Hearings create strange alliances Ethics Commission 

click to enlarge Cast of characters: The testimony of Mayor Ed Lee, above, in an ethics hearing has drawn in, from left, Commissioner Debra Walker, Supervisor Christina Olague and ex-Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. - ALL: S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTOS
  • all: s.f. examiner file photos
  • Cast of characters: The testimony of Mayor Ed Lee, above, in an ethics hearing has drawn in, from left, Commissioner Debra Walker, Supervisor Christina Olague and ex-Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin.

From the looks of the headlines, anyone visiting San Francisco would think our mayor is on trial. Events at the Ethics Commission hearings over whether suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi should be permanently removed from office have been a source of controversy from the start, but after Mayor Ed Lee testified about why he suspended Mirkarimi in the first place, things really got heated.

First, Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker claimed that Lee lied on the stand when he said he didn’t talk to anyone on the Board of Supervisors before removing Mirkarimi. Walker claims this was a lie, because Supervisor Christina Olague told her that Lee had discussed the case with her.

Because the Board of Supervisors will ultimately vote on whether to reinstate Mirkarimi, if Lee did discuss the case with a supervisor, it would be completely unethical — like a lawyer talking to the judge before filing a case. Lee, who is an experienced attorney, should know better.

Whether the specter of this issue will or should impact the case against Mirkarimi is another question. It certainly doesn’t change what Mirkarimi did to get himself put on probation for three years. But it does provide political cover to progressive supervisors who want to justify a vote to reinstate him. Which is one of several reasons why Lee and Olague should go before the commission and put the whole matter to rest.

A second perjury allegation comes from former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who claims Lee dispatched political insider Walter Wong to meet with Peskin and ask whether Mirkarimi would resign as sheriff if a job elsewhere could be secured. Peskin said Wong informed him that he had instructions from the mayor to set up the offer. Wong has ties to Rose Pak, who is close with Lee. Presumably, Peskin was approached because he is Mirkarimi’s former progressive colleague on the Board of Supervisors.

In his testimony to the commission, Lee denied offering any alternative job to Mirkarimi, either directly or indirectly through a third party.

If the allegations are true, it wouldn’t be the first time Wong had been a political messenger.

Reportedly, back in 2004, when the unrelated Eugene Wong was running for District 3 supervisor, Walter Wong asked to meet with him. At that meeting, Walter told Eugene that he was supporting a different candidate.

According to Eugene, Walter insisted that he withdraw from the political race or be the subject of character assassination that would ruin his legal practice. Walter claimed to be speaking on behalf of “others,” Eugene claimed.

Walter later admitted to the meeting and admitted supporting the other candidate, but denied making any threat.
The other candidate distanced himself from Walter, claiming he hadn’t sent anyone and had no idea any meeting took place.

And who was that “other candidate”? Aaron Peskin.

Once again, city takes the lead, this time in big-spending transit boondoggles

Whether we like it or not, San Francisco is always ahead of the curve. Now that state legislators have agreed to issue $2.7 billion in bonds to begin the construction of the state’s high-speed railroad, the rest of California is finally catching up to San Francisco. For years, our own little rail boondoggle — the Central Subway project — has been the subject of debate and bewilderment. The new high-speed rail funding plan also includes $2 billion for other high-speed rail related projects, including $61 million for our subway, and both plans have attracted the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, recently proposed an amendment removing $850 million in subway funding from a federal transportation bill. The amendment passed, although we are assured by people in fashionable pantsuits that it will be added back in the Senate deliberations.

That tea party caucus member McClintock requested federal stimulus money in 2009 to rehabilitate his district’s Lake County Railroad did nothing to temper his ire at funding for our subway. He introduced his amendment by saying, “This project is a 1.7-mile subway that is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. And these cost estimates continue to rise. In fact, its baseline budget has more than doubled in nine years and shows no sign of slowing. The current estimate brings the cost to nearly $1 billion per mile. That’s about five times the cost per lane-mile of Boston’s scandalous Big Dig.”

The Big Dig? Them’s fighting words, mister.

Which may explain why a congressman from Massachusetts defended the subway project. Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., said, “This project, I think, is a perfect — well, maybe not perfect — is a very good example of the types of infrastructure projects our major urban areas need to remain economically strong, provide job creation now, and critical access to jobs in the future.” When you look at it that way, the Big Dig was just nine years and $12 billion dollars more of awesome job creation than originally planned.

While “very good” and “maybe not perfect” aren’t the highest praise, Democrats must be happy we’re willing to take the money so that President Barack Obama can have something to show for the stimulus he’s trying to give away. Funding earmarked for rail projects in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin in 2009 was rejected by the newly elected Republican governors of each state in 2010.

Olver pointed out that the Federal Transit Administration already put $150 million toward the Central Subway project and wondered aloud whether McClintock’s opposition isn’t “based on some kind of internal politics and not on sound policy.” Of course, McClintock could have said the same to Olver. You don’t need “sound policy” to shout “jobs” from one side of the room and “boondoggle” from the other.

It’s doubtful either actually knows much about the Central Subway project.

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Melissa Griffin

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