Online Extra: Political Notes: Mirkarimi vote shines spotlight on Olague
by Matthew S. Bajko
Not only will Tuesday's board hearing determine the fate of suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who is fighting to be reinstated into the elected office he won last November, it could very well be a defining moment for the woman who replaced him in the District 5 seat.
For no matter how Supervisor Christina Olague votes, she is sure to be hammered for her decision as she fights to stay in office. One of two sitting supervisors locked in tough re-election races this fall, Olague may have the most to gain or lose among the 11 board members who will sit in judgment of Mirkarimi.
In a recent editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter, Olague, the board's only out bi member, described the situation she finds herself in as "weird" since, due to the hearing, the supervisors have been advised not to discuss the matter.
Olague did acknowledge that she has faced "a lot of pressure" from both sides in the matter, "but I can't talk about it."
The October 9 showdown at City Hall will be the culmination of a political and legal soap opera that has transfixed San Francisco's political establishment since news broke shortly after the new year of a domestic dispute between Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez .
The incident led Mayor Ed Lee in March to suspend Mirkarimi without pay on grounds of official misconduct after the sheriff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from the incident with Lopez. The city's Ethics Commission then took up the matter and in August voted 4-1 to recommend that the board uphold the decision to remove Mirkarimi from office.
Now it will take nine of the supervisors to agree that Mirkarimi is guilty of official misconduct and should be removed as sheriff. But if three of the 11 disagree, then he will be allowed to return to work.
"The unspoken reality is that all the supervisors, not just those up in November, have a political future at stake. Should the vote be to remove Mirkarimi, the expectation even in the city attorney's office is that this will head to a courtroom," wrote Larry Bush, a gay man whose CitiReport website acts as a watchdog on City Hall. "And court calendars being what they are, it is entirely plausible that in two years this will still be hanging and board members will have to answer why they put the city on the hook for yet more costs."
But it has been Olague, more than any other supervisor, who has found herself playing a central role in the matter. And she has faced pressure from both sides of the city's political camps, progressives and moderates alike, over how she should vote.
Having been appointed to the vacant supervisor seat by Lee, whom she backed in last year's mayoral contest, she will upset the mayor and his allies if she decides to keep Mirkarimi as sheriff.
If she sides with Lee and votes to oust the sheriff, then Olague could very well face the wrath of voters in her district where Mirkarimi remains very popular. Her opponents in the District 5 supervisor race are sure to pounce on such a vote and use it against her as they curry support with residents of the Haight and Western Addition.
A vote against Mirkarimi would also further upset progressives who have been critical of Olague for her ties to Lee and downtown interests. She already has failed to win the support of either the left-leaning Bay Guardian or the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, which are two of Mirkarimi's biggest backers.
Aware of such a dilemma facing Olague and the other supervisors in odd-numbered districts on the ballot this fall, Mirkarimi's legal team tried to have the board hearing take place after the November election. After losing that attempt, his lawyers have tried to gain traction with charges that Lee perjured himself during the Ethics inquiry when he claimed not to have spoken to the supervisors about the matter.
For months lesbian artist Debra Walker has insisted that her onetime friend Olague told her that Lee had spoken to her about Mirkarimi. Her claims are laid out in a declaration that was submitted recently to city officials.
When the allegations first surfaced, Olague insisted no such conversation with the mayor had occurred. More recently she has refuted the details of her conversation with Walker as laid out in the declaration.
Olague dismissed the calls for her to recuse herself from casting a vote Tuesday when she met with the B.A.R.
"I don't know why I would recuse myself," she said. "Everyone else on the board has had a relationship with him and they are not asking them to recuse themselves."
The board's deliberations are sure to be emotional and impassioned. Mirkarimi's supporters plan to hold a rally at noon on the steps to City Hall before they plead their case before the supervisors. Already Olague appears to be in their crosshairs.
"Let you [sic] supervisor know that Sheriff Mirkarimi 'deserves a fair hearing from supervisors – one not clouded by even a perception of impropriety' and ask them to either swear under the penalty of perjury that they did not speak to the mayor about this matter or if they are unable to do to than then ask them to recuse themselves so that we as San Franciscans will be assured of a fair and unbiased decision," read an email sent last week from the Stand With Ross campaign.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.