Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 50 / 14 December 2017
 

Out gay man leaving SF DA’s office to join mayoral staff

The out gay man who’s held the highest ranking of any openly LGBT person ever in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is leaving that agency to become Mayor Ed Lee’s director of public safety.

Paul Henderson, 43, (pictured at right) announced his departure from the DA’s office this week, just as DA George Gascon laid out his reorganization of the office.

At the same time, Henderson has dropped his plans to run for DA himself, saying it’s not “the right time.”

Henderson had served as chief of administration under former DA Kamala Harris, and continues to hold that position. After Harris was sworn in as California’s attorney general in January, ex-Mayor Gavin Newsom surprised many by appointing Gascon, who had been police chief, to the DA position.

Gascon is running for a full term in November, and Henderson is now backing him.

Henderson said his departure from the DA’s office isn’t related to the reorganization, which Gascon announced detailed plans for Wednesday, February 23.

But in an interview today (Thursday, February 24), Henderson volunteered the question, “How does this tie in to my political agenda from two months ago and now?”

“Obviously, the appointment process turned out differently than I had expected,” he said. “I think a lot of people were surprised, but I sat down with a lot of the people who were supporting me, and I sat down with a lot of leaders in the city, and it may not be my time for me to serve San Francisco as the DA right now. Clearly it’s not, because I didn’t get the appointment.”

Henderson said his new job will involve working on areas such as keeping the crime rate low, selecting the next police chief, hate crimes, and “quality of life” issues. He’ll be aiming to facilitate the coordination of local, state, and federal agencies.

He’s also keenly aware of his position as an out gay man in a place of leadership.

“It’s not that I’m trying to reflect a gay agenda, but I absolutely am mindful of gay inclusion,” he said. However, he said, “It’s not like I have to wear a flag or wear a button to know that’s who I am. … It’s part of who I am, and I don’t think that diminishes my leadership of the city.”

With hate crimes and other problems, he said, “If we don’t take positions of  higher visibility and public service, it’s hard for the community to recognize they have allies, or a perspective that reflects their own in positions of power.”

He’s not yet certain which specific agencies he’ll be working with, but speculates that they would include the DA’s office, the police department, the state attorney general’s office, and others.

“It’s just a mater of how those agencies coordinate what they do in San Francisco,” which is “always something that can improved. … I’m hoping my voice facilitates that process,” said Henderson. He said he couldn’t specify yet what changes are needed.

Henderson said he doesn’t know how much power he’ll actually have in his new role. That’s “a subjective interpretation,” he said.

“Along my way in public service, I never thought about it in the sense of what my power is. I only looked at it in the perspective of what problems can I solve, [and] how can I facilitate change that’s going to ameliorate or improve a situation.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, Gascon talked about Henderson  leaving only after a reporter asked him about possible departures, and he said that he hadn’t wanted to talk about Henderson. He said Henderson would be on leave from the DA’s office.

Asked about that Thursday, Henderson said, “I think they’re still trying to figure out what the structure is going to look like,” and whether he’ll be on loan, or transitioning completely to the mayor’s office, or something else.

Henderson said the mayor approached him about the position a couple of weeks ago.

“What they approached me with was an opportunity to play a broader role with a bigger perspective that would be inclusive of other agencies, and that prospect seemed attractive to me,” he said. He said the position dovetailed with all the reasons he was drawn to public service and has remained committed to the work for 16 years.

Asked if he would run for district attorney later, Henderson said, “I think anything is possible, and this opportunity and this position only, I think, allows me to be even more prepared for opportunities in the future.”

Henderson’s current salary is $198,000. What he’ll earn in his new position hasn’t been determined. He’ll start in the new job around March 8.

“I am thrilled that Paul Henderson has agreed to join my administration to advise on citywide public safety policy issues,” Lee said in a statement. “…Paul has proven his commitment to protecting the safety of the people of San Francisco, and I am grateful that he will continue his service to our city and work together with our diverse communities and law enforcement agencies to ensure San Francisco is the safest big city in America.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, February 24, 2011 @ 5:55 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


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