Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mirkarimi vote: Sore losers and dumb winners


Photo by Luke Thomas for Fog City Journal

I was suprised when I returned to San Francisco in 1995---long before I started this blog in 2004---to realize that there's a massive, ongoing intellectual failure by the city's political community. My disillusionment began with the homeless issue. Instead of launching a serious effort to deal with the growing squalor on our streets and in our parks, city progs lauded Food Not Bombs and the Biotic Baking Brigade, the pie-throwers. The implication: we were supposed to accept the reality of thousands of homeless people living on our streets and in our parks because that's just the nature of capitalism or something-or-other. The homeless issue was supposedly about housing, a subset of the left's class struggle perspective. Those poor people simply couldn't afford housing in San Francisco.
 
But anyone who took a close look at the homeless themselves could see that almost all of these people had serious drug/alcohol and psychological problems. There was enough discontent among city voters on the issue for a citywide political coalition to come up with a serious, unified policy response. City progressives---hobbled by a paleo-Marxist class-struggle ideology---failed to understand that. The "moderate" Gavin Newsom, however, understood it very well. He got Care Not Cash on the ballot and passed by voters in 2002 and then got himself elected mayor a year later. 
 
That was essentially an intellectual error by progressives, a failure to make a valid analysis of the reality of homelessness and what could/should be done about it by city government.
 
Then there was the Bicycle Plan fiasco. Until we got the injunction against the city's Bicycle Plan in 2006, there was little discussion in the political community of this ambitious plan to redesign our streets on behalf of this PC special interest group. (There's also been little sensible discussion since then, but that's another story.)
 
The reaction to the injunction from the progressive community was shrill and uninformed. The implication was---and still is---that it was okay for the city to ignore the state's most important environmental law as long as it was done on behalf of an important part of the progressive agenda, the anti-car bicycle fantasy.
 
I'll start the current parade of folly on the Mirkarimi issue with the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius.
 
Nevius, who was so good on the homeless issue, is way off on Mirkarimi. I'm not talking about someone making a more or less rational argument for not reinstating Mirkarimi---that argument can and was made---but making arguments that don't pass a test of minimal rationality.
 
According to Nevius, one of the things he supposedly "learned" from this is that Olague made a mistake in voting to reinstate Mirkarimi. Olague "casts the first vote to retain Mirkarimi. Hope you don't need that bridge Christina, because you just burned it." Talk about a bridge to nowhere! 
 
Nevius apparently doesn't understand that in ultra-progressive District 5 being appointed by a "moderate" mayor was a big handicap for Olague. Maybe Nevius was still covering sports for the Chronicle in 2000 when Matt Gonzalez buried Mayor Brown's appointed D5 supervisor, Juanita Owens, another "moderate" Democrat. If she had voted for Mayor Lee and against Mirkarimi, Olague understood that it would have only made the political hole she was already in a lot deeper.
 
The attacks on anti-domestic violence advocates, who work quietly behind the scenes to defend abused women, were deeply offensive. Mirkarimi's camp should have toned it down. That never happened. Supervisor Carmen Chu said the vitriol made her stomach churn. I felt the same way.
 
But the domestic violence folks didn't "work quietly behind the scenes." They even put up anti-Mirkarimi billboards before any charges against Mirkarimi had been filed![That's incorrect. Mirkarimi was charged in January, but the billboards went up before he was convicted/or entered a plea] One of the important issues that prompted people like me---I've been Supervisor Mirkarimi's harshest critic---is that his altercation with his wife, while ugly, never rose to the level that the domestic violence people claimed. They came across as zealots pushing their agenda at the expense of both the facts and Mirkarimi's family.
 
There was lots of talk about the "slippery slope" of mayoral power and how the city Charter's definition of official misconduct is too vague. They missed the bigger point: Should someone who admitted he hurt his wife be sheriff?
 
Yes, the "slippery slope" argument was always dumb. How likely is it that, especially given this grotesquely prolonged process, future mayors will try to dismiss elected city officials? To ask the question is to answer it. Those making the slippery slope argument don't seem to understand that because something is legally permissable doesn't make it politically feasible. Of course the City Charter is too vague on what constitutes "official misconduct," not exactly a trivial issue. The city would have lost if Mirkarimi was not reinstated and his lawyers took it to court. And whether how he "hurt" his wife amounts to domestic abuse that justifies his personal and professional destruction is the real question, isn't it?

Nevius just comes off as a sore loser---and someone, by the way, who increasingly writes like a shill for City Hall on a number of issues.
 
Another sore loser is District Attorney Gascon, who is quoted in this morning's Chronicle
 
"Ross Mirkarimi is on probation in this county for a crime of domestic violence," Gascón said. "He is, at a minimum, incapable of adequately performing the functions of his office that relate to crimes of domestic violence." Gascón called for Mirkarimi to appoint an independent, high-level administrator to make all decisions about a range of functions carried out by the Sheriff's Department, including oversight of a domestic violence batterers program for inmates and others, supervision of inmates for domestic violence crimes and disciplinary action for sheriff's personnel accused of domestic violence.
 
