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SF police commissioner’s reappointment solidifies progressive control

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

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors reappointed the president of the Police Commission Tuesday, weeks after a contentious meeting on the matter showcased a political fight over what moderates called a progressive power grab. 

Police Commission President Cindy Elias was reappointed to the commission by a vote of 7-4 after supervisors cleared the air about disputes around the preliminary vote. At a hearing on the matter last month, Elias was attacked after she left the board chambers. 

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who voted in favor of re-appointing Elias, said that the temperature needs to be reduced over the issue, adding that he thought her grilling in December was unfortunate.

“She has been subject to some undo, extreme criticism,” Safai said.

The reappointment process may have been contentious because of its implications for mayoral control of the commission. Elias’ reappointment cements an unusual alliance between the board’s three appointees and one of the mayor’s four appointees to the commission, who has been on the outs with the Mayors’ Office since publicizing a practice in which Breed forced appointees to pre-sign undated resignation letters.

Without control of the commission, Mayor London Breed’s influence over who commissioners choose as the next police chief candidate will be reduced, if Police Chief Bill Scott resigns or is fired.

In December, the Board of Supervisors was handed a recommendation to reappoint Elias by the Rules Committee. It then held a purely symbolic vote of its intent to reappoint her ahead of the real vote Tuesday, when new board member Joel Engardio took his seat.

Engardio’s moderate political stance was expected to result in a vote against Elias, and the recommendation was a move to show the board’s intent to back Elias. It was framed as an effort to preempt that vote, even though it wasn’t binding.

But the progressives had enough votes, even though Engardio voted against the reappointment, saying that he wanted the process to allow others to apply as well. 

But Board President Aaron Peskin, who voted for Elias and also wanted to calm tensions around the vote, still pointed out that new rules for board and commission applications that opens up the process so that anyone can apply whenever they want, making moot such calls around “process.”

“I wanna bring the temperature around this issue down,” Peskin said. 

Contentious Hearing 

At the December hearing, Elias was lambasted after she left the chambers by moderate Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Matt Dorsey, both of whom are Breed’s allies. 

After voting in favor of their intent to reappoint Elias, the pair rescinded their vote and launched into a laundry list of objections to reappointing her. 

They pointed to a potential past conflict of interest between Elias and her husband. As the head of the commission, Elias hands down police misconduct rulings, while her husband, Lateef Gray, used to head the team that investigated police misconduct for the District Attorney’s Office. Gray no longer works for the District Attorney’s Office.

Before the vote on Tuesday, Elias spoke to the supervisors, defending her record and calling out the criticism she received after she had left the board’s chambers.

“Honestly, I was hurt last time I was here because I didn’t get to defend myself,” Elias said before briefly coming to tears. “But when I am criticized over things I have no control over, I don’t know how to respond.”

On Tuesday, Stefani and Dorsey both voted against the reappointment but stepped back their earlier criticism.

“I apologize for you not being here for when my comments were said,” Stefani said. “I meant no ill will. I don’t like to see people attacked.”

Elias was appointed in 2021 by Gov. Gavin Newsom as special counsel to the Labor Commissioner at the Department of Industrial Relations.