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SF police commissioner moves closer to new term in progressive power play

Police Commission President Cindy Elias attends a Police Commission meeting on June 6, 2018. | SFGovTV

Progressives trying to protect their majority hold on the San Francisco Police Commission gained some traction as the city took another step forward to reappointment.

Commission President Cindy Elias, who is set to end her four year term next spring, advanced closer to early reappointment after a committee on Monday sent her name to the Board of Supervisors for approval. 

But the 2-1 Rules Committee vote to reappoint Elias, saw some claim the move is motivated by a shrinking progressive majority, fighting to keep the Police Commission intact after a mayoral appointee went against the grain by defying city hall

“This is, to my mind, quite ahead of an April 30 deadline,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who cast the one dissenting vote. 

The commission makeup—four mayoral appointees and three supervisor appointees—can impact everything from police department policies to police chief candidates.

Rules Committee Chair Aaron Peskin discounted political power play theories, saying many commissions and boards in the past have had their members pre-appointed months before their terms ended. What’s more, Peskin said, Elias has the most institutional knowledge and experience of anyone on the commission. 

“There is nothing untoward or underhanded in appointing a police commissioner before the end of their term,” Peskin said, denying that any “hanky panky” was going on. 

District 4 Supervisor candidate Joel Engardio speaks to a crowd at his election night party at Noriega Teriyaki House on Nov. 8, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

Peskin’s successful move may be specifically aimed at getting ahead of a political shift next month when Joel Engardio will be sworn in to the Board of Supervisors. Engardio, like Supervisor Matt Dorsey, is widely expected to be one of two new moderate supporters of Mayor London Breed on the board.

That balance of power could impact Elias. Breed has accused the Police Commission of putting reform over public safety and was upset that her appointee, Larry Yee, lost to Elias when they ran for president.

The Mayor’s Office has also accused Peskin of circumventing the process by putting “politics ahead of the governance,” Breed spokesperson Jeff Cretan told the Standard last week.

By voting early, potential candidates for the position could be discouraged, Cretan said. Only one other person is in the running, Terence Tracy, who is a union spokesperson for retired California Highway Patrol officers.

The current board will only be allowed to vote on its intention to reappoint Elias on Tuesday—not her reappointment.  

Ultimately, the new Board of Supervisors, with one extra moderate member, will decide her reappointment on Jan. 10.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com