the evictions of International Hotel tenants, and he never had his pay docked or faced official misconduct charges. “And here, we see the sheriff being charged with something that occurred before he even took office, and it’s a low-grade misdemeanor that he accepted a plea deal on.”

According to Agnos, Mirkarimi told him that during his brief conversation with the mayor, he offered to tell his side of the story and have Lee talk to his wife, Eliana Lopez, as well, but the mayor wasn’t interested. “When you’re the mayor, you like to hear both sides before making a decision,” Agnos said. “But Lee wasn’t interested.”

Mirkarimi takes the oath


The room was packed for the inauguration of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, and for the most part, the crowd wasn’t talking about what Mirkarimi referred to as the “cloud” hanging over the event. He mentioned the investigation into possible domestic violence only that once, then joked that he’d managed to get a lot of press to his event.

There was music, dancing, former Mayor Art Agnos administering the oath of office, a long, long Mirkarimi speech on criminal justice policy (please, Ross, 15 minutes would have been plenty). Most of Mirkarimi’s progressive colleagues (including supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar, state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano) were on hand. And the press conference afterward was surprisingly mild.

Mirkarimi was asked what happened the night in question, and he declined to talk about it, saying the criminal justice system would work its way through the process. Then his wife, Eliana Lopez, interrupted, took the mike, and announced that this was a “family matter” and she would have no more to say – except that she has no complaints about her husband.

That was it. No shouted questions as the sheriff walked away, no 1000-watt camera flashes in his eyes, nothing to indicate that this is the gigantic scandal that it’s become in the daily papers.

But Mirkarimi did make one statement that’s worth mentioning: He said that there were forces in the department (I think he meant the Police Department) that didn’t want to see him as sheriff. That’s absolutely true.

Let me make a few points here.

First, for the record: There’s no excuse for assaulting anyone, and there’s less excuse for assaulting your wife. Domestic violence is a serious, under-reported problem, something all too often dismissed by the authorities – with catastrophic results. Women die because batterers are not held to account. I have close friends who have been in abusive relationships, and it’s not pretty and it’s not a joke and it’s not something to take lightly.

That said: I don’t know what happened that night at Mirkarimi’s house. But I do know that the minute the cops were brought in, it became political.

See, the cops, for the most part, are not Mirkarimi fans. He beat their guy, former Police Officers Association president Chris Cunnie, in the race for sheriff. He’s demanded changes in the department (including foot patrols, which a lot of old-timers don’t like). He also beat a sheriff’s captain. He’s a civilian who is going to run a law-enforcement agency as a civilian, which means he’s not part of the Fraternity.

The news reports about the incident were clearly leaked by the SFPD. So, I’m sure, was the search warrant (that’s a public document, but I honestly don’t think the Examiner tracked it down, I think it was delivered to the paper by a source in the department). Nothing wrong with that – cops (and politicians) tip reporters to stories all the time. I’m not blaming the Chron or the Ex for doing the story – it’s news, you have to report it.

And, of course, if the cops had ignored the case or downplayed it, they would have been criticized for covering up an incident involving the new sheriff.

Again: I’m not excusing Mirkarimi’s behavior (alleged behavior — we don’t know what actually happened). But the way the story and the details were leaked reflects the political reality that the cops don’t love the new sheriff, and a lot of them would be thrilled to take him down. That’s just political reality.

Which means Mirkarimi needs to be very, very careful – there are people watching every single move he makes, every day. And they’re not interested in policy debates.

PS: The D.A. and the cops managed to finish this particular investigation in record time. I wonder what’s happened to the investigation into possible vote fraud in the Ed Lee campaign. Months have passed. Nobody is facing any charges. There are no police leaks about anyone involved. Funny, that.

Sup. Elsbernd ducks more Impertinent Questions


Well, I am sad to report that my neighborhood supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, has once again refused to answer my Impertinent Questions and to say if he voted for Ed Lee for mayor. Perhaps I will tell you, he says, perhaps not and he chose to perhaps not. He has thus refused to shed light on his role in one of the most fateful nominations in San Francisco history.

 Here’s the latest version of the almost famous Que Syrah correspondence between Elsbernd and me on these critical Impertinent Questions. (As attentive readers of this blog know, I have been trying for months to get Elsbernd to meet me to talk about these questions at Que Syrah, a nifty little wine bar in the West Portal area of Elsbernd’s district. I am still trying.)

 When Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and the downtown gang were plotting their move  to outfox the progressives in City Hall in January  and install Ed Lee as the interim mayor, they chose Sean Elsbernd to take the lead and nominate Lee for this crucial job.

