Ross Mirkarimi the Next Sheriff in Town?

By PAAIA Staff

April 27, 2011, San Francisco, CA –The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and its connected PAC, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC), recently had the opportunity to sit down with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and discuss his campaign for San Francisco Sheriff. If successful, Mirkarimi would make history by becoming the first American of Iranian descent to be elected Sheriff in the United States.

Mirkarimi was elected San Francisco District 5 Supervisor in 2004, and re-elected in 2008 with 77 percent of the vote. He has authored over 80 ordinances that have had both citywide and national impact. Apart from his reputation for sponsoring cutting-edge laws, Mirkarimi is also well known for his 24/7 focus on issues that chronically challenge his district and the City.

Mirkarimi was born in Chicago to an Iranian father and a mother of Russian descent. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Louis University, a Master’s degree in International Economics from Golden Gate University, and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of San Francisco. Mirkarimi attended the Monterey Institute for Russian language certification. He is also a graduate of the San Francisco Police Academy, where he served as class president; and trained by the US EPA at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, CA, for advance environmental crime forensics.

Prior to being elected Supervisor, Ross served as an investigator with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office for almost nine years, specializing in economic and environmental crimes.

Mirkarimi has been a vocal supporter of the Iranian American community in California. He introduced a resolution in an effort to ensure that Iranian Americans are not discriminated against in the City of San Francisco after a delegation of Iranians from Iran and Europe were detained at the airport. As a supervisor, Mirkarimi has authored myriad resolutions calling attention to the respect for human rights in Iran as well urging San Francisco’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives to co-sponsor H.R. 267, which recognizes Nowruz and thanks Iranian Americans for their many contributions to American society.

As supervisor, Mirkarimi is considered to be one of the front-runners in a race to replace Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who is not seeking re-election.  If elected Sheriff in San Francisco, he pledges to continue Hennessey’s progressive approach to law enforcement. As Sheriff, he wants to expand on Hennessey’s efforts at curbing recidivism. 

The following is a transcript of PAAIA’s interview with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi about the election and his platform:

PAAIA/IAPAC: Why are you running for Sheriff?

Mirkarimi: Improving public safety has been a mainstay issue of mine since being elected Supervisor in 2004. My district which encompassed one of the highest crime neighborhoods in San Francisco has experienced the largest reduction in violent crime citywide, holding nearly three years. This is attributed to the mandated forms of community policing, more accountable law enforcement strategies, and programs focused on reentry for ex-offenders.  Before my election as Supervisor, I worked for nearly nine years in the SF District Attorney’s Office specializing in white collar and environmental crimes. The Sheriff has one of the largest departments in San Francisco with over 1000 employees and a budget of nearly $160 million. 

PAAIA/IAPAC: What are some of the challenges you believe your campaign committee must overcome to mount a successful campaign?

Mirkarimi: The challenges of our campaign are that I am running citywide. I have opposition but with my name recognition as an elected official, it’s one of the first times that I’m seen as an automatic front-runner instead of the “under-dog” posture that I’m more use to from my previous runs. The election is November 2011 and it will be at the same time as the mayor and district attorney elections–competing for resources and attention is always an inherent challenge with other high profile races.  But I have a strong chance of winning and once achieved, positions me well for any other campaign trajectory.

PAAIA/IAPAC: What are the fundraising goals of your committee?

Mirkarimi: My fundraising objectives are to raise in excess of $350K for a low overhead, grassroots-driven operation. Even though that may seem like a low amount for a citywide race, it’s doable to run a smart campaign that isn’t bloated on un-strategic media buys; nor is it easy to recruit donations when competing with other multimillion dollar races on the same ballot.

PAAIA/IAPAC: What differentiates you from your potential opponent(s)?

Mirkarimi: The current Sheriff, Mike Hennessey, has served for 31 years and is retiring. He’s very popular with the voters, who have elected him eight consecutive times. He’s a legend in addressing criminal justice issues. I’m honored to have his endorsement. Hennessey‘s quoted, “Ross Mirkarimi brings the right combination of law enforcement training, legislative experience and political acumen to meet the challenges confronting the Sheriff’s Department. I am proud to support him in his bid to become our next Sheriff.”

PAAIA/IAPAC: What are the most critical issues facing San Francisco County?

Mirkarimi: San Francisco is one of the most majestic cities in this nation. And one of the most cost prohibitive. The challenges facing San Francisco are true for all big cities before and after the economic downturn. Economic confidence in recruiting and retaining business small-and-large is key. Protecting and enhancing our revenue growth stream generated by tourism is core. Focusing on the need to retain class diversity is imperative for San Francisco if it’s true to its populist roots.

PAAIA/IAPAC: How does your campaign plan on addressing some of those issues?

Mirkarimi: The nexus between high crime rates and the neighborhoods where crime plagues is overwhelmingly entwined with impoverished communities. The repeat offender rate is also an undeniable fixture in these same geographic areas.  Cities need to start asking themselves what’s wrong with the picture when three out of four people that the police arrest and the DA prosecutes are repeat offenders.  Recidivism must be tackled vigorously and that doesn’t start when inmates leave prison with a one-way bus ticket back to the community where they originated; it starts when they’re incarcerated; it also starts in communities where recidivism is treated as a cultural norm.  Unless that inmate is a lifer, they eventually all return–the Sheriff has a role and I will amplify that role in helping keep our communities safe.

PAAIA/IAPAC: What roles do you think Iranian Americans can play in your campaign and what do you expect from the community?

Mirkarimi: I am proud to be one of the highest elected Iranian Americans in the US. We are the first or one of the first city halls to promote Persian culture with Nowruz celebrations and art/dance exhibitions.  I have also used the front quad of city hall to host one of the largest rallies seen in the nation where nearly 10,000 people gathered to call attention to troubling conditions in Iran. When I ran and won my first campaign in 2004, the SF Bay Area Persian community was enthusiastically helpful. Now that I am running for higher office, merits more of that same kind of positive resourceful energy.

PAAIA/IAPAC: What role can organizations like PAAIA/IAPAC play in assisting your campaign?

Mirkarimi: Fundraising is key. I can accept donations from individuals not corporations. I can’t accept donations from outside the United States. The maximum contribution is $500 per person. Checks can be directed to: Ross Mirkarimi for Sheriff 2011. P.O. Box 422867, San Francisco, CA 94142.  Please include on the check basic info: name, address, employer (if retired, self-employed, unemployed, student, etc.), phone, and email.

If you have questions please call: (415) 690-8781 or email RossforSheriff@gmail.com.

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