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Ross Mirkarimi Survives, and So Does the System

Ross Mirkarimi will be back at his post next Monday.

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Ross Mirkarimi talks to NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez about his 10-month ordeal and how he plans to move forward after being reinstated as San Francisco Sheriff.

In an unexpected development, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has failed to secure enough votes to remove embattled Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had asked the board to strip Mirkarimi of his office for "official misconduct" after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment charges that stemmed from bruising his wife's arm last December. It happened after his election but before he assumed office.

San Francisco's charter required nine of the 11 supervisors to vote for removal, but only seven agreed in a vote on Tuesday. As a result, Mirkarimi will keep his job -- for now.

This has been an acrimonious case for all involved. As an elected official, especially someone in law enforcement, the sheriff is expected to obey the laws he must enforce. Mirkarimi fell far from that standard.

But the case was muddled by the fact that Mirkarimi committed his crime as a private citizen before he took office. Therefore, while his actions may have been repulsive, they were undertaken as a private citizen.

All of which raises the question: How can one commit official misconduct if one is not in office?

To some, this may be splitting hairs. After all, either Mirkarimi abused his wife or he didn't, and if he admitted as much, what's left to discuss?

But laws are only as good as the extent to which they are honored and enforced. To remove Mirkarimi for official misconduct when he was not yet an "official" would be cutting a dangerous corner.

None of this is to say that Mirkarimi should be absolved of his misdeed or even left alone. The record is clear that he caused physical harm to his wife.

Still, there are lawful alternatives to dealing with Mirkarimi's behavior. In the near term, opponents can collect enough signatures to force a recall election, which would allow the voters to decide whether Mirkarimi should be removed from his post. Recall elections can take place for any reason, or no reason for that matter.

Alternatively, opponents can wait three years and then run another candidate -- or candidates -- against the sheriff, once again giving voters an opportunity to lawfully remove the sheriff.

The point is simply this: Democracies succeed when people follow the rules of governance. Those rules can't be made or remade to accommodate an undesirable development after an ugly event takes place.

So, while it may be unpleasant for many that Mirkarimi has escaped removal, the fact is that enough people on the Board of Supervisors respect the rules more than arbitrarily bending the rules to rid the city of an ugly political wart.

They are the only heroes in this otherwise ugly chapter of San Francisco politics. 

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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