Ken Garcia: Candidate’s saga underlines city’s warped view of service

There aren’t many places where being fair and objective could be interpreted as being green and uninitiated.

But there aren’t many places like San Francisco. Just ask Rebecca Woodson.

Sometime in the next week, Woodson will have her name withdrawn as a prospective mayoral appointee to the San Francisco Police Commission. She was eminently qualified to serve on one of the toughest commissions in The City because of her background dealing with law enforcement issues — she is a former deputy district attorney in San Mateo County.

But because she is an outsider — having few political ties and no known ax to grind — the young, liberal, African-Americanwoman could not muster support among the so-called progressive wing on the Board of Supervisors.

That is, having no agenda meant she did not meet their agenda.

“It’s disappointing because I think I would be great on the commission,’’ Woodson said. “I would have contributed a lot of hard work to it and tried to usher in some positive change. But I don’t think anybody at the board knew who I was.’’

And that apparently was a concern to them, because Woodson said she was told after meeting with Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi that they were looking for someone who was more of a community activist. Anybody who has attended a Police Commission hearing in recent years knows that it is one of the more politicized and fractionalized panels in The City. So you might think a calm, independent voice would be welcome.

You’d be wrong.

“I just don’t have those political ties,’’ Woodson told me.

Woodson is an associate in the San Francisco office of the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, with an expertise in toxic torts, according to her bio. She attended Georgetown University and was a law faculty scholar at Santa Clara University.

She came to the attention of the Mayor’s Office when her résumé surfaced for a spot on The City’s Arts Commission. But after seeing her credentials — and with a spot opening up on the police oversight panel — it was determined that she would be perfect for that body.

Yet she admittedly had a less-than-perfect debut at a board committee hearing a few weeks back, when after reading her opening statement Woodson was gripped by a rare case of stage fright. When Ammiano asked her about her job experience, she froze.

“I sort of lost my bearings for a few seconds,’’ she said. And Mirkarimi said she could come back to the committee at another date.

Woodson subsequently met or spoke with a number of supervisors privately, and also with several other officials with whom she would have to work with if her appointment went through, including Police Commission President Louise Renne, Kevin Allen, director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, Chief Heather Fong and Gary Delagnes, head of the Police Officers Association.

Word is that Woodson wowed most of them, but the supervisors felt she didn’t have enough “familiarity’’ with the commission’s issues.

“I think she’s a very sharp person,’’ Mirkarimi told me Wednesday. “But the question for me is whether she is the best person to move the commission beyond just a body that is reactive on disciplinary matters. I think the mayor should treat the commission with the kind of heft it deserves by naming someone who has a high profile in dealing with these types of issues.’’

But treating the Police Commission as a political tool is just the type of thing some people predicted when voters passed Proposition H a few years back — not only splitting the appointments between the mayor and the board but giving supervisors final say over mayoral picks.</p>

“I found Ms. Woodson to be an extremely qualified person and for her to be challenged like this shows that everything we feared about Prop. H has come to fruition,’’ Delagnes said.

The Mayor’s Office could have fought for Woodson before the full board, and there were several staff members who lobbied for that. Yet the case begs the question of just what a community activist is — someone who cares enough about the city they live and work in to volunteer to take on a difficult public service assignment, or someone with known political affiliations.

Woodson, as a professional with an unscathed reputation, felt that it would not serve her to be at the center of such a public fight, especially since, as Mirkarimi said, she’s just the kind of person who should be involved in The City’s commission assignment process.

Just not this one.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.Bay Area NewsLocalNews Columnists

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