What once appeared to be a one-horse race for sheriff in November is looking more and more interesting, with a protege of the current sheriff likely joining a politically savvy supervisor and a popular sheriff’s deputy who are both already in the running.
Chris Cunnie — the former undersheriff, police union boss and head of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management — said Sunday that today he plans to pull the necessary paperwork to run for the office. He would join Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and sheriff’s Capt. Paul Miyamoto as serious challengers in a race for which there is no incumbent for the first time in 31 years.
The Sheriff’s Department has responsibility over six jails and provides security at City Hall, public hospitals and Superior Court. The department has a budget of about $171.5 million and is preparing to see a major influx of prisoners as part of the state’s realignment process.
Mirkarimi seemed to be without a serious challenger until Miyamoto officially kicked off his campaign in June and took away several key endorsements from the supervisor.
Another challenger, David Wong, ran against Sheriff Michael Hennessey in 2007, but his campaign this year took a hit after he was fired by Hennessey in May for allegedly striking a handcuffed inmate.
Veteran police Capt. Greg Corrales filed papers to run for sheriff, but bowed out of the race less than a month later to support Miyamoto. Other candidates seen as being less viable include William Angel, Michael Evans, Jon Gray and Matthew Haskell.
For Mirkarimi, political consultant Jim Ross said the sheriff’s race will challenge his ability to establish name recognition. Since the advent of district elections, supervisors have struggled to be known citywide.
"Mirkarimi is right now the front-runner, but he’s not scaring people off," Ross said. "Chris has such history in this town and he has a good chance. A lot of people like him and he’s got great law enforcement credentials."
Former police Chief Tony Ribera is a close friend of Cunnie, but he already endorsed Miyamoto. He spoke with Cunnie on Friday and said he was concerned he would take away votes from Miyamoto.
Ranked-choice voting, however, could challenge that calculus. With ranked-choice voting, voters choose up to three candidates and if no one receives a majority of votes, the second and third choices are tallied.
"If Chris does decide to run it will be a good opportunity for voters to get engaged in the race and what the department does," Miyamoto said. "I think we all share the same vision."
And whomever wins the election will have a long-serving example in Hennessey. He has been sheriff for more than three decades.
"Things have been running pretty smoothly with Mike, and so I don’t think anyone’s going to criticize his policies," Ribera said. "But new issues come up all the time in the world of public safety."
There are currently seven candidates and one likely candidate in the race for San Francisco sheriff, but three candidates are seen as having the best chances.
Other candidates: David Wong, William Angel, Michael Evans, Jon Gray and Matthew Haskell
*Announced intention to run