Giving mayor job to sheriff just makes too much sense

There are a number of people jockeying to be the interim mayor of San Francisco, which, as any right-thinking person knows, should immediately disqualify them.

You really want to inherit a $400 million deficit and start slashing jobs, social services and government agencies? You really want to have to sign the law banning children’s meal toys and end up as a punch line on Conan O’Brien’s TV show? You really want to have to come into the Legislative Chamber so supervisors can play question time?

But somebody has to do it, and by next week, we will probably know who the lucky winner is. Based on the judgment of the overanxious board members who are making the call, it will probably be the wrong person.

That is, not Michael Hennessey, the longest-tenured sheriff in San Francisco history.

Hennessey probably will not be given the job because he does not fit the mold held in the shaky hands of supervisors Chris Daly and David Campos as a wide-eyed activist mayor who would carry a so-called “progressive agenda” into Room 200 at City Hall and then try to win the job outright next November.

In fact, Hennessey does not really want the job, once again proving his sanity and showing why he has been the most successful elected official in San Francisco in the past half-century.

He does not play politics because he does not have to. He defies all labels. Most people would probably consider him among the most “progressive” sheriffs in the U.S. for instituting a number of pioneering programs for inmates, including drug rehabilitation and educational opportunities.

But he still believes in jailing criminals — again, not a very popular stand with some of our supervisors.

Still, he would do the job if asked, since it is hard to turn down a city in need — something he has shown over eight terms and 31 years. And if that does not make some supervisors suspicious, all this public service and civic duty stuff, then probably nothing will.

And the kiss of death will probably be his popularity. He has received more than 1 million votes in San Francisco since he was first elected in 1979. Most of the board members were elected with less than 10,000 votes. They might as well be in a separate solar system.

But rather than go on about all the reasons Hennessey will not gain the necessary six votes, I will let him pass along some thoughts to those posers actually angling for the job. When you amass 1 million votes for office, you are allowed some say.

“This city should have somebody during the transition period who understands San Francisco and has a good working relationship with all the members of the board,” Hennessey said. “I’m not overly daunted by the budget deficit because Mayor [Gavin] Newsom has a plan in place to balance the budget and I’ve had to make hard decisions in this jobs for years.

“I’ve been successful in part because I haven’t had to take votes on controversial issues. I’ve just focused on my job. My politics are unknown to most people. I may be too liberal for moderates and too moderate for liberals, but I’d do my best if asked to step into the mayor’s job.”

As if supervisors needed another reason not to pick Hennessey as interim mayor, he would have the chance to pick the next district attorney and sheriff, and who better to make those selections than someone who has been at the center of the criminal justice system here for nearly four decades?

That would make way too much sense, something the board would never let happen. You think that having the only sheriff with a law degree in California should have a say in who leads our criminal prosecutions and our jails? Who are you kidding?

No, it looks like Hennessey will just have to remain sheriff as long as he wants to hold the keys, going about his business in his own dignified way, without any of the grandstanding we have come to associate with the politics of San Francisco.

It is just as well. Hennessey would probably feel like a prisoner to all the special interests and ideological whims that fill City Hall. There is no worse feeling for a sheriff.

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