John Avalos’ Statement on the Impact of the Mirkarimi Decision

John Avalos – 2011

This past week the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco voted to reinstate Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi after Mayor Lee’ attempt to remove him from office for official misconduct. Mirkarimi has previously plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment in connection to an incident in which he grabbed and bruised his wife’s arm. As you can imagine, there has been outrage on both sides. Some believe that the Mayor overstepped the bounds of his mayoral authority and others believe that this is one more set-back in the fight against domestic.

John Avalos, a friend and the supervisor of the district where I used to live and work, is on the Board and voted to reinstate Mirkarimi. I have known John for a number years, and while I am not sure how I would have voted in this case, knowing his community and his track-record, I have no doubt that this was a wrenching decision and one not made without many voices helping him to get the full breadth of the situation.

One of the reasons that I have been supportive of John in the past is because, while unapologetically progressive in his politics, no one can question his thoughtfulness, integrity and love of the City. He has once again shown this trait in this mass letter that I just received this morning.

Dear Friends,

In the last few days, in the aftermath of the vote to reinstate Sheriff Mirkarimi, I, along with other colleagues, have received numerous calls, emails, and correspondence in response to the vote.

I want to thank everyone who took the time to communicate with my office, whether in support, anger or disappointment.  I truly appreciate the critical and thoughtful comments, as well as the passion and strong feelings expressed.

However, I cannot respect vicious and violent comments, nor the threats that domestic violence advocates and even my own colleagues who voted for Sheriff Mirkarimi’s reinstatement have received. I hope that we can all work together to move our City forward by encouraging a dialogue of respect and open mindedness.

Tuesday night’s public comment was one of the most emotionally troubling experiences I have had, sitting in the chair closest to the public comment podium. People I have known for years took to the mic, speaking on either side of sustaining or not sustaining the charges of official misconduct, and of removing or reinstating Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

There is so much we all commonly love about San Francisco – our diversity, our penchant and tolerance for divergent thinking, our rich cultural history and our compassion handed down to us from our namesake, St. Francis.  And yet that night, I know, this city was shaken to its core. The hurt, anger and disappointment of the ten-month deliberation over this issue and the shock of the Board vote are fresh on all sides. I know that those who had hoped for the reinstatement of the Sheriff feel a sense of relief and for some even elation.  I believe the expression of these feeling can be felt as uncaring and even intimidating to those who did not support reinstatement.  And for those who sought removal, there is a deep sense of loss – that the City has lost its moral bearing.  Many people have expressed their feeling that, with this vote, we have shown that we only pay lip service to our commitment to justice for domestic violence victims and survivors.

For me, there is no sense of triumph or elation and certainly no winners, only a worry that our City has been deeply wounded and divided.  I am hopeful that this is a temporary state.  It is absolutely critical that we heal from this experience and not let the wounds of today turn to permanent scars that will mar the future of the City or the good work we have done.

If I have any regrets from Tuesday night, it is that I did not call for greater open-mindedness and respect as some members of the audience were heckled and jeered at – recognizing that most of whom were anti domestic violence workers and advocates, who supported removal.  I am sorry for being silent and not calling out for respect on all sides.

As I have previously publicly stated, I believe that elected officials, despite various viewpoints on the matter, need to play a leadership role in helping the City move forward, past this vote.   I hope that we can be models of respect for different viewpoints and that we can balance our very real and powerful emotions with ways that can help us connect better to our constituents and the issues we all face.  I personally have reached out to Mayor Lee, Sheriff Mirkarimi, the Domestic Violence Consortium, and colleagues on different sides of the vote.  I know that all sides have been hurt and impacted by even the small minority of people who have chosen to express themselves in vicious and disrespectful ways.   Now, I reach out to you, my closest friends and supporters, regardless of which side of the vote you were on, to bring back the respectful dialogue that our City can and should be known for.



