Ross Mirkarimi was elected in November, 2011, with a clear majority in a contested race. The state Constitution provides an excellent remedy for replacing an elected official who has lost the confidence of the voting public; it's called the recall. With a fraction of the effort that's been spent on this case, people who feel Mirkarimi should no longer serve as sheriff could have collected signatures and forced an election.
The City Charter gives the mayor extraordinary authority — we would say too much authority — to unilaterally suspend an elected official and seek removal. That's a power that should be wielded only in the most extreme cases, with great deference to the will of the voters.
Lee did no investigation before filing official misconduct charges. He based those charges on unsubstantiated claims, most of which were proven false. There's a dangerous precedent here: If Mayor Ed Lee can suspend without pay Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on such limited evidence, the ability of future mayors to misuse this power could be alarming. And remember: There is nothing in the Charter that allows anyone to suspend or seek removal of the mayor.
3. This case mangles "official misconduct."
There's another dangerous element to this case, and it's not just a legal technicality. The New Year's Eve incident occurred before Mirkarimi took the oath of office; on that day, he wasn't the sheriff of San Francisco. He was a supervisor.
It's hard to claim he was guilty of "official misconduct" on a day when he had no official duties. A fascinating, but unsigned analysis by somebody who clearly has a strong legal background is posted on the web (rjemirkarimi.blogspot.com). It notes:
"If the Supervisors approve what the Ethics Commission did on August 16, they will be handing a powerful new political weapon to all mayors, present and future. Good mayors may never misuse it, but other mayors might. No longer will such a mayor be limited to examining an opponent's conduct while in office. He will have carte blanche and a strong motive to look farther back in time for personal misconduct that occurred before his opponent took office, and to use what he finds to suspend his opponent without pay and remove him from office — all while claiming (as undoubtedly he will) to be engaged in a noble pursuit of truth and justice."
Let's be serious: There have been San Francisco mayors with a long record of vindictive politics, or seeking any method possible to punish their enemies. There may well be again. Do we really want to have this case — this weak case driven more by politics than reason and evidence — set the precedent for the grave step of overriding the voters and removing an elected official?
Any of these three reasons ought to be grounds to vote against the mayor's charges. Together, they make a sound enough case that it's hard to imagine how the supervisors, sitting as a fair and impartial jury, could come to any conclusion other than returning Mirkarimi to office. We recognize that there are political implications, that Mirkarimi's foes will target anyone who votes to support him. And just as it's hard for some politicians to appear "soft on crime," it's nearly impossible to survive in San Francisco if you're considered "soft on domestic violence." But anyone who doesn't want tough choices shouldn't run for public office. It will take courage to do the right thing here — and in the end, that's what should matter.