Article from the Bay Area Reporter
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey is the odds-on favorite in his race against Deputy Sheriffs' Association President David Wong to retain his law enforcement post. But winning re-election may be the least of Hennessey's problems.
Having served as sheriff for the last 27 years – Hennessey has won the last seven elections for the job – he is facing vocal dissension within his own department. Many of the rank and file deputy sheriffs say it is time for their boss to go and are actively working to see Wong get elected.
During an interview with the Bay Area Reporter Hennessey dismissed the criticism as merely a policy dispute. He said many longtime deputies disagree with his implementing such programs as a high school, anti-violence training, and drug treatment for prisoners.
"I have a lot of deputies who believe these programs should not be there. They just don't believe in these programs and see me as a big inmate lover and commie," said Hennessey, who graduated from the University of San Francisco law school in 1973.
Wong, who has been with the department 16 years, the last six as head of the union, said while he supports some of the programs for prisoners, more focus needs to be placed on training for deputies and services for victims of crimes.
"When a CEO only focus on one group, the weight is off balance. As sheriff I will make sure to provide training on both side not just one," said Wong, who emigrated from Hong Kong in 1976.
Some of Hennessey's biggest detractors are gay and lesbian deputy sheriffs. They have distributed Wong campaign signs throughout the Castro and tabled at last weekend's Castro Street Fair. A posting on Craigslists' political forum over the weekend trumpeted that "The Gay Deputies of the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association ENDORSED David Wong for SHERIFF."
In his bio on the department's Web site Hennessey promotes having "won nationwide recognition for the outstanding success of his recruitment program for women and minorities, including gay men and lesbians." Yet the posting criticizes Hennessey for promoting only one gay or lesbian deputy above the rank of lieutenant in his nearly three decades as sheriff and for waiting 23 years to promote "1 Lesbian as his Undersheriff."
"We are just putting it out there within our community. The current sheriff always presents himself as progressive and for equality. That is not really true," said Eugene Cerbone, an openly gay sheriffs deputy and secretary of the union. "We are putting our careers and our jobs and our treatment on the line because we feel very strongly there are problems."
It is a noticeable split from the LGBT community's political clubs and leaders, who have mostly backed Hennessey. Both the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic clubs endorsed the sheriff's re-election bid, as have both openly gay city Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Tom Ammiano.
Since the derogatory postings were on a non-city Web site Hennessey had claimed the hate speech, while offensive, was protected by the First Amendment and out of his authority to control. Nonetheless, the judge awarded the deputy $50,000.
Hennessey is currently fighting lawsuits in both federal and state courts that accuse him of gender-based discrimination and violating workplace guidelines. The suits stem from the sheriff department's decision last October to consolidate all female prisoners into a county jail south of Market Street and restrict male deputies from working inside the jail's female-only section.
As the B.A.R. reported in July, several lesbian and gay deputy sheriffs, who are parties to the lawsuits, complain that the policy restricts their ability to advance in the department as well as sign up for overtime shifts. They are seeking to overturn the rule so that male deputies can be assigned to work alongside a female deputy in the women's only jail.
Wong and the union back the lawsuits. He said the policy not only is wrong but the lawsuits are wasting taxpayers' money.
"We have serious policy implemented by this department that is very discriminatory," said Wong. "I would repeal that policy first thing."
Hennessey has defended the policy and refutes claims that it is keeping female deputies from being promoted. He said promotions are based on passing a test, not where one is stationed to work.
"The goal was to prevent improper sexual relations between the staff and the inmates, which we had in the past," he said.
Where the two candidates see eye-to-eye is on how to control the crowds who show up on Halloween night in the city's gay neighborhood. Both said the city's use of entrance gates and searching revelers at last year's Halloween worked well and expressed concerns about the city's decision to shut down this year's street celebration.
"Halloween is almost a tradition and I think we can do a better job," said Wong. "A lot of visitors who came to that Halloween last year actually abided by the searching. I think if we do it right, plan it right, I think we still can have fun and can reduce those problems."
Hennessey said he doesn't "disagree that shutting it down is a proper response" but he also said "I think people are still going to come anyway."
Since the city took some control over the event in 2003, he said, "year by year we were getting better at it. The plan in place last year I think was working pretty well until the shooting."