 He intoned at the time and later in writing to me that he was nominating Lee only on condition that Lee would serve as an interim mayor to fulfill the vacancy created by then Mayor Newsom who was off to Sacramento as the newly elected lieutenant governor. Lee, Elsbernd emphasized, thumping the lectern, would not run for mayor.

 Well, the Guardian and many progressives and I said at the time that this was just the Willie and Rose play, to get Lee in as interim mayor and then roll him over to run for mayor in the fall with the major advantage of incumbency.

 And so when Lee as we expected changed his mind and ran for mayor, Elsbernd was left in the position of being a key player in the plot to put Lee into the mayor’s office under false pretenses. And of course in the process he would ace out two more qualified candidates, former Mayor Art Agnos, and retiring sheriff Mike Hennessey.. Both were ready to serve as interim mayor and both pledged they would not run for mayor and most important neither would operate as enablers for Willie, Rose, and their undisclosed clients. (Willie, for starters, is on a  $200,000 plus a year retainer for PG&E, according to PG&E filings with the California Public Utilities Commission.)

 When the tide of sleaze started rising in the mayor’s office and Willie, Rose, and the gang were pounding on Lee to run, I asked Elsbernd another Impertinent Question: Would he have nominated Lee if he knew Lee was going to reverse field and run for mayor?

Elsbernd replied that he had not endorsed anyone, but that “I have been most attracted to the candidacies of City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisors Alioto-Pier and Bevan Dufty.” He said that these three have the “right combination of qualifications, experience, intelligence, skills and integrity to serve as mayor. Should Mayor Lee run for election, I would only consider endorsing his effort under one circumstance—if, and only if, I was convinced that without his candidacy, Sen. Leland Yee would be elected. That is, if I see that no one else can beat Sen, Yee other than Mayor Lee, then I would support a Mayor Lee campaign. At this point, I’m not convinced of that—I still think any one of the three I mentioned above could beat Sen.Yee.”

Just before election day when Lee was running solidly ahead in the polls, I posed more Impertinent Questions to Elsbernd: who did he support for mayor and why? He replied that he had not yet voted and had not endorsed a candidate and then stated, “Talk to me on November 9 and perhaps I’ll tell you who I voted for. Rest assured, the Bay Guardian’s endorsements will certainly influence my decision-making process.”

And again,  after Lee won handily thanks in large part to the decisive advantage that Elsbernd helped give him, I took Elsbernd up on his promises and emailed him more Impertinent Questions: Who  did he vote for and why? He ducked again and asked me to read his “original email” and to note the significance of the word “perhaps.”

Perhaps he would tell me, perhaps he wouldn’t tell me. He chose not to tell me, and the rest of his constituents,  why he made the nomination as a “neighborhood” supervisor  that helped return Willie, Rose, and the downtown gang to power in City Hall.

His explanation was classic Elsberndese and I quote it in full in all of its elegance.

”Another e-mail?  Another entry in your blog? And now a deadline?  At what point am I going to start receiving a byline in the “Guardian?” I am not going to share with you and your readers for whom I voted.  I’ll keep that one between me and my ballot.  I voted for 3 candidates who I believed had integrity, intelligence , and some grasp of the daunting fiscal challenges facing the State and the City.

“Am I happy with the results?  Again, I’m going to deflect that question because I have learned in the short time I’ve been around here, that focussing on wins and losses of past elections can take you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never recover.  Rather, the most pragmatic thing I can do for my constituents, which is, after all, what I am here to do, is to recognize the result, accept it, and move forward with it.  Ed Lee is now San Francisco’s Mayor-elect, and I am very excited about being able to work with him during my remaining 13 months in office.  He and I worked extremely well together in developing Proposition C, which the voters overwhelmingly endorsed (and, yes, thank you to the Guardian for your endorsement – you actually got a few right this year).

“We have had some policy disagreements (e.g.  Proposition B), but I have always found him to be open to dialogue, extremely deliberate and thoughtful, and, most importantly, honest.  When we have disagreed, he has explained why and has done so with a logical argument.  While that may sound simple, I can assure you, that is a rare characteristic in this building and it is one I very much appreciate. Have fun parsing this e-mail apart.”

