Sheriff candidates take part in low-key debate

Challenger Vicki Hennessy, left, and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi took part in a candidate debate Monday. Photo: Khaled Sayed
Challenger Vicki Hennessy, left, and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi took part in a candidate debate Monday. Photo: Khaled Sayed

The two main candidates for San Francisco sheriff faced off in a debate

this week, trying to solidify their support ahead of next month’s

election.

Despite the fact that it’s one of the few contested races on the ballot, it

was a low-key affair. Fewer than 30 people showed up at Golden Gate

University Monday, October 12 for the forum, which was sponsored by

the League of Women Voters of San Francisco.

Current Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is in a tough re-election race due to

several scandals that have rocked the department. His main challenger

is Vicki Hennessy, a former chief deputy in the department who Mayor

Ed Lee named interim sheriff for several months after Mirkarimi was

placed on unpaid leave following a domestic incident with his wife.

Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to one count of false imprisonment for the

incident, in which he grabbed his wife’s arm. He was reinstated as

sheriff in October 2012 after four members of the Board of Supervisors

voted not to remove him from office. This spring he won a judge’s order

to expunge the conviction from his record.

Challenger Vicki Hennessy, left, and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi took part in a candidate debate Monday. Photo: Khaled Sayed
Challenger Vicki Hennessy, left, and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi took part in a candidate debate Monday. Photo: Khaled Sayed

At Monday’s forum, Mirkarimi showed an enthusiastic attitude and

energy, while Hennessy seemed more composed. Unlike Mirkarimi, she

never ran over time answering questions.

Hennessy stated that she is the first woman to run for sheriff. Born and

raised in San Francisco, she joined the sheriff’s department in 1975 and

quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the youngest captain in

California law enforcement in 1983 and chief deputy in 1997.

At the debate Hennessy tried to set herself apart from Mirkarimi by

stating that she is not a politician but a professional.

“I think the biggest difference between us is that I’m not a professional

politician,” Hennessy said. “I’m somebody who worked in the

department for 30 years. I came in the first class that was actively

recruiting people of color and lesbians. I have 25 years of executive and

management positions both in the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

as well as the Department of Emergency Management, so I think that is

our biggest difference.”

She added that another difference is that she has experience in providing proactive leadership.

“I held myself accountable, I held others accountable and I’ve set examples as a leader. I think that is very, very important,”

Hennessy said.

The election is being fought against the backdrop of several scandals that have surfaced during Mirkarimi’s tenure.

In 2013, a woman who had been reported missing from San Francisco General Hospital, which sheriff’s deputies patrol, was

found dead in a stairwell there. Earlier this year allegations of a fight ring in a county jail run by sheriff deputies went public, and

there is reportedly low morale among the rank and file of the safety agency.

Making international headlines was the killing in July of a woman on a city pier, allegedly by a man in the country illegally who

had been released from custody by the sheriff’s department after a long ago drug possession charge against him was dismissed.

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Due to the city’s sanctuary city policy, the sheriff’s department released the individual without alerting federal immigration

authorities, a decision that came under blistering criticism from Lee and other officials.

At the forum, there was no discussion of the Pier 14 incident per se. The candidates were asked about the sanctuary city policy

and both said they support it and that the law should stay in place.

Prior to being elected sheriff in 2011, Mirkarimi served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing District 5. Before

that Mirkarimi worked for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office from 1996-2005. He is endorsed by his predecessor,

Sheriff Mike Hennessey, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

Hennessy has secured endorsements from the mayor, eight members of the Board of Supervisors, the deputy sheriff’s association,

Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and the Bay Area Reporter .

Mirkarimi focused his closing statement on the fact that he was the one being endorsed by Hennessey.

“I view him as a progressive sheriff,” Mirkarimi said, “who was elected and served 32 years in San Francisco, and he endorsed

only myself. He did so in 2011 when he was ready to retire, and does so again. That says a lot because Mike Hennessey was

known as an outsider even when he ran for the fourth, fifth and sixth time. But he supported me because he knew that we need to

continue to advance the kind of independent and constitutional bright line of protecting our sheriff’s department.”

John Robinson is the third candidate in the sheriff race, but he didn’t show up to the debate. According to his website, Robinson is

a former longtime sheriff’s deputy who rose to the rank of lieutenant.

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