Dennis Herrera's (mostly) most excellent swearing-in


Text, photos and video by Sarah Phelan

Dennis Herrera's son believes his dad will do a great job--and here he says so in Mandarin.

There were a lot of things to like about City Attorney Dennis Herrera's Jan. 7 swearing-in ceremony.

Alex Tourk and Aaron Peskin chat each other up.

It brought together a who's who of Democratic elected officials, past and present, a string of supervisorial candidates, department heads, union leaders and other party cling-ons. In other words, prime feeding ground for sharky journalists in search of juicy pieces of chum.

State treasurer (and former State Attorney General) Bill Lockeyer did a good job of kicking off the event.

And it ended with cupcakes--in other words, prime feeding ground for snarky journalists in desperate need of calories.

Board President David Chiu, Mayor Gavin Newsom and City Attorney Dennis Herrera await the swearing-in.

And, as an unexpected bonus, we got to see Herrera's eight-year-old son Declan get up and say, "I know you'll do great, Dad," (amongst other things) in English--and then switch into seemingly fluent Mandarin--a skill he apparently picked up by attending Chinese school, according to his obviously proud dad.

Declan wows the crowd with his bilingual prowess (and we suspect he speaks Spanish, too.)

But there was a protest action that marred Herrera's otherwise flawless swearing-in--and it bothered the City Attorney no end, even though it was a silent protest and did not interrupt his ceremony.

Organized by the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN), (oops, supporters of the action subsequently contacted me to say it was organized by the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee) the protest sought to keep the limelight on the city's newly amended sanctuary legislation, which the Board of Supervisors approved with a veto-proof majority last fall, but which Mayor Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said he intends to ignore.

Hererra, for his part, says he will doing everything he can to defend the amended legislation, which seeks to ensure that juveniles get their day in court before being referred to federal immigration authorities.

The legislation was amended in fall 2009, 16 months after Newsom ordered city officials to start referring suspected undocumented juveniles to ICE, when they are booked on felony charges.

Since then, immigrant advocates have documented how Newsom's policy has needlessly ripped families apart and had a chilling effect on the local immigrant community. And they believe it's within Herrera's powers to tell the mayor that he must implement the new policy, which Sup. David Campos authored, personal preferences notwithstanding.

This is why a string of immigrant rights advocates showed up at Herrera;s swearing-in and silently held up signs that, pieced together, read, "Herrera's advice sends kids to ICE". But while their message was intended to goad Herrera into pressuring Newsom into implementing the newly amended sanctuary law, it obviously succeeded in exasperating the City Attorney, who says he is doing everything within his powers around this legislation,

Reached by the cupcakes, Herrera told me that "nothing could be farther from the truth" than the protestors' message.

"I just say what the law is and what the risks are," Herrera said. "Folks spreading misinformation are doing a disservice to a very serious issue. The policy objective is important. We don't want innocent kids deported. I've had good meetings with immigrant advocates and lawyers. We are working with them to see what sort of arenas that might allow us some possible implementation."

Herrera also noted that the letter his office sent to the US Attorney Joseph Russoniello, warning of possible legal action, was simply laying out a standard legal option.

"It's not saying we are going to do it," Herrera explained, addressing advocates' concerns that the City was going to enter into a legal suit instead of implementing duly-enacted legislation.