Final Impertinent Questions: If Elsbernd really finds Lee “open to dialogue, extremely deliberate and thoughtful and most importantly honest” and Lee explains his disagreements with Elsbernd with “a logical argument,” how in the world does Elsbernd explain the months of lies and deceptions by Lee before he decided, gosh, golly, gee, that he changed his mind and  was running for mayor after all? How does Elsbernd explain how the sleaze continues to rise in Lee’s office?  How does Elsbernd explain why, as a “neighborhood” supervisor, that he has once again followed the Willie Brown/RosePak/downtown gang agenda by introducing a June 2012 charter amendment to repeal rank choice voting, with public financing and perhaps even district elections in his gun sights? Wasn’t this all part of the master plan to gut progressive measures to level the playing field on local  elections?

Sean? Sean? Let’s talk about all of this this over flights of the wondrous wines from small, locally owned wineries and the Barcelona -style tapas served up  at Que Syrah. To that end, I will keep sending you the notices of Que Syrah special events. B3



Is SF moving to the right?


The Bay Citizen/New York Times thinks so. The headline on the story — “more conservative is the new normal” — says it all. Matt Smith (formerly of our price-fizing rival SF Weekly) and Gerry Shih say the Nov. 8 election signals a turn to the right for this famously liberal city:

But Tuesday’s election signaled a palpable shift: In addition to Lee, a pro-business moderate, voters overwhelmingly picked George Gascón, the law-and-order former police chief — and former Republican — as district attorney.

“To whoever thinks San Francisco is loopy and left-wing, this election basically said, ‘No, it’s really not,’” said David Latterman, associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. “We just elected an ex-Republican, pro-death penalty district attorney by a landslide. Just ponder that.”

Well: It’s interesting that they call Lee a “pro-business moderate,” which is probably accurate but differs from how Lee’s more progressive supporters see the new mayor. But while they talk about Gascon, they conveniently leave out the fact that San Francisco has elected the first solid progressive to a citywide office in a long, long time. Ross Mirkarimi — a former Green Party member and without a doubt one of the most left-leaning supervisors — won a tight, contested race for sheriff running honestly as a progressive. I think you have to go back to 1987, when Art Agnos ran for mayor as the candidate of the left, to find another example of a progressive champion winning all across town.

The interesting element of all of this — and something I think Smith and Shih got absolutely right — is that the demographic makeup of the city is changing, and has been for a while:

“From a political perspective, the tech companies are employing young workers who often prefer to live in San Francisco, even if they commute to Silicon Valley, said Wade Randlett, a Bay Area technology executive and top fund-raiser for President Obama.”

Wade Randlett is not my favorite person in local politics, but the point he makes is valid — and it’s not happening by accident. Virtually all of the new housing that’s been built in San Francisco in the past decade has been aimed at wealthy people, a lot of them young tech types who commute from the city to Silicon Valley. The other people moving into new housing are empty-nest retirees from places like Marin County. If you walk through the new condo buildings in Soma, the residents are mostly white, with a few Asians; there are almost no African Americans, very few families and essentially zero working-class people.

For years, downtown groups (including Randlett’s former employer, SFSOS) have pushed for this kind of housing, and some of them have been very open about their goal: By bringing in more rich people and tech workers, you can change the politics of the city. Housing activist Calvin Welch puts it succinctly: Who lives here, votes here.

That’s the reason why land use and housing are so critically important in this town. If poor and working-class people are pushed out to make way for a more upscale set of residents, then progressives who talk about taxing the wealthy to provide services for the poor will have a harder time getting elected.

It’s not a conspiracy; it’s an open, stated policy goal of the people who spent vast sums of money electing Ed Lee.



The selling of Ed Lee


Ed Lee has gone through a remarkable makeover in the last year, transformed from the mild-mannered city bureaucrat who reluctantly became interim mayor to a political powerhouse backed by wealthy special interests waging one of the best-funded and least transparent mayoral campaigns in modern San Francisco history.

The affable anti-politician who opened Room 200 up to a variety of groups and individuals that his predecessor had shut out — a trait that won Lee some progressive accolades, particularly during the budget season — has become an elusive mayoral candidate who skipped most of the debates, ducked his Guardian endorsement interview, and speaks mostly through prepared public statements peppered with contradictions that he won’t address.

The old Ed Lee is still in there somewhere, with his folksy charm and unshakable belief that there’s compromise and consensus possible on even the most divisive issues. But the Ed Lee that is running for mayor is largely a creation of the political operatives who pushed him to break his word and run, from brazen power brokers Willie Brown and Rose Pak to political consultants David Ho and Enrique Pearce to the wealthy backers who seek to maintain their control over the city.

