Incumbent with troubled past runs against longtime sheriff’s deputy

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced this week that a new certification would authorize deputies to patrol city streets . (Ben Margot/AP)

Incumbent Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi wants a second term in office — but challenger and law enforcement veteran Vicki Hennessy would prefer to take that responsibility from him.

In many ways, the candidates differ little. Both agree on most issues, from giving deputies body cameras, creating more alternatives to jailing and the bevy of innovative programs like Five Keys Charter School that exist in County Jail.

RELATED: Click here to read the San Francisco Examiner’s 2015 endorsements.

The election seems to have become a race of temperament in which the candidates paint one another as opposites even though they have many similar positions.

Hennessy describes herself as anything but a politician. Rather she is a long-time deputy who knows the department from bottom to top and whose years in the ranks will give her the respect of the rank and file.

Mirkarimi, on the other hand, reminds anyone who will listen that the sheriff is an elected leader, not simply a department manager. Leading with new initiatives, as well as acting as a balance of power in The City’s criminal justice universe, is important as having a good manager.

But perhaps their enemies and friends are more telling of where they come from and how they will run the department in relation to the rest of The City.

Hennessy is backed by the mayor and the moderate political establishment and has little public recognition. Mirkarimi is backed by some but not all of The City’s progressives and is well known but for the domestic violence scandal that marked his first moments in office in 2012, rather than any single accomplishment.

Ross Mirkarimi

Mirkarimi, 54, has been sheriff since 2012. He spent nine years in the District Attorney’s Office and then two terms as District 5 supervisor. He is married and has a young son. He is one of the country’s highest serving elected officials of Iranian descent.

Ideas: Mirkarimi points to many of the programs and policies he put into place — even if they began before his time in office — as examples of what he will continue with if reelected. Those programs include a new policy letting transgender inmates be housed with the gender identify with, as well as efforts to increase the number of people serving sentences for minor offenses outside of jail.

New jail: While Mirkarimi has changed his position on whether a new jail should be built, he  most recently said that if the jail population is brought to a sustained lower level, there will be no need for a new jail.

Sanctuary city: He said The City’s laws on how to deal with undocumented inmates, as well as federal court rulings, make it clear, to a degree, when his office is to communicate with federal immigration officials. Unless an undocumented inmate has a violent history, his department will not hand him over to immigration without a court order or a warrant.

Working with the union: Mirkarimi contends he has worked with the union and often conferences with deputies before implementing new plans and programs. As for their lack of support of his candidacy, he says the previous sheriff was also not always backed by the union.

About opponent: Mirkarimi has said repeatedly that Hennessy represents Mayor Ed Lee and will do his bidding once in office.

Vicki Hennessy

Hennessy, 62, joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1975. In 1983 she became the youngest captain in California law enforcement. In 1997,  she became chief deputy. In 2008, she was appointed to head the Department of Emergency Management. In 2012, she served briefly as interim sheriff. She is married to a retired police officer and has two children.

Ideas: Hennessy says she wants to make the department more transparent, accountable and open to public input. Specifically, she wants to create a community advisory group.

New jail: Hennessy supports the building of a new jail to replace the decrepit and seismically unsafe facility in the upper levels of the Hall of Justice.

Sanctuary city: While Hennessy supports The City’s laws as they stand, she said that she will take undocumented inmates on a case by case basis when it comes to communicating with federal officials. Hennessy has said she would have a more open line of communication between immigration officials and the department, and hand over inmates she deems a public danger.

Working with the union: She has the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs Association support and often talks of how that will help her run the jail and the department if she is elected.

About opponent: She points mainly to his lack of ability to communicate with and manage the staff and its union when it comes to implementing his policies and programs.


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