Virtually unmentioned in the torrent of words that have flowed over the Ross Mirkarimi false imprisonment, suspension and pending vote to determine his removal by the Board of Supervisors is any reference to what should now be the most important issue to be considered as the sad saga unfolds: the fact that Mirkarimi was, just four months before his removal, elected by a majority vote and his removal from office would simply set aside that vote, diminishing all of our cherished beliefs about "majority rule."
Mirkarimi didn't just win, he won big. He beat the second place candidate by nearly 19,000 votes, winning outright without the need for the magic of instant run-off. Mirkarimi got more first place votes than did Ed Lee (70,204 vs. 59,663). Moreover, Mirkarimi's election was without controversy, complaint or charge of illegality, unlike Ed Lee's, which resulted in a total of 25 misdemeanor convictions for illegal campaign contributions by a city contractor with a pending contact before a commission appointed by the mayor.
Since the 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court to give George Bush the election in 2000 after Al Gore won a majority of the popular vote, there has been a distressingly frequent willingness by the media to accept executive and judicial actions that set aside popular votes. The conservative governor of Michigan has simply taken over local governments that he deems financially "irresponsible" setting aside the votes of local residents. In California, a tiny minority of Republican legislators, elected by a comparative handful of voters, yearly stymie the overwhelmingly majority elected legislators, forcing deeply unpopular budget cuts -- and the media simply goes along.
Majority rule, the very bedrock of representative democracy, seems unnervingly easy to set aside now days. Majority rule is our bedrock because it's the only way in which our system has to define the political will of the people. Let's be clear, the very City Charter that is being used to remove Mirkarimi from office rests on the power given by "the people of the City and County of San Francisco," (Preamble to the Charter) and was itself adopted by a majority vote. Setting aside majority votes is a dangerous business for us all; it risks substituting the will of a few insiders for the will of the people.
The political riskiness of the move has been entirely incorrectly cast by the San Francisco Chronicle, the main voice to overturn the expressed will of the people. The Chronicle asserts the political risks as now falling on the supervisors who most vote to sustain the mayor's action with nine votes. Indeed, the ace vote counter at the "Comical," former Mayor Willie Brown, who went zero-for-ever in the last four years of his term in votes at the board, confidently predicts that the vote will be 11-zip to sustain the mayor because of the fear of voter retribution.
But facts indicate that "fear" will play the other way. Last November Mirkarimi won in six of the 11 supervisorial districts (D3, D5, D6, D8, D9 and D10) . In two of them (D8 and D10), he won more first-place votes than the current supervisor. In these same six districts he outpolled Ed Lee by some 18,000 votes. By what measure, other than the huffing and puffing of ex-Mayor Willie, C(onsistenly) W(rong) Nevius, and the two stooges, Matier and Ross, does any political risk fall on these supervisors to vote with their constituents?
Chances are nine votes will NOT be there and that Mirkarimi will remain sheriff, where the people put him.We will have gone through a divisive fight addressing none of our deep problems, Mayor Lee will squander the good will of the supervisors and voters for nothing and we will be exactly where we are now.
We have a way to remove Mirkarimi from office that is far better for our democracy. It's one of the great inventions of the Progressive Era. It's called recall, and it puts the matter where it should be: before the people. It's really not about Mirkarimi anymore. Its about us, the meaning of our votes, and the responsibility of supervisors to understand in whose name they govern. All power to the people!
Calvin Welch lives, works and plays in San Francisco.
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