One mayor-appointed police commissioner split from his fellow appointees on Wednesday to swing a vote for the commission’s new leadership — and end Mayor London Breed’s control of the body.
In an unusual move, one of Breed’s appointees, Max Carter-Oberstone, voted with Board of Supervisors appointees to elect Board-appointee Cindy Elias as the commission’s new president, and himself as the new vice president.
The commission president gets final say on what appears on the commission’s agenda, and the last Board-appointed president was Julius Turman, who stepped down shortly before his death in 2018. The mayor gets to appoint a majority of the members on the seven-member board, which oversees the San Francisco Police Department, and typically one of her four appointees serves as the president. (The mayor and the board each get one appointee in the commission’s leadership.)
Elias, a former public defender and now labor attorney, was not a surprising choice for president; she is the commission’s longest-sitting member. But she has also been one of few commissioners who consistently demands answers and more transparency from the SFPD and its chief, Bill Scott. Elias has served as acting president since former president Malia Cohen left the commission earlier this year.
Perhaps surprisingly to those who follow the commission closely, mayoral appointee Debra Walker made a competing motion to appoint mayoral appointee Larry Yee as the commission president, and Elias its vice president.
Yee is one of the commission’s least active members, at least from a public perspective. He rarely provides input on hot-button issues, and typically does not involve himself in discussions about police reform.
Walker pointed to Yee’s work in the Asian community to support his nomination. “We’ve seen a lot of attacks on folks in in the Asian community,” Walker said, “and the leadership of someone like Larry Yee can really be a move forward, I believe, in our discussions around solutions.”
Yee, Walker, and mayoral appointee Jim Byrne voted against the motion to elect Elias as president, but the motion passed with Carter-Oberstone’s support. Walker’s motion did not ultimately go up for a vote, since the first motion from Commissioner Kevin Benedicto passed.
Elias was first appointed to the commission by the Board of Supervisors in 2018. She served as vice president under Malia Cohen, who was appointed by Mayor London Breed.
Carter-Oberstone is also an attorney with a background in police reform. Prior to joining the Police Commission nearly a year ago, he worked on drafting legislation with NYU Law School’s Policing Project. Among other issues, the legislation looked at reducing often racially biased traffic stops and disciplinary consequences and decertification of police officers for misconduct.