Supervisor Christina Olague Explains Her Vote to Save Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi
|I saved the sheriff|
Less than 12 hours after casting the crucial vote to give Mirkarimi his job back, she sat inside her City Hall office and read the following e-mail:
"As your constituent, you disgust me, and I will work night and day to defeat you," Olague read aloud.
Her pen pal is a current Mayor Ed Lee staffer who also worked for the Newsom administration; clearly there's a sense that Olague, who was appointed to her position by Mayor Ed Lee in January, betrayed her benefactor with her vote. She was one of four supervisors who believed Mirkarimi's domestic violence charge did not constitute official misconduct, ending Lee's five-month quest to unseat the sheriff.
"'You are the most ungrateful and dishonorable person ever to serve on the board,'" she continues. "'You should resign in disgrace.'
See also: Ross Mirkarimi: Supervisors Make Votes Work for Them
"That's the kind of stuff I've been dealing with," Olague tells SF Weekly. The District 5 supervisor had scheduled a slew of interviews Wednesday to explain her vote that shocked plenty who saw it as a stunning reversal and a defiant blow to the mayor and powerbrokers Willie Brown and Rose Pak, all of whom have been busy raising money for Olague's reelection campaign.
But for Olague it was never about politics -- it was about vagaries in the City Charter, mayoral power, and the technical definition of "misconduct." And if it pisses-off powerful people and shows that the once surefire progressive has an independent streak -- well, so be it.
Mayor Lee needed nine votes from the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to fire Mirkarimi permanently from his post as sheriff. The Ethics Commission ruled in August that Mirkarimi indeed was guilty of official misconduct, pointing to his guilty plea to misdemeanor false imprisonment. Mirkarimi admitted to grabbing his wife's arm and leaving a bruise during a New Year's Eve domestic dispute. After he was convicted, Mayor Lee suspended him without pay, and started the campaign to oust him permanently.
After Mirkarimi was elected sheriff in November, Olague was appointed to fill his seat as a "thank you" for serving as co-chair of the "Run Ed Run" committee, which helped push then-interim Mayor Lee to run for a full term.
The former Planning Commissioner soon became tangled in the Mirkarimi drama when allegations that Lee perjured himself during the Mirkarimi testimony at the Ethics Commission had surfaced. In June, Lee testified that he'd had no contact with any member of the Board of Supervisors about how to handle the Mirkarimi situation. That statement was then disputed by Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker, who told reporters that Olague had told her the mayor had in fact mentioned Mirkarimi -- Olague still denies this.
Perjury accusations flew back and forth; rumors, speculation, and vitriol hovered over City Hall until late last night when Olague said that Lee's attempt to remove the sheriff applies the City Charter "too broadly" and would "set a dangerous precedent."
"This is not an issue of domestic violence, though we have to take that issue seriously," Olague said Wednesday. "This is about the power of the mayor and official misconduct. And I don't think [Mirkarimi's actions] rose to that level."
Ethics Commission Chairman Ben Hur, the lone dissenter in the Ethics hearing on Mirkarimi, heavily influenced Olague, she said. His "minority opinion -- and that's what I always tend to listen to, and then judge that against the majority opinion" stated that only a few job-related actions can be construed as official misconduct under the City Charter. The mayor's lawyers didn't prove that Mirkarimi's actions were job-related; ergo, you must acquit.
"We have to apply [official misconduct] narrowly," said Olague, who said she supports a revision of the charter to redefine the misconduct standard for more clarity. "Otherwise, there's still an arbitrariness to it that makes me uncomfortable."
And far from disqualifying him for the office -- though the sheriff won't be allowed to carry his office-provided firearms until he completes his three-year probation term -- Mirkarimi's trials may make him more suited for the job. "We have a lot of work to do for reentry and realignment ... those are things Ross will prioritize in a compassionate way. People brought up restorative justice -- maybe this will help him, having been through it."
"And he is going through treatment, he is on probation," she added. "It's not like he walked away from this exonerated. I assume he's had some time to self-reflect," she added.
The drama came to an end on Tuesday night when Olague stated she wouldn't vote to sustain the charges. She was joined by progressive supervisors David Campos and John Avalos, who were seen as surefire Mirkarimi supporters as long as a crucial third vote could be found.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who is perceived as the mayor's ally, also surprised some by siding with Olague.
So that's over for Mirkarimi. But what next for Olague? Her reelection campaign seemed to rely heavily on help from mayoral backers Pak and Brown, who have hosted fundraisers for her. And will the Chinatown Community Development Corporation volunteers walk precincts for her after she seemingly defied Mayor Lee?
"People are using the election to hold me hostage," she said. But the Mirkarimi vote was "one of those situations where you can't think about Nov. 6. You really have to do what you think is the best thing to do -- because both sides are going to be angry."
Olague called the Mirkarimi saga "a very unhealthy conversation that brought out the worst in everybody." But then again, nearly everything she's done in office to date has produced outrage in somebody.
She angered progressives when she supported the 8 Washington condominium complex and a repeal of ranked-choice voting. "And I'm scratching my head why progressives are choosing those issues as the litmus test, as opposed to high school achievement gaps or street violence."
She angered the mayor's people -- and received another nasty e-mail from former Lee spokesman Tony Winnicker, whom Olague named as the author of the angry screed above -- when she supported Supervisor John Avalos' business tax measure over the mayor's.
"There's a lot of 'us or them,' 'black or white' in this town," she said. "And that's not good for the city."
"People personalize differences too much. If you disagree with them on a political issue you become demonized and ostracized. It's a little unhealthy."
Will this demonize Olague even more and cause her to lose her job? If so, she says she's fine with it. "It was the principled thing to do. And I'm glad I did it."