So again, this San Franciscan thanks John and others for exhibiting class, character and a willingness to serve all of San Francisco. I too hope that the Board, the Mayor’s office and The City will be able to see and live our way forward without retribution, grudge-holding and fear. While I have not always agreed with every vote that he or the board has made, if all of our public servants could have this posture towards the political process, “win” or “lose,” we would all be better off.

Asian American Identity Politics and the Race for Mayor of San Francisco

In response to my last post, The Race for Room 200 and the #sfmayor Election, a comment on the SF Gate Cross Posting, basically said that I should just shut up about politics because I am a pastor.  Well, sorry to disappoint those who think that being a person of faith automatically excludes him or her from civic engagement, but as many have felt for generations, my Christian faith is inherently political and compels me to be active in public square. As I have said before, issues of church and state are VERY different than issues of faith and politics; church state separation must be upheld, but faith and politics are intrinsically related. So I will keep thinking about politics, thank you very much.

Dismount soapbox.

For those who have been keeping up with the race for mayor here in San Francisco, you will have noticed that there are a couple of pretty cool things going on: one, a large number of legitimate candidates are running and, two,many of them are Asian American, five to be exact: Jeff Adachi, David Chiu, Ed Lee, Phil Ting and Leland Yee.  This post is not about the merits of any of them as candidates – see my disclaimer below – but rather an invitation to a conversation about the nature Asian Pacific Islander (API) political leadership today and what this particular election means to the larger voice of APIs in American culture.  No pressure, I know 😉

I was prompted to think about this by a few interactions over the past week:

  • A group that I have been involved with off and on in the past, Asian Pacific American for Progress (APAP), has invited folks to reflect on this election, AND, as we have discovered, there are many of us who are involved with APAP who are also involved with in various campaigns in this year’s SF mayoral race.
  • A conversation with a friend about the diversity of the Asian American community in San Francisco around class, immigration status, educational achievement, social views, etc.
  • And finally a brief Twitter exchange with @kimberlyychin. She and I do not know each other but I think she raises some really good questions in the following thread . . .

It is that last point that I think is really important for us to think about during this particular election. For those who keep up on Asian American politics, San Francisco’s race for mayor is proving to be a great opportunity for analysis: check out one of my favorite blogs 8asians, the Asian Week analysis of the DCCC endorsement and Bill Wong of the Nichi Bei Weekly. These and other have taken notice of deeper API issues which raise important questions for Asian American voters namely, “Will any of the five Asian American candidates show up on your ballot as #1, #2 or #3 and how much will/does their Asian American background matter?”

Let me be clear. I do not think that anyone should vote for or against someone solely because of their race. I have known far too many politicians for which their ethnic background gives them a unique worldview, but hold a political ideology that is far too conservative for my taste or my vote.  At the same time, folks also know what I think about being “color blind” so in order to assure a breadth of perspectives in decision-making, I also believe that, all else being equal, the ethnic background – could also be said of gender and other important life experiences – should be taken into consideration as one is voting.

So what do you think?

  • What would it mean for San Francisco, with our high percentage of Asian Americans to NOT elect one of the five Asian Americans as our next mayor?  What if we did?
  • How might the election or non-election of and Asian American impact the larger conversations on race and politics in San Francisco and the larger culture?
  • Realizing that many of us probably do not agree 100 percent on policies or positions with candidates we support, are there “intangibles” or other more  subjective criteria that you use when deciding on a candidate?
  • And lastly, knowing that a non-Asian American is my #1 and like many, I am still undecided on #2 and #3, if you do support someone else on the ballot, feel free to make your case.  Seriously, I still don’t know.

Thanks for reading along and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

MY DISCLAIMER: John Avalos is my #1 so if that immediately discounts anything I say, there is not much I can do about that. What I can tell you is that I am not part of his paid staff, no one from the campaign vets my writing and I make no assumptions that I agree with everything that John stands for or against. I simply trust the man and have chosen to give him my support and time. I sit in a few meetings, give some thoughts, tweet a bit and help coordinate the PTA.