The practice of politics - Page 2

It isn't just about issues and ideology; it's about the way we fight

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Supporters of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sometimes cross an important line during his Oct. 9 removal proceedings.
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS

I also understand why people wanted Mirkarimi gone, believing that someone who admitted to domestic violence couldn't possibly remain San Francisco's chief elected law-enforcement officer. This was a black-and-white issue for them, and they saw progressive opposition to his removal as condoning his actions, despite our arguments that his criminal punishment was separate from the question of what the standard should be for removing an elected official from office.

Both sides fervently believed in their respective positions and were largely talking past one another, unable to really communicate. Positions hardened and were charged with emotion until they boiled over during the Oct. 9 hearing on Mirkarimi's removal.

But there's never any excuse for booing or making derogatory comments to domestic violence advocates who braved a hostile crowd to offer their opinions on the issue. Tolerance and respect for differing opinion are core progressive tenets, and our faith in those values must override our emotional impulses, which only feeds a fight that we lose just by fighting.

It was against this backdrop — and partially as a result of this polarized climate — that revelations of Davis' bad behavior toward women were made public. Davis is a friend of mine, and I was aware that he could act like an over-entitled jerk toward women, particularly during his worst period several years ago, although I had no idea how bad it really was.

As with many political scandals, the issue here wasn't just the original incidents, but how someone responds to them. That's the mark of someone's character and integrity. Most people do the wrong thing sometimes, but if we learn from our mistakes and truly make amends — which isn't something we claim, but something offered to us if our intentions seem true — then we become better people.

As we said in our editorial withdrawing our endorsement from Davis a few weeks ago, being a progressive has to be more about the movement than the person, and it's time that we remember that. So as a movement, the moment has arrived to come clean, admit our flaws, start anew, and try to lead by our example rather than our rhetoric or our stands on the issues.

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They say confession is good for soul, so let me give it a shot. Shortly after Sup. Jane Kim took office in 2010, we had a series of confrontational conflicts over some votes she made and her failure to come clean about what her relationship was with Willie Brown, which seemed to me related. She offered a misleading answer to my question and then said she wouldn't answer any more questions from me, which infuriated me because I believe politicians have a duty to be accountable. And so I continued to be hard on her in print and in person.

Now, I realize that I was being something of a bully — as political reporters, particularly male reporters, have often been over the years. I want to offer a public apology for my behavior and hope for forgiveness and that our relationship — which was a friendly one since long before she took office — can be better in the future.

While I felt that I was treating Kim like I would any politician, and I probably was, the fact is that the style of combative political exchanges — embodied in the last decade by Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, and many others, mostly men but some women like Carole Migden — is what has brought the progressive movement and San Francisco politics in general to the lowly point that we now find ourselves.

My old friend and ex-girlfriend Alix Rosenthal and other political women I know have long tried to impress upon me the value of having more females in office, regardless of their ideology, as long as they aren't actual conservatives. I have always bristled at that idea, believing ideology and political values to be more important than identity politics, which has been used as a wedge to divide the progressive movement.