Guest opinion: It's not about Mirkarimi, it's about us


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.


It's disappointing to see the anger and vulgarity of some writers.
They attack and yet don't see irony in the violence of their outbursts.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

next week, Mirk would lose badly. People voted for him not really knowing what they were getting.

But I would support Mirk being able to stand for re-election and taking his chances. Why doesn't he resign and do that? true democracy at work.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

It is so weird listening to Ed Lee and Randy Shaw talking about business and jobs, since neither of them has ever worked in the public sector or ran a business that actually generated net revenue.

Ed Lee said in his speech at SPUR that the Twitter tax break led to 125 new businesses in SF, but I doubt he knows how many of them generate a penny of real revenue or will be here years from now. Likely, non of them.

Start ups are notoriously difficult to keep going. Most fail. But most new businesses don't have an exit strategy of going public and selling stock at insane valuations to unsophisticated investors.

The difference between these 125 twitter leeches and an average restaurant or cab company is the restaurant and cab company don't plan on unloading after a few years by lying to the elderly investors who are the ultimate suckers for these dot com carpetbagger scavengers.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

I assume public should be private in 1st sentence?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 07, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

The guest that pointed out that I was incorrect in saying that Mirkarimi avoided IRV was absolutely correct and I was absolutely wrong on that point. But the main point that I was trying to make, that majority votes have a lot less impact than they once did, and that such a decline is not good for democracy still stands. that asserting the central role of majority votes in determining the outcome of democratic elections is now, in some quarters, a far left position is a sobering comment on where we are. I guess the notion that the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy needs more proof.

Posted by Calvin Welch on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

Calvin, you do realize that Mirkarimi was the first choice of only 38% of the voters, right??

And that even when all his 2nd and 3rd place choices were credited to him he still only had 44%?

Isn't the majority that you value so highly defined as 50% + 1 vote?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 5:22 pm

election were held now. If the criterion being applied here is the will of the people, then Ross should quit immediately because clearly the public have lost faith in him.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

""Mirkarimi didn't just win, he won big.""

Not true. He won less than 1/3 of the vote in the first round.

Mirkarimi: total 109272
Cunnie: total 103053
Miyamoto: total 104006
Wong: total 40638

Try to get your facts straight before you start writing your slanted article

Posted by Troll the IV on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 4:28 pm


You didn't learn that back in Journalism 1A?

Posted by Troll the IV on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

A lot of us are pointing out Calvin Welch's error re. his analysis of the outcome of the sheriff's race:

But I like the point he is making about the will of the people being overturned.

It is the job of judges to evaluate the constitutionality of laws that are passed by legislatures or passed at the ballot. I have no problem with them doing that when it comes to Roe v. Wade or Prop. 8 or any other law, though I may not agree with their opinion.

Ross Mirkarimi is a not a law, he is an elected officeholder. There is nothing constitutional or unconstitutional about him, just some vague language about conduct that falls below the dignity of the office or something. I voted for him, but with reluctance, as I have stated numerous times when I have posted elsewhere. I knew about his enfant horrible tirades and other matters, so when I found out about the alleged instance of DV, I placed that incident within the context of what I knew about him. But when he copped a plea, I thought he should be a given a chance to prove that he can do the job he was elected to do -- and to go through the DV classes and three years of probation and come out a better person at the end. I didn't ALWAYS hold that view -- but I do now.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

Calvin Welch has acknowledged the factual problem with the essay and let's move on. While I enjoy his writing style and that fabulous quote from earlier this week about the sorry state of our politics... "the nihilism, and anti-social philosophy" which dominates much of American politics, I am less enthusiastic about this op-ed.

Majorities do need to count for more in our politics outside 5-4 decisions from the Supreme Court. He's right about that but Ed Lee acted reasonably here. Lee gave the defendant time he felt he needed to represent himself in court and to its resolution. Mirkarimi chose to plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment charge. Only then did Lee act.

In 2012, progressives can not afford to have their political movement and sole newspaper be defined by this story. SurveyUSA may have parts of the polling business wrong, but it's no stretch to guess that public opinion is running heavily against Mirkarimi. Even among liberals in their crosstabs it's a 70-20 percent spread for resignation.

Yes DV law is too broadly interpreted and current intervention strategies can mirror the destructiveness of actual DV. However, as an elected official a defendant will be held to a higher set of public expectations. Such a defendant is not the catalyst for a change in state law.

