Ross Mirkarimi: The Backstory on Being a "Tyrant"

Ross Mirkarimi's former colleagues won't weigh in on his guilt or innocence. But they understand the "tyrant" label.
Until this point, this paper -- and, we assume, others -- did not publish stories about Ross Mirkarimi's well-known temper and lengthy history of loudly berating City Hall staffers. To do so while the sheriff is facing domestic violence charges could be construed as prejudicial; a propensity to yell at less powerful colleagues does not make one a batterer.

But when Mirkarimi's own lawyer refers to him as "a bit of a tyrant" -- an interesting legal maneuver, to say the least -- it necessitates an explanation.

The former supervisor's propensity for high-decibel dressings-down of his staff and other city staffers was well-known -- largely because sound travels through City Hall even faster than rumors. Former colleagues told SF Weekly that they could hear Mirkarimi through the thin walls, berating staffers either on the phone or in person. This was regular behavior. For years.

Mirkarimi's former colleagues on the board declined to be named in this story. If Mayor Ed Lee moves to suspend the sheriff, nine of the 11 supervisors will have to ratify the move to make it official; to weigh in on Mirkarimi's ongoing travails would likely necessitate a recusal. A number of former City Hall staffers with direct experience of working with Mirkarimi declined attribution as they continue to ply their trades in this city.

Just what Mirkarimi was berating his aides about was not always clear to his colleagues. Sound travels easily through walls and down corridors -- but individual words are muffled. At one point, however, one of Mirkarimi's colleagues reports telling him, "I can hear a lot of what you're saying." The colleague explains, "If he thought I could understand what he was saying, he might stop. Ross said, 'Oh, okay. Thanks.' But there was no change in his behavior."

When Mirkarimi berated his staff, it appeared he didn't care who knew about it. "I personally walked into Ross' office when he was screaming at his staff," said a longtime City Hall legislative aide. "It wasn't something he tried to conceal."

Again and again, Mirkarimi's former colleagues described him as "a screamer." Of course, in City Hall, he did have some measure of company. Former Supervisor Chris Daly's tendency to raise his voice, curse, walk out of meetings, and throw people out of his office is well known. Colleagues drew a distinction between Daly and Mirkarimi, however: While Daly often treated his equals badly, and in public, Mirkarimi picked up a reputation for "berating people who were weak" -- and doing so behind closed doors.

All of Mirkarimi's fellow City Hall denizens who spoke to us emphasized that his past history does not equate to guilt in his current case. Gavin Newsom, Gerardo Sandoval, Kevin Shelley, and, of course, Carole Migden, also had famous tempers after all.

"Not that berating one's employees is a good thing," says one former colleague. "But he's kind of a pussycat."

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The greatest tragedy is that, given his size and mesomorphic body type, he likely stands a high risk of an imminent heart attack.  

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