It must be tempting for Mirkarimi to just tell Gascon, who overcharged the case to begin with, to go fuck himself, but he should probably make a few conciliatory noises and then ignore him. (See the excellent Larry Bush on Gascon's latest "grab for a headline.") Speaking of "adequately performing the functions of his office," still waiting for Gascon to explain why he waited until after the election last year to bring charges against the cyclist who killed a pedestrian on the Embarcadero, but I suppose the answer is obvious.
 
The Guardian's Tim Redmond gets everything wrong. After invoking the dumb "slippery slope" argument, he reminds us how serious it all supposedly was:

Still, it's important to remember that what Mirkarimi did on New Year's Eve, 2011, was awful, unacceptable. He was, at the very least, a total asshole and a jerk, treating his wife in a way that was---again, at the very least---psychologically abusive. Some of the comments at the board meeting were way off base; some speakers attacked the domestic violence community and made it sound as if Mirkairmi's crime was pretty minimal.

But it was "pretty minimal"---or at least not serious enough to destroy the man and his family. "Psychologially abusive"? "Total asshole and a jerk"? I'd like to listen in on Redmond's arguments with his wife.

I wish the audience hadn't erupted in cheers when the final votes were cast. I heard Mirkarimi on Forum this morning, and when Michael Krasny asked if he was "elated," he indicated that he was. Wrong answer: Nobody should be happy about what happened here. Mirkarimi's biggest political and personal flaw has always been his ego, which at times bordered on arrogance, and that has to end, today. The sheriff needs to be humble about what happened to him, recognize that nobody "won" this ugly chapter in city history, and get back to work trying to mend fences with his critics...This is a chance for Mirkarimi to take the notion of restoration and redemption seriously---by doing what Sup. John Avalos suggested at the hearing. He has to become a changed man. He has to show the world that he really, really gets it. Starting now.

How much shit is the man supposed to eat? He was dismissed from his job without pay with no way to support his family, while running up huge bills for his lawyers. He was reviled in the media for months by people like Nevius and the domestic violence zealots and reduced to sleeping on Art Agnos's couch. He was perfectly justified in being elated at getting his job back.

Photo by Luke Thomas for Fog City Journal

I saved the worst for last, Randy Shaw's account in BeyondChron:

I found Christina Olague’s deciding third vote surprising, and Jane Kim’s misreading of legal precedent as the basis for her vote disturbing. Sadly, the wounds from this battle will be felt at City Hall for some time.

Why would anyone with any political sense be surprised at Olague's vote? She's already an underdog in uber-progressive District 5 just because she was appointed by Mayor Lee. (It would upgrade the quality of our political discourse, by the way, if everyone stopped using the passive-aggressive "sadly" and "I'm sorry" tropes.)

The domestic violence groups argued in unison that reinstating Ross would send the wrong message about the impact of such conduct, and could reduce the willingness of victims and their neighbors to report abuse. And the four supervisors rejected their pleas.
 
Because, as I pointed out above, instead of performing the admirable and necessary task of educating the public and defending people from domestic abuse, on this case they behaved like any other special interest groups by pushing their agenda in an unprincipled manner.

Olague’s vote was an act of profound disloyalty not only to the mayor who appointed her, but also to those who pushed the mayor to do so. Loyalty to those who have helped you in life is a critical principle. It is a profound value. Yet when Olague listened to speaker after speaker viciously attacking Mayor Lee, it did not lead her to conclude that since the Mayor had put his faith in her, she now needed to return the favor. One wonders why Olague decided to encourage Ed Lee to run for mayor and to be a co-chair of the Run, Ed, Run campaign if she had so little faith in his judgment.

This is mind-boggling. What self-respecting person would accept an appointment to the Board of Supervisors---the most important policy-making body in the city---if she thought she was obligated to vote with the Mayor on important issues regardless of the facts and contrary to her own political interests? This is the way it used to work in big city political machines in days of yore, but in San Francisco in 2012? Is that kind of slavish "loyalty" to Mayor Lee a more important "value" than moral, intellectual, and political independence? Only Randy Shaw---and perhaps members of the Mafia---can think that.

There's more:

[B]oth the Deputy City Attorney and Board President and attorney David Chiu had addressed the Mazzola case and explained why it was not controlling here. And had Mazzola been controlling, the City Attorney could not have authorized Mirkarimi’s suspension from office in the first place. Recall that the City Attorney’s Office issued its opinion upholding Mirkarimi’s removal soon after Dennis Herrera had lost a bruising campaign against Ed Lee that left few fond feelings between them. Herrera’s office had no incentive to twist legal precedent to help their former adversary, and as this City Attorney has always done they issued an opinion that followed the law.

Dennis Herrera's legal opinion is the last word on the law? That will be news to the local legal community. And it's news to me, since Herrera's legal opinion and the behavior of his deputies in the Bicycle Plan litigation was not only legally indefensible but was politically motivated, as he admitted last year.

The City Attorney's office provides legal services for the mayor and the board of supervisors. Regardless of the legal advice he gives them behind closed doors, once they give him his marching orders, he does what City Hall wants him to do.

Massive intellectual failure. If not for San Francisco's lucrative property tax base and pimping off the city for the tourist industry, this city would be Stockton-by-the-bay.


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