So we thought it might be educational to retrace the steps that brought us to this moment, as they were covered at the time by the Guardian and other local media outlets.

Caretaker mayor

The story begins quite suddenly on Jan. 4, when the Board of Supervisors convened to consider a replacement for Gavin Newsom, who had been elected lieutenant governor but delayed his swearing-in to prevent the board from choosing a progressive interim mayor who might then have an advantage in the fall elections. Newsom and other political centrists insisted on a “caretaker mayor” who pledged to vacate the office after serving the final year of the current term.

It was the final regular meeting of the old board, four days before the four newly elected supervisors would take office. What had been a bare majority of progressive supervisors openly talked about naming former mayor Art Agnos, or Sheriff Michael Hennessey, or maybe Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin as a caretaker mayor.

When then-Sup. Bevan Dufty said he would support Hennessey, someone Newsom had already said was acceptable, the progressive supervisors decided to coalesce around Hennessey. That was mostly because the moderates on the board had suddenly united behind a rival candidate who had consistently said didn’t want the job: City Administrator Ed Lee.

Board President David Chiu was the first in the progressive bloc to breaks ranks and back Lee, saying that had long been his first choice. Dufty became the swing vote, and he abstained from voting as the marathon meeting passed the 10 p.m. mark, at which point he asked for a recess and walked down to Room 200 to consult with Newsom.

At the time, Dufty said no deals had been cut and that he was just looking for assurances that Lee wouldn’t run for a full term (Dufty was already running for mayor) and that he would defend the sanctuary city law. But during his endorsement interview with the Guardian last month, he confessed to another reason: Newsom told him that Hennessey had pledged to get rid of Chief-of-Staff Steve Kawa, a pro-downtown political fixer from the Brown era who was despised by progressive groups but liked by Dufty.

Chiu and others stressed Lee’s roots as a progressive tenants rights attorney, the importance of having a non-political technocrat close the ideological gap at City Hall and get things done, particularly on the budget. So everyone just hoped for the best.

“Run, Ed, Run”

The drumbeat began within just a couple months, with downtown-oriented politicos and Lee supporters urging him to run for mayor in the wake of a successful if controversial legislative push by Lee, Chiu, and Sup. Jane Kim to give million of dollars in tax breaks to Twitter and other businesses in the mid-Market and Tenderloin areas.

In mid-May, Pak and her allies created Progress for All, registering it as a “general civic education and public affairs” committee even though its sole purpose was to use large donations from corporations with city contracts or who had worked with Pak before to fund a high-profile “Run, Ed, Run” campaign, which plastered the city with posters featuring a likeness of Lee.

Initially, that campaign and its promotional materials were created by Pak (who refuses to speak to the Guardian) and political consultant Enrique Pearce (who did not return calls for this article) of Left Coast Communications, which had just run Kim’s successful D6 victory over progressive opponent Debra Walker, along with Pak protégé David Ho.

During that campaign, the Guardian and Bay Citizen discovered Pearce running an independent expenditure campaign called New Day for SF, funded mostly by Willie Brown, out of his office, despite bans of IEs coordinating with official campaigns. That tactic would repeat itself over the coming months, drawing criticism but never any sanctions from the toothless Ethics Commission. Pearce was hired by two more pro-Lee IEs: Committee for Effective City Management and SF Neighbor Alliance, for which he wrote the book The Ed Lee Story, a supposedly “unauthorized biography” filled with photos and personal details about Lee.

Publicly, the campaign was fronted by noted Brown allies such as his former planning commissioner Shelly Bradford-Bell, Pak allies including Chinatown Community Development Center director Gordon Chin, and a more surprising political figure, Christina Olague, a progressive board appointee to the Planning Commission. She had already surprised and disappointed some of her progressive allies on Feb. 28 when she endorsed Chiu for mayor during his campaign kickoff, and even more when she got behind Lee.

Olague recently told us the moves did indeed elicit scorn from some longtime allies, but she defends the latter decision as being based on Lee’s experience and willingness to dialogue with progressives who had been shut out by Newsom, noting that she had been asked to join the campaign by Chin. Olague also said the decision was partially strategic: “If we get progressives to support him early on, maybe we’ll have a seat at the table.”

Right up until the end, Lee told reporters that he planned to honor his word and not run. During a Guardian interview in July when we pressed him on the point, Lee said he would only run if every member of the Board of Supervisors asked him to, although about half the board publicly said that he shouldn’t, including Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who nominated him for interim mayor.

