January 9, 2012
Editor’s Note: This article has been modified since its initial publication. We incorrectly reported Angela Chan is a former staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus when, in fact, she remains a current staff attorney for the civil rights organization. It should also be noted that Ms. Chan spoke as an individual and not in any official capacity.
Vowing to continue the legacy of former Sheriff Michael Hennessey, former District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was joined by family, friends and supporters Sunday at the Herbst Theatre for his ceremonial swearing in as the 35th elected Sheriff of San Francisco.
Judge Katherine Feinstein, daughter of US Senator Dianne Feinstein, was originally slated to administer the oath of office to Mirkarimi, Sunday, but declined last week citing a potential conflict of interest resulting from an ongoing investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident on New Year’s Eve involving Mirkarimi and his wife, Eliana Lopez.
Mirkarimi, who was officially sworn into office by Clerk of the Board Angela Calvillo on Saturday, selected former Mayor Art Agnos to administer the ceremonial oath in place of Feinstein.
Actor-Director Barry “Shabaka” Henley was master of ceremonies. He said he ran into “Ross at the airport a few years ago and ha[s] not been able to get away from him.” Henley, a San Francisco native, said he was glad to know progressive leadership will continue to be exerted in the Office of Sheriff.
The National Anthem was performed by Lea Sweet, who later accompanied Frank T. Williams in a Spoken Word piece. A beautiful Madama Butterfly aria was sung by opera star Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, who also performed a Kurdistani folk song with Kristin Pankonin on piano. Shahrzad Khorsandi presented a mesmerizing dance of Termeh, which Henley described as putting him “in a trance.”
Police Commissioner and staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, Angela Chan, paid tribute to Mirkarimi, outlining the many ways the former Supervisor advocated for policies and programs to increase public safety, most notably his steadfast championing of foot patrols and community policing. He submitted legislation that formed the Safe Communities Reentry Council to help reintegrate the formerly incarcerated — recognizing the reentry process as a critical opportunity to break the cycle of crime and violence and the reduction of California’s worst-in-the-nation recidivism rate.
Chan recognized that Mirkarimi has the distinct honor and challenge of continuing Hennessey’s legacy. She concluded, “I ask Ross Mirkarimi to continue to challenge institutions in drastic need of reform like our broken criminal justice system.”
Before administering the oath of office, former Mayor Art Agnos said that he was proud to be the installing officer and urged everyone in attendance to stand and swear an oath, as was once done in ancient Greece.
“I promise on my honor to make San Francisco stronger, more compassionate, and more just than I found it,” Agnos asked everyone to repeat with their right hands raised.
Agnos invited Mirkarimi and his family to join him. The trio took the stage, Mirkarimi beaming, his wife, Eliana, smiling brightly and son, Theo, seemingly overwhelmed by the bright lights and rapturous applause. After taking the oath, Mirkarimi honored his family and introduced his mother, Nancy, and thanked his aunt, Patricia, for helping to orchestrate the event.
After thanking everyone remotely related to his life and career, Mirkarimi stated, “I am sorry that a cloud hangs over what should be a very special day. You deserve better. But you know what? Clouds break and the possibilities shine through.”
This generated a raucous round of applause.
Mirkarimi reflected on former Sheriff Hennessey’s many successful programs and policies and promised to be the same kind of “thoughtful and innovative” sheriff who walked “softly and carried big ideas.”
Most poignantly, Mirkarimi said, “I do believe in the power of redemption.” He vowed to build effectively in the new era where criminal justice is concerned, and will focus his energies on helping convicts to avoid recidivism and to find meaningful placements in their communities after serving their terms in jail.
He said he especially concerned with the plight of African-American men, who comprise one out of 15 men in San Francisco County’s jails. “Jim Crow laws have been redesigned and repackaged in the criminal justice system,” he said.
It is imperative that communities work with City Hall to address how to stop this trend, says Mirkarimi. “We cannot turn a key and walk away.”