For Mayor Ed Lee, a political win looked easier than drunk college kids at a frat mixer. Ross Mirkarimi laid it right out for him: Lee could send a political adversary into professional oblivion, financial ruin, and public humiliation. He could force the progressive wing of the Board of Supervisors into choosing between voting their sheriff out of office or crafting a statement of defense that parsed the nuances of domestic violence. And all the while, he could stand proudly as a champion against, as he put it, "wife beating."
And then, as the mayor sat before a microphone at the June 29 Ethics Commission hearing, Mirkarimi's attorney Shepard Kopp twice asked if Lee had told Mirkarimi, through third-party messengers, that a city job would be his if he just resigned.
"Absolutely not," the mayor declared on the second query, abandoning his previous, professionally evasive response, "I don't recall offering Mr. Mirkarimi any job."
Lee also testified that he did not speak to any supervisors about the Mirkarimi drama before filing the misconduct charges against the sheriff.
After the hearing, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the Examiner that Walter Wong, big-time local developer, told him that Lee wanted Peskin to tell Mirkarimi that the city would offer him a job if he resigned. Also after the hearing, Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker told the press that Supervisor Christina Olague had told her that she and Lee discussed Mirkarimi's situation before removal proceedings started.
Kopp claimed perjury, an accusation that suggests that San Francisco's highest level of government can't even pull off a proper political cover-up nowadays.
Suddenly, Ed Lee became Ernest Byner, the Cleveland Browns running back whose 1987 playoff fourth-quarter goal-line fumble opened the door to John Elway's famous drive. Four points of pressure, Mr. Mayor! Two hands on the football!
To be sure, perjury is tough to nail. A prosecutor has to prove that the testimony in question was provably false and intentionally deceptive. Plus, as California penal code states, a person can't be convicted of perjury when "proof of falsity rests solely upon contradiction by testimony of a single person." Which means that subpoenaing Peskin, Olague, and Wong into the Ethics Commission hearing might not be enough to convince District Attorney George Gascón to press charges. The mayor, for the record, asserts that he told only the truth.
But damage is done. While the controversy over Lee's testimony doesn't have much to do with whether Mirkarimi should be sheriff, it has flipped the scrutiny. It's easy to spot the irony: In his attempt to oust Mirkarimi from office because of a misdemeanor conviction, the mayor has walked right into accusations that he committed a felony.