And then, just before the filing deadline in early August, Lee announced that he had changed his mind and was running for mayor, the powers of incumbency instant catapulting him into the frontrunner position where he remains today, according to the most recent poll by the Bay Citizen and University of San Francisco.

Lee the politician

With his late entry into the race and decision to forgo public financing and its attendant spending limits, one might think that Lee would have to campaign aggressively to keep his job. But most of the heavy lifting has so far been done by his taxpayer-financed Office of Communications (which issues press releases at least daily) and by corporate-funded surrogates in a series of coordinated “independent” groups (see Rebecca Bowe’s story, “The billionaires’ mayor”).

That has left Lee to simply act as mayor, where he’s made a series of decisions that favor the business community and complement the “jobs” mantra cited relentlessly by centrist politicians playing on people’s economic insecurities.

Yet Lee has been elusive on the campaign trail and to reporters who seek more detailed explanations about his stands on issue or contradictions in his positions, and his spokespersons sometimes offer only misleading doublespeak.

For example, Lee’s office announced plans to veto legislation by Sup. David Campos that would prevent businesses from meeting their city obligation to provide a minimum level of employee health benefits through health savings accounts that these businesses would then pocket at the end of the year, taking $50 million last year even though some of that money had been put in by restaurant customer’s paying 5 percent surcharges on their bills.

Although Campos, the five other supervisors who voted for the measure, four other mayoral candidates, and its many supporters in the labor and consumer rights movements maintained the money belonged to workers who desperately needed it to afford expensive health care, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said it was about “jobs” that would be protected only if businesses could keep that money.

Lee parroted the position but tried to push the political damage until after the election, issuing a statement entitled “Mayor Lee Convenes Group to Improve Health Care Access & Protect Jobs,” saying that he would seek to “develop a consensus strategy” on the divisive issue — one in which Campos said “we have a fundamental disagreement” — that would take weeks to play out.

After a frustrating back-and-forth with Lee Press Secretary Christine Falvey by email, it’s still unclear how to resolve the contradiction between whether businesses could seize these funds or whether they belonged to employees, with her latest statement being, “The Mayor absolutely wants these funds spent on providing access to quality primary and preventative health care because this is the business’s obligation under HCSO. Making sure that these funds go to pay for health care is the most important objective.”

Similarly, when police raided the OccupySF encampment on Oct. 5, Lee’s office issued a statement that was a classic case of politicians trying to have it both ways, expressing support for the movement and its goal to “occupy” public space, but also supporting the need to police to clear the encampment of those same occupiers.

But now, in the wake of a repeat raid on Oct. 16 that has inflamed passions on the issue, the question is whether Lee can run out the clock and retain the office he gained on the promise of being someone more than a typical politician.

Louise Renne’s confused history


Wow, the Chron found a way to take a swipe at Dennis Herrera for getting involved in politics — and guess who the expert source is? Former City Attorney Louise Renne — who politicized her office so dramatically that the voters approved a measure barring city attorneys from endorsing candidates.

The Chron piece goes back and forth on whether Ed Lee properly disclosed city contracts. Then it quotes Tony Winnicker from Lee’s campaign:

They must get exhausted over there at that campaign throwing stones out of their glass house all day long,” Winnicker said. ”What’s really too bad is we can’t actually look to our legal counsel to get guidance on this. .. because the mayor’s only legal counsel is too busy attacking him.

Which apparently disturbed Renne:

“I think the city attorney has to be particularly careful  in what he or she says and in what he or she does,” Renne said. “I don’t know if that line has been crossed here. I’m trying to stay out of the mayor’s race. I’m extremely troubled that these questions are even being raised.”

Please, Louise.

First, Renne ran for mayor herself while she was city attorney, in 1987, against Art Agnos and John Molinari (who, as a supervisor, was her client). She didn’t get far. Over the next few years, she regularly supported candidates and took stands on propositions, even when her office was involved in evaluating those measures or giving advice to elected officials. In 1995, she endorsed Willie Brown for mayor — even though he was running against her client, incumbent Mayor Frank Jordan.

It was exactly that sort of conflict that led to the city law that now prevents the elected city attorney from making endorsements in local elections. And now she’s worried about Dennis Herrera?

Inside the V.I.P. cocktail party with Willie Brown

The Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth hosted a V.I.P. reception just before a mayoral candidate forum held at UCSF Aug. 16, and former Mayor Willie Brown appeared to be the guest of honor. Although the theme of the event was technically “honoring San Francisco’s mayors” — former Mayor Frank Jordan was there, someone indicated that former Mayor Art Agnos was in the room, former Mayor Gavin Newsom was invited but didn’t show, and Mayor Ed Lee was of course in attendence — Brown seemed to be given more prominent recognition than any of the others.

