A progressive reformer with a scandal dogging his past or a cautious pragmatist some say is beholden to City Hall?
Such was the choice put to attendees Thursday night at a cordial forum in a Mission High School auditorium between the two candidates running for San Francisco sheriff.
While the eight-month campaign has just begun, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and challenger Vicki Hennessy — who was caretaker sheriff for a time in 2012 — did showcase their differences in style, demeanor and policy.
No one directly mentioned the 2012 domestic abuse scandal that nearly lost Mirkarimi his job, but it was alluded to more than once. Mirkarimi, whose wife was in attendance, opened by saying he admires his wife most for coming to The City from Venezuela to start over.
“It has been an amazing and wonderful marriage,” he said. “We're stronger than ever.”
Hennessy used the moment to point out her integrity and ethics, her ability to work with others — especially the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee — and build trust between her department and The City.
“Trust is code for who's part of the machine and who's not,” said Mirkarimi, painting Hennessy as a pawn of power politics, starting when she was appointed interim sheriff during his failed ouster. “You were a proxy for Mayor Ed Lee,” he said.
Hennessy, who said she is beholden to no one, countered, “I was not a proxy for Ed Lee.”
The two candidates came to some agreement on issues such as increasing diversion programs, bail reform and increased use of ankle monitors.
Mirkarimi supports a review board like the Police Commission for the Sheriff's Department, even if it is an elected position, while Hennessy was more cautious about the idea saying she would have a wait-and-see approach.
The pair disagreed upon a proposed new jail to replace the one inside the Hall of Justice, which is slated for demolition. Mirkarimi said he thinks no new jail should be built if the declining inmate population stabilizes at 1,000. There is a current population of roughly 1,200. Hennessy, however, supports the new jail. Even if the jail population is dropping, she said, The City must plan for contingencies and a growing population overall.
Hennessy, long a Sheriff's Department employee, is backed by several law enforcement groups, including the 100 ranking members of the Sheriff's Department and the San Francisco Police Officers Association. But the 700-member San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association has yet to make an endorsement, and former Sheriff Mike Hennessey (no relation to the contender) is backing Mirkarimi as is former Mayor Art Agnos, to name a few.
Since his 2011 election, the progressive sheriff has worked to register inmates to vote and reformed the onerously-expensive phone system among other moves. Mirkarimi has also been busy in recent years trying to give his deputies new duties, despite opposition from City Hall. Those efforts included a pilot program with the Police Department wherein deputies transported prisoners from station houses to jail. Another measure included the deputizing of some deputies by the U.S. Marshals Service.