Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Political Notebook:
Milk club to revote on endorsing Sheriff Mirkarimi


Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Supporters of embattled San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, upset that the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club did not endorse him for re-election, have forced through a re-vote of the club's endorsement in the race.

Mirkarimi failed to secure the queer progressive political group's support by only a handful of votes when it held its endorsement meeting in July, according to members of the club.

Last week, the club's co-presidents held a special meeting aimed at mending fences after a number of longtime Milk club leaders lashed out against newer members of the group for not backing Mirkarimi. The sheriff's supporters used the meeting to press for a re-vote on endorsing him.

An attempt to suspend the club's bylaws and immediately re-vote at the September 1 meeting, as called for by former city ethics commissioner Paul Melbostad, was rejected. A second motion to suspend the bylaws and schedule the re-vote for the club's monthly general membership meeting Tuesday, September 15 then passed.

In an interview this week with the Bay Area Reporter , for which he serves as legal counsel, Melbostad said he pushed to have the club vote again on supporting Mirkarimi "purely at my instigation as a longtime member of the Milk club," which he joined in 1980.

"This was my idea as a longtime member of the club who feels very strongly we should take a position in the sheriff's race where it is a subject of national debate," said Melbostad, referring to the criticism Mirkarimi has faced following the killing of a woman on a city pier by an undocumented immigrant who had been released from county jail.

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 Mayor Ed Lee and other elected officials. And the story has been turned into a cause célébre by Fox News host Bill O'Reilly and Republican presidential candidates.

"Our sheriff is currently under attack by Donald Trump and Jeb Bush and other right-wing forces. The attack is actually directed at the city's sanctuary city policy, which is strongly supported by the Harvey Milk club and, I believe, a majority of San Franciscans," said Melbostad. "It is important the club take a position backing up the sheriff when he is being attacked for upholding or implementing a policy the club supports."

Not everyone in the Milk club agrees that the club needs to re-vote on an endorsement of Mirkarimi. He is in a tough re-election fight against former chief deputy sheriff Vicki Hennessy , who served as the interim chief when Mirkarimi was suspended during his first year in office as he fought domestic abuse charges stemming from an incident with his wife.

He ended up pleading guilty to a false imprisonment charge, won his job back, and this spring, secured having his conviction expunged from his record. Nonetheless, he continues to be dogged by the scandal and has faced a series of controversies during his first term.

Melbostad and other Milk club members backing the sheriff have been accused of flouting the club's bylaws and Roberts Rules of Order in order to ram through the new endorsement vote for Mirkarimi. They contend that the proper forum for the Mirkarimi supporters to ask for an endorsement re-vote would be at the September general membership meeting, with the actual vote taking place at the club's meeting in October.

"Ageism, sexism, verbal abuse and election rigging are not progressive values. It's unclear how the Harvey Milk Democratic Club can continue to self-identify as the most progressive Democratic club in America while embracing all of the above," Debra Cleaver, a former Milk club board member and former treasurer, told the B.A.R.

Neither of the club's current co-presidents, Laura Thomas and Peter Gallotta , responded to requests for comment by press time Wednesday.

During a recent editorial board meeting with the B.A.R. Mirkarimi suggested the reason he failed to win the Milk club's backing in July was due to the group's slate card it sends out to voters "and concern I might be on it."

With the club's slate card being finalized this month and early voting set to begin October 5, Melbostad said that the club could not wait until next month to reconsider its support for the sheriff.

"I do believe the matter was urgent," he said. "Typically, that's when we have moved to suspend the bylaws."

It remains to be seen if Mirkarimi's camp can marshal the votes to secure the Milk club endorsement.

"I think it is going to be close, just like it was in July," said former Milk club co-president David Waggoner , who had been Mirkarimi's personal attorney but is no longer employed by the sheriff or his re-election campaign.

As for the sheriff, when asked if he would secure Milk's support, he said, "I am in the business of second chances. It's not lost on me."

Alice to early endorse Wiener, Harris

The city's more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club is expected to easily award early endorsements in two 2016 races when its members meet next week.

The club has scheduled at its September 14 meeting votes on early nods for Scott Wiener in the state Senate District 11 race and for state Attorney General Kamala Harris in the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Barbara Boxer, who is retiring next year.

Wiener, a gay man who is the city's District 8 supervisor, is a former co-chair of the Alice club. He is so far the only announced candidate for the Senate seat raising money for his campaign.

The current holder of the seat, Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who is also gay and has endorsed Wiener, is termed out of office next fall. Gay former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is considering a run, as are Supervisors David Campos, who is gay, and Jane Kim, who is straight.

Harris is San Francisco's former district attorney and has long been supported by Alice. She is seen as the most formidable candidate to date running to succeed Boxer in Congress.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. The column will return this Monday, September 14.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail

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