The moment he strolled in, Sup. Mark Farrell, who was doing introductions for the the affair, scrambled onstage to announce Brown’s presence and deliver a warm welcome, and everyone applauded. Within minutes, the former mayor was seen chatting with a crowd that included Mayor Lee and several others. Soon after, Brown and former Mayor Frank Jordan were summoned to the stage to say a few words.

Once in the limelight, Brown cracked a few jokes. He said he felt for the 36 mayoral candidates, who are forced to campaign in an era when the Internet threatens to reveal videos and photos of them at any time to thousands of online viewers. “I’m glad they didn’t have that kind of communication system when I was running,” he said. “I can’t imagine the photographs you’d have of me floating around doing things I shouldn’t have been doing.”

As for his own time in Room 200, “I enjoyed every single solitary minute of it, and if I really thought I had great skills, I would be number 37,” he said, drawing more applause.

Then again, common wisdom says it isn’t necessary for Brown to bother campaigning in order to gain access to Room 200 these days. Later that same evening, during his own turn in the spotlight at the mayoral debate, Mayor Lee came under fire from Board President David Chiu, who revealed that Lee had privately confided to him about a week before he announced his candidacy that he was having a difficult time saying no to Brown and influential Chinatown business consultant Rose Pak when it came to launching a campaign for a full term.

Chiu’s pointed question for the mayor was what had changed in his mind since that conversation, but Lee referenced neither Brown nor Pak in his answer. Instead, he said he’d changed his mind after witnessing his success in changing the tone of government and getting things done in City Hall.

Back at the V.I.P. reception, Brown and Jordan were invited onstage again, this time to receive awards presented by the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth. But first Steve Falk, president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, reminded the crowd that there was still time to buy a drink before the debate got underway. He said, “Debates are much more interesting after three drinks.”

Before Falk presented Brown with a commemorative plaque, he said, “It’s tough to put in a few sentences the life and times of Willie Brown,” and proceeded to note that, with his term in the California Assembly and time serving as mayor of San Francisco behind him, Brown “has now followed his friend Herb Caen into an honest line of work as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.”

Being a newspaper columnist doesn’t mean Brown is always kind to members of the local media. While mixing through the crowd minutes after receiving his award, he fired some harsh words at a well-known City Hall reporter who had recently published some unflattering articles about the “Run, Ed, Run” effort to encourage Lee to seek a full term.

In recent months, Brown’s columns have provided the public at large with a rare glimpse into Mayor Lee’s dining experiences in San Francisco. In February, Brown wrote in one of his columns that he went out to North Beach Restaurant at sat at the window table with Lee, Brown’s “friend” Sonya Molodetskaya, and Jack Baylis, who serves as the US Group Executive of Strategic Development for AECOM, one of the city’s largest contractors and a sponsor of the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth Event. (Baylis was on the invite list for the V.I.P reception, too.)

Apparently, AECOM had something to celebrate that same day — according to an Aug. 16 press release, an AECOM joint venture was just awarded a $150 million contract for program management services for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s wastewater improvement program.

The V.I.P. reception had representation from many key players in the downtown business community, with sponsorship from AT&T, AECOM, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Wells Fargo, Motorola, California Pacific Medical Center, the San Francsico Chamber of Commerce, the Building Owners and Managers Association, the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, Shorenstein Properties, and others. Several labor unions, including the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 38, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local Union No. 22, and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5 were also listed as sponsors. Guests included district supervisors, developers, lobbyists, business owners, mayoral candidates, media spokespeople, executives from the health care industry, and other political insiders.

Clearly, there were many people in the room who wanted to get on Brown’s good side.

So much for civility


The San Francisco mayor’s race went from a lackluster affair to a dynamic match as the Aug. 12 filing deadline drew near and two prominent city officials who had previously said they wouldn’t run tossed their hats into the ring.

Mayor Ed Lee’s Aug. 8 announcement that he’d seek a full term prompted several of his opponents to use their time onstage at candidate forums to decry his reversal and question his ties to the moneyed, influential backers who openly urged him to run. Several days later, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s last-minute decision to run for mayor signaled more tension yet to come in the debates.

At this point, eight current city officials are running campaigns for higher office, and the dialogue is beginning to take on a tone that is distinctly more biting than civil. Adachi, who had not yet debated onstage with his opponents by press time, told reporters he was running because he wanted “to make sure there’s a voice in there that’s talking about the fiscal realities of the city.”

