San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, San Francisco’s progressive queer political group, has snubbed Mayor Ed Lee and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi in their re-election bids this fall.
The club members voted Tuesday night (July 21) to withhold endorsements in both the sheriff and mayoral races, as no candidate in either contest was able to reach the 50 percent plus one threshold needed to secure Milk’s backing.
The Milk club did endorse former District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s bid to reclaim his seat this fall. He is running to oust Julie Christensen, who was appointed to fill a vacancy by Lee earlier this year.
District Attorney George Gascon, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and Treasurer Jose Cisneros, who is gay, were all endorsed by the Milk club. All three are expected to be unopposed in their re-election bids this year; the deadline for candidates to file in the races is August 7.
Last month Milk gave an early endorsement to its former co-president, Tom Temprano, a gay Mission bar owner and deejay, who is seeking a seat on the community college board.
The decision not to support the mayor was hardly a surprise, as the Milk club has long opposed Lee’s being in Room 200 at City Hall. Four years ago when Lee was seeking his first full four-year term, having been appointed in early 2011 as mayor, the club backed District 11 Supervisor John Avalos in the race.
This year no prominent progressive opted to challenge Lee, who faces a crop of little known opponents on the November ballot.
The more surprising outcome, which has angered longtime members of the club, is Milk’s failure to endorse the embattled Mirkarimi, whose tenure as sheriff has been marked by one controversy after another. His first year in office saw Mirkarimi charged with domestic violence following a fight he had with his wife, Eliana Lopez.
He ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and agreed to undergo counseling and serve three years of probation. He was also suspended by Lee due to the charges, with Vicki Hennessy, who is now running to oust Mirkarimi, appointed interim sheriff.
Yet Mirkarimi escaped being officially removed from office when four Board of Supervisors members voted in October of 2012 not to sustain Lee’s official misconduct charges against the sheriff. He was re-instated to the post, but the scandal has continued to engulf the sheriff and his allies ever since.
Other issues Mirkarimi has had to confront as sheriff include the death of a patient in a stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital, which is guarded by sheriff deputies, allegations of a fight ring in a county jail run by sheriff deputies, and low morale among the rank and file of the safety agency.
The latest controversy, which has made international headlines, is the killing of a woman on a city pier by a man in the country illegally who had been released from custody by the sheriff’s office after a long ago drug possession charge against him was dismissed. Due to the city’s sanctuary city policy, the sheriff’s department released the individual without alerting federal immigration authorities.
That decision, which Mirkarimi has repeatedly defended, has come under withering criticism from Lee and other elected officials. And the story has been turned into a cause célèbre by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
Through it all long-time Milk club leaders have stood by Mirkarimi, and this week, they blasted the club’s newer members for not supporting the sheriff.
“There is something deeply ironic and sad that, in their zeal to block the Milk Club from endorsing Ross Mirkarimi, newer white members of the Club will have ended up alienating far more people than they will end up getting on board with their white candidates,” wrote former club president David Waggoner on Facebook this week after Milk’s political action committee recommended no endorsement in the sheriff’s race at its meeting Saturday, July 18.
Another former club leader, Gwenn Craig, also took to Facebook to argue for an endorsement of Mirkarimi, writing, “We need sheriffs in the mold of former sheriff Mike Hennessey and current sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to hold the line and PROTECT prisoners in their custody and ensure that deputies are held to the highest standards.”
Waggoner, who served as Mirkarimi’s lawyer during the domestic violence case, suggested that the reason behind the snub of the sheriff is due to Milk club members “concerned that if the Club endorses Ross, it will make it more difficult for the other candidates, because Ron Conway and Co. have been so effective at buying public opinion in trashing Ross every chance they get,” referring to the venture capitalist who is a key ally of the mayor.
In announcing the endorsements, the club’s leaders simply wrote, “A majority of eligible voting members showed up tonight to cast ballots” and thanked “everyone who came out tonight to vote and speak on behalf of candidates and ballot measures. ”
Wednesday afternoon, Milk club co-president Peter Gallotta sent the B.A.R. a statement about the club’s decision in the sheriff’s race, noting that “a majority” of the members voted not to endorse Mirkarimi for a second term.
“There are very real concerns from our members about some of the sheriff’s positions including his views on building a new jail, which the club does not support. Many members are standing in solidarity with TAJA’s Coalition and trans women of color in San Francisco who are leading the fight against the new jail,” stated Gallotta. “It has been disappointing to hear that many of our longtime members felt unsafe speaking up about their concerns with the sheriff at last night’s meeting and are now being disparaged by straight people outside of the club who do not understand the legitimate concerns that queer progressives have on this issue.”