If Mirkarimi's case goes forward at 400 McAllister and at the Ethics Commission and then to the Board of Supervisors then new press stories, with new facts about the case will appear. Does the progressive movement that needs to recruit and attract new figures to be competitive feel this is helpful? The text messages, a 55 second video played over public access television, old girlfriends come forward become new grist for the daily press.

At the national level, Obama's re-election is now contingent upon the women's vote. That national conversation has played itself out in the GOP primary process and thanks to GOP run state legislatures. For San Francisco elections what goes on nationally shapes our local conversation as well. Tim Redmond reported yesterday on how a slate of DCCC candidates is being organized around this issue. Whether it was the Obama 2008 wave election that helped retain the BOS in 2008 or the pension debate, national "memes" often shape what happens here. How women are treated in this society is now a national frame. That's the backdrop through which voters have and will read about the Mirkarimi case, and that doesn't work. It also does not work for incumbent district supervisors in swing districts.

To challenge San Francisco's "power elite" and the 1/10 of 1% that call the shots now, Mirkarimi needs to do the responsible thing and resign. Those who can should help him move forward to the next phase of his life. The downsides in politics can be awful and are personally tough. We should have empathy for him as he rebuilds a life. He can fix what is wrong and again be productive, but the political career has ended.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

This is one of the worst SFBG articles I have ever read. It's hard to follow. Somehow Bush v. Gore and the governor of Michigan get inserted into the Ross Mirkarimi case. And unless I'm missing something, the thesis of the article makes no sense. It posits that majority rule led to the enactment of the city charter but that the use of the city charter to remove RM violates the notion of majority rule.

Posted by The Commish on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

So now we are resorting to the "will of the people" strawman? This kind of absurd hypocrisy is why I long since stopped calling myself a progressive. I may vote Green but I cannot bear to use the same label as people who will defend a wifebeater simply because he's a crony of theirs. Will you guys ever realize that you have become as "Downtown" as the fatcats you are always complaining about?

Posted by Omar Little on Apr. 05, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

wanted Bush given the boot for his various wars in the Middle East?

I would have been happy to see Bush booted from office, I don't have a real problem with same for man child Mirkarimi either.

But you howling progressive and your whatever you can dream up and works today is so amazing.

Posted by matlock on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 6:56 am

Calvin, Ross did not have a majority of the vote in the first round, and won after three rounds of the IRV process. Here is the first round vote total, and the percentage of the vote for each major candidate followed by the final round vote totals:

First Round:
ROSS MIRKARIMI 70457 38.45%

PAUL MIYAMOTO 49814 27.19%

CHRIS CUNNIE 51602 28.16%

Final round:
Ross 86592 53.54%
Miyamoto 75137 46.46%

Info from Dept of Elections,

Posted by Guest on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 7:33 am

He clearly does no, since most of those 38% who supported him would now not. They didn't know what they were getting, and were effectively misled, and therefore disenfranchised.

Let Ross stand for the office again, in a new election. If he wins, I'll support him for sheriff - not otherwise.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 7:43 am

I agree that we need to keep our attention focused upon Democracy and the erosion of it--great article.

Our Democracy has mechanisms for dealing with the Ed Lees and Ross Mirkarimis--as it does with all crimes and the punishments that those crimes require. We just have to resist the temptation to take the short path, or to "trust" individuals in the system to take the short path and circumvent the process.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 07, 2012 @ 9:29 am

"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."

OK, so this removal process, since it's part of the Charter, was adopted by majority vote. So that makes it democratic, doesn't it? Doesn't subverting this democratically-arrived-at process in favor of an expensive recall vote--a vote, one could argue, the process was put into place to render unnecessary--subvert the will of the voters more than conducting a recall election?

Question: Did you advocate for a recall election for Ed Jew? If not, why not, since you're doing so for Mirkarimi?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

Why do I have a feeling that if Avalos were mayor and Cunnie sheriff but all other facts were the same, Welch's editorial would be rather different in content and tone?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

The lack of inspiring leadership from Mayor Lee, the strange interpretation of standard court procedure by the DA, and the irony of a Sheriff pleading guilty to false imprisonment all sour me on SF politics. I don't understand anything anymore. San Francisco deserves better.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 14, 2012 @ 12:31 pm