Adachi authored a pension reform ballot measure that rivals the package crafted by Lee, labor unions, and business interests (see “Awaiting consensus,” May 31, 2011). At an Aug. 11 candidate forum hosted by the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the San Francisco Young Democrats, and the City Democratic Club, all of the top-tier candidates who were present indicated that they would support Lee’s pension reform measure and not Adachi’s.

“The reforms that I have championed are reforms that are absolutely needed, along with action,” Adachi told reporters moments after making his candidacy official. He added that after watching the mayoral debates, “I became convinced that either the candidates don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it.”

Those fighting words will likely spur heated exchanges in the months to come, but until Adachi’s entrance into the race, it was Lee who took the most lumps from opponents. Even Board President David Chiu, a mayoral candidate whose campaign platform is centered on the idea that he’s helped restore civility to local government, had some harsh words for Lee during an Aug. 11 mayoral debate.

“I do regret my decision to take Ed Lee at his word when he said he would not run,” Chiu said in response to a question about whether he regretted any of his votes. He also said his first interaction with Lee after the mayor had announced his candidacy was “a little like meeting an ex-girlfriend after a breakup.”

Lee, whose pitch on the campaign trail features a remarkably similar narrative about transcending political squabbling in City Hall, became the target of boos, hisses, and noisemaker blasts when a boisterous crowd packed the Castro Theater for an Aug. 8 candidate forum. He received one of the most forceful rebukes from Sen. Leland Yee, an opponent whom Lee supporters are especially focused on defeating.

“Had the mayor said that he would in fact run, he may not have gotten the votes for interim mayor,” Yee said. “Will you resign from your post,” he asked, challenging Lee, “in order to then run for mayor?” Days later, Yee had developed a new mantra about throwing power brokers out of City Hall instead of “wining and dining with them.”

Yet Lee said his decision to enter the race wasn’t because of the push from his backers, but because of how well things have gone during his brief tenure in Room 200. “Things have changed at City Hall, particularly in the last seven months,” he told reporters Aug. 8. “And because of that change, I changed my mind.”

In yet another twist, former Mayor Art Agnos — whom progressives had looked to as a potential appointee to the vacant mayor’s seat back in December, before Lee was voted in to replace former mayor and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — delivered a surprise endorsement of City Attorney Dennis Herrera shortly after Lee declared. The decision was particularly significant since Agnos first hired Lee to serve in city government, and has a long history of working with him.

“[Herrera] is an independent person who will empower neighborhoods … and won’t be beholden to power brokers,” Agnos said. He also told the Guardian he wasn’t surprised that Lee had opted to run, given the role former Mayor Willie Brown and influential business consultant Rose Pak had played in orchestrating Lee’s appointment.

“Anybody who is an astute political observer saw the signs from the very beginning,” Agnos said. In response to a comment about his unique vantage point as a would-be caretaker mayor, he said, “I would’ve kept my word and not run for reelection.”

Intense focus on Lee’s flip-flop, and on the Progress for All-backed “Run, Ed, Run” effort that was the subject of an Ethics Commission discussion that same week, stemmed at least in part from the threat the incumbent mayor represents to other candidates. A CBS 5-SurveyUSA poll suggested he became an instant front-runner.

Yet questions about “Run, Ed, Run” — some raised by observers unaffiliated with any campaigns — also served to spotlight the candidate’s longstanding ties with backers closely connected to powerful business interests that stand to lose big if their links to city government aren’t preserved.

Retired Judge Quentin Kopp issued an open letter to District Attorney George Gascón Aug. 1 urging him to convene a criminal grand jury to investigate whether illegal and corrupt influencing had occurred when Pak — a close friend of Lee’s and a key driver behind the “Run, Ed, Run” effort — reportedly recruited executives of Recology to gather signatures urging Lee to run.

Recology, which handles the city’s waste, was recently awarded a $112 million city contract, and Lee’s scoring of the company and recommendation to raise rates in his previous capacity as city administrator benefited the company. Brown received substantial campaign donations from Recology in previous bids for mayor. Kopp is the coauthor of a ballot initiative asking San Francisco voters if the company’s monopoly on city garbage contracts should be put out to bid.

“A criminal grand jury is vital in order to put people under oath and interrogate them,” Kopp said. “They would put Willie Brown under oath, put Pak under oath, put [Recology President Mike Sangiacomo] under oath, put [Recology spokesperson Sam Singer] under oath … That’s the course of action that should be pursued by this.”

