Close jockeying for position in San Francisco sheriff race

The outcome of the sheriff's race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Examiner file photo)The outcome of the sheriff's race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Examiner file photo)

The outcome of the sheriff's race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Examiner file photo)The outcome of the sheriff's race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Examiner file photo)

Ross Mirkarimi held a lead over Chris Cunnie and Paul Miyamoto in a three-way race for San Francisco sheriff, but the outcome of the contest remains undecided. David Wong also entered the race, but was a distant fourth after Tuesday’s voting.

Because none of the contenders received 50 percent of the overall electorate, the race will come down to ranked-choice votes to decide the winner. The second- and third-place votes from each ballot will be counted in the coming days until a candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is in charge of operating the county’s jail system and providing security at government buildings.

This year’s sheriff’s race was the first in 32 years not to include Michael Hennessey, who stepped down after three-plus decades leading the 950-member department.

A popular leader, Hennessey’s sheriff’s office was a relative island of stability in the otherwise tumultuous world of San Francisco politics. His departure is sure to change the makeup of the Sheriff’s Department, which monitors roughly 1,500 inmates currently in San Francisco’s local jails — although those numbers are expected to grow.

Along with the transition from Hennessey’s leadership, the Sheriff’s Department will have to deal with a new state policy to transfer inmates from California’s overcrowded prisons to local jails.

As a result of the money-saving move, nearly 650 new inmates will be under the purview of the Sheriff’s Department. Of that total, roughly 225 are expected to end up in the county jail system, while an additional 420 will be under some form of local supervision.

Although San Francisco is receiving $5.7 million from the state to pay for overseeing the prisoners, The City estimates the program is underfunded by $1 million.

Overseeing the transition of the former state prisoners — none of whom are violent criminals or sex offenders — isn’t the only challenge for the Sheriff’s Department. Although the office keeps a low profile among other local agencies, it plays a key role in difficult policy decisions, particularly those concerning immigration.

Hennessey, a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, adopted a policy that nonviolent illegal immigrants would not be reported to federal authorities if booked on minor crimes. San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city has put the Sheriff’s Department in the national spotlight on several occasions.

The candidates to replace Hennessey offered voters a contrast in background. Mirkarimi was the only contender without any prior experience at the Sheriff’s Department. Cunnie, a former undersheriff, is an adviser to the state’s attorney general, Miyamoto is a captain at the Sheriff’s Department, and Wong was a former deputy sheriff.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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