KPFA News: Eliana Lopez on Ross, District 5, SF's Ethics Commission, and looking forward
KPFA Evening News Anchor Cameron Jones: On Thursday, the San Francisco Ethics Commission ruled, in a 4 to 1 vote, that suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was indeed guilty of “official misconduct” on New Year’s Eve, when he bruised his wife Eliana Lopez’s arm during a heated argument. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to Eliana Lopez, who attended Thursday’s hearing alongside her husband.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Eliana, the Ethics Commission's conclusion about the New Year's Eve incident was obviously disappointing to you, but were you encouraged by their dismissal of all the other charges that Mayor Lee had added on, and by their decision to leave the final decision about this up to the Board of Supervisors?
Eliana Lopez: Well, yes, I think Thursday was a victory for us because that all these five months, we have been fighting false charges. And they did that because they need to break Ross. We have been five months without pay, fighting with all these charges that, in the end, didn't work. They were false. They were like making all this case bigger, and, if you think about it, also, other thing that was important on Thursday is that the Chairman, Ben Hur . . . he really was trying to explain and he said, 'I implore my fellow Commissioners to understand there is something that is private and something that is public. So we need to realize the difference between personal misconduct or official misconduct.
KPFA: Public Defender Jeff Adachi told KPFA that before 1996, Ross's case would have resulted in pre-trial diversion, meaning he would have been ordered to undertake counseling, and you might have had the option of counseling with him, because you weren't seriously injured, there were no prior complaints, and you didn't want to press charges. Do you think that the pre-trial diversion option should be restored in the law, for cases like this, and are there any other changes you'd like to see in the laws?
Eliana Lopez: Yes, absolutely, I was doing some research and I understood why they changed everything in 1996 was because of murders. So I realized that of 3000 cases of domestic violence. . . just one end in a bad way. So the way how they work that is that all the 3000 cases as possible murders. And that is not right. That is not right for women. That is not right for families. That is not right for kids. And that is not fair for the guys. So that kind of law concerns me, because I think this is not fair, and I really hope that kind of law goes back more about families, and protect, and counseling and help the families to heal.
KPFA: Outside District #5, Ross is probably best known for his environmental legislation, but during the Ethics Commission hearings, one person after another from District #5, which he represented as a Supervisor, stood up to testify to how much he'd done to reduce violent crime, especially gang violence, in their neighborhood. They said that he was there when their children were bleeding in the streets, even that he had intervened at his own risk to prevent violence. He sounded like a hero that many people outside D5 had never known. But, many people who have known Ross for years have also feared that short temper was his Achilles Heel, so do you think that, if reinstated, he'll overcome that as a result of this?
Eliana Lopez: You know it was so great for me, and I was so proud of Ross that after all this public humiliation for months, after all this disaster, how they trying to paint him as a monster. Doesn't matter. The people from District 5 who know his work for years, his hard work for years, they recognize that, they don't forget that, and they are there to stand with Ross. And that was really emotional for me. I was so proud. And also I was there when Theo was a baby and Ross received calls at 2 am and he just took a jacket and said "It's a crime. I have to go there."
And I was, in the beginning, like, "What??? I am here alone with a baby!" But I realized, if in that moment, I. . . maybe if I were alone, y'know, without Theo, maybe I would go with him. I would go with him because I can feel his passion. And that temper he has, I think it's passion, passion for his work, because he really cares. And it's why the people was there, because they care about Ross.
KPFA: OK, there was one question you didn't quite answer. Do you think that, if he's reinstated, he will get over the short temper that's been concerning to some?
Eliana Lopez: Y'know I think, after all this experience, not only Ross is learning. I am learning. Theo is learning. Our family is learning. So, how I said, we are getting stronger than ever before, and I guarantee that Ross, after all this experience, is going to be a great Sheriff, because he is learning, he is a better human being, he's a better husband, he's a better father, he's a better citizen. I think that is one of the gifts of this experience.
KPFA: That was Venezuelan actress Eliana Lopez, wife of suspended San Francisco Sheriff Ross MIrkarimi. The San Francisco Ethics Commission did not make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors as to whether or not Sheriff Mirkarimi should be removed or reinstated, so the Board is now tasked with that decision. A public official cannot be removed without nine votes by the 11 members of the Board, so if as few as three vote to reinstate, or recuse themselves, or miss the Board meeting on the day of the vote, Sheriff Mirkarimi will return to the office he was elected to last November.
For Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I'm Ann Garrison.