Although Kopp told the Guardian that he hadn’t yet received a response from Gascón, DA candidates Sharmin Bock, Bill Fazio, and David Onek nevertheless seized the opportunity to publicly and jointly call for Gascón to recuse himself from any investigation into Progress for All. Gascón has a conflict of interest, they argued, since he reportedly sought Pak’s advice when deciding whether to accept Newsom’s offer to switch from his previous post as police chief to his current job as top prosecutor.

The Ethics Commission determined unanimously Aug. 8 that the activities of Progress for All, the committee that was formed to encourage Lee to run, had not run afoul of election laws despite director John St. Croix’s opinion that it had filed improperly as a general purpose committee when it ought to have been a candidate committee, which would have placed caps on contribution limits.

“The Ethics Commission has spoken, and they’ve supported our position,” Progress for All consultant Enrique Pearce of Left Coast Communications told the Guardian.

St. Croix did not return Guardian calls seeking comment, but an Ethics Commission press release included a caveat: “Should facts surface that coordination occurred between Mayor Lee and [Progress for All], such allegations will be investigated under the Commission’s enforcement regulations.”

At a Lee support rally organized by his official campaign team on Aug. 11, volunteers who arrived with “Run, Ed, Run” materials produced by Progress for All were told they could not display those signs and T-shirts; the same people were on a first-name basis with one of Lee’s campaign team members.

Pressed on the question of whether there was any coordination between agents of Progress for All and Lee, Pearce said the Ethics Commission discussion had focused on whether Lee had been a candidate. “Whether or not he’s a candidate has nothing to do with whether or not he has dinner with Rose [Pak],” Pearce noted. He insisted that there had not been coordination, and that the efforts to encourage Lee to run and to support Lee as a candidate were totally separate.

Sup. John Avalos, who is running for mayor on a progressive platform, recalled at an Aug. 8 candidate forum how things unfolded when Lee’s name first came up as an appointee for interim mayor.

Avalos reminded people that he had called for postponing the vote back in December because he hadn’t even had a chance to sit down and meet with Lee, who was in Hong Kong at the time. With behind-the-scenes deals orchestrating his appointment, Avalos said, “We saw City Hall turning into one big back room.”

Will Esbernd support Lee?


As the tom toms grew louder at the Chronicle and in the Willie Brown/Rose Pak community for Interim Mayor Ed Lee to run for the full term as mayor, I emailed two impertinent questions to my district supervisor Sean Elsbernd:

1. Would you have nominated Ed Lee for interim mayor had you known he would consider running for the job?

2. Will you endorse him if he does decide to run for mayor?

As a longtime West Portal resident, I’ve always gotten annoyed at how Elsbernd (and other supervisors) love to play the neighborhood game back in their district — but when the chips are down on a power structure issue, they go down to City Hall and vote with Willie Brown and the downtown gang. Which is what happened in January on the critical vote for mayor when the Willie Brown/Rose Pak forces worked a quiet play to knock out the progressive candidates (Sheriff Mike Hennessey and former Mayor Art Agnos) and put in City Administrator  Ed Lee, a Willie Brown ally.

Elsbernd was happy to nominate Lee and told us at the time that he had done so because he wanted an interim mayor who would not run in November.

In his email answer to me, Elsbernd wrote, “I believe the benefits of that strategy have proven correct (e.g. the overall budget process and its unanimous approval, and the unanimous approval of the consensus and comprehensive pension/health care charter amendment.“

So what about today when Lee seems more and more poised to run?

Elsburn noted that he has not endorsed anyone, but that “I have been most attracted to the candidacies of City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisors Alioto-Pier and Bevan Dufty.” He said that these three have the “right combination of qualifications, experience, intelligence, skills and integrity to serve as mayor.”

So what’s his out? “Should Mayor Lee run for election, I would only consider endorsing his effort under one circumstance—if, and only if, I was convinced that without his candidacy, Sen. Leland Yee would be elected. That is, if I see that no one else can beat Sen, Yee other than Mayor Lee, then I would support a Mayor Lee campaign. At this point, I’m not convinced of that—I still think any one of the three I mentioned above could beat Sen. Yee.”

Well, that’s Elsbernd back in his district doing his neighborhood routine at the Village Grill, a favorite Elsbernd breakfast place. Elsbernd has still left himself a way to do what he said he was dead set against doing: going along with Willie Brown and  Rose Pak and  helping Lee become the fulltime mayor. Bring back Quentin Kopp and John Barbagelata. B3