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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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UncategorizedThe sheriff's wife (finally) gets to tell her side...

The sheriff’s wife (finally) gets to tell her side of the story

The one-person performance by Eliana Lopez is brilliant theater — and politics

Eliana Lopez talks with fans after the show
Eliana Lopez talks with fans after the show

 

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 1, 2015 – Most of the political pundits in town shook their heads when Eliana Lopez, the wife of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, announced she was doing a one-person show about the events that nearly destroyed her husband’s career.

Terribly risky, they said. Why bring this whole awful moment back into everyone’s consciousness? What good could that possibly do?

Well, I saw the show (“What is the Scandal?”) this weekend at the Mission Cultural Center, and it’s pretty clear they were all wrong.

I’m not a theater critic, but just as a pure performance, it was outstanding – moving, funny, at times riveting.

As a political act (and I have no idea if she meant it to be a political act) it was brilliant.

In fact, if every voter in town saw the show in the next few months, Mirkarimi’s chances of re-election would soar.

The show, mostly in Spanish with English subtitles, tells Eliana’s story in a way she was never allowed to do in any of the legal or political venues where the original drama played out.

She plays all the characters, and you can tell why she was such a successful telenova actress in Venezuela – she’s incredibly expressive. I speak no Spanish, but could almost figure the story out just from the emotions, the movement, and the looks on her face.

The remarkable thing is that she blames nobody (well, except “Mr. Lie,” who wears glasses and a mustache and was running the city at the time of this “fictional account based on real events.”)

She does take some artistic license, telling the audience, for example, what she wishes she told her neighbor, the one who put this all in motion by calling the police.

But her description of Mr. Lie telling the sheriff that he has to submit and resign immediately — or accept the label of “wife beater” that will follow him for the rest of his life … that’s real. That actually happened. It wasn’t just Mr. Lie; he’s a composite. There were other city officials who passed on the message. But the threat was part of the politics of this story.

Mostly, though, it’s a personal tale, of a Latino woman who falls in love with a Gringo politician, tries to decide whether to leave a comfortable life and career in Venezuela to go to San Francisco (where, it turns out, her lover has a small apartment, an old beat-up Jeep, and nowhere near the lifestyle she was used to), and how to build a marriage and a family when the two partners didn’t speak the same language.

It’s really funny seeing her portray Ross Mirkarimi as a klutz who can’t dance, even at his own wedding reception, and doesn’t know how to celebrate Christmas.

It’s painful to listen to her talk of how homesick she felt, how hard it was to shift from a star of stage and screen to a politician’s housewife – and how easy it was for a neighbor to befriend her – and, she says, manipulate her emotions.

From the performance, we get a much deeper understanding of the roots of the incident in which Mirkarimi grabbed her arm, leaving a bruise. In couples therapy, she relates, Mirkarimi broke down and said that when he was a boy, his mom took him away from his father – whom he never saw again.

Which might explain why he didn’t want to see his wife, who was clearly unhappy with him and their SF life, take their son to Venezuela.

Why did she make the video? Because she was worried about a divorce, because she was pissed — and because, she says, her neighbor, who said she was a lawyer, convinced her that it was the only way an immigrant woman would stand a chance in a custody battle against an American politician.

She doesn’t spare Mirkarimi, who comes off as someone who didn’t adapt easily to the role of a father and had a hard time reconciling life in the eternal political campaign to life in a family. Frankly, he comes off as a guy who could be a jerk (although that isn’t a crime). She doesn’t pretend there weren’t real issues in their marriage. She doesn’t spare herself, either; torn between the promises she made to her husband, her fear of legal retribution in the US, and her deep identity as a Venezuelan (who, let’s remember, had a pretty nice life there before she met Ross), she struggles emotionally. And we see it all, played out onstage.

But overall, she suggests that a lot of the people who were supposedly defending her interests were patronizing and never listened to her side of the story – and that the political and legal system utterly failed an immigrant woman and damaged her family.

Okay, she and her brother wrote the play, and she performs it. It’s just one side of the story.

But we have heard all the other sides, over and over, and it’s refreshing to hear this perspective.

The politics of the show are equally remarkable. The message it sends is that Eliana Lopez, the victim in the legal case, is left wondering: What is the Scandal?

The show continues this weekend at the Mission Cultural Center. You can buy tickets ($22) here.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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47 COMMENTS

  1. umm.. yeah.. ugh..

    Do you ever go out to theatre? opera? foreign language cinema or live in the modern world?

    The have this thing called subtitles. It’s been around a while.

  2. Well, Vicki sounds icky. But I’m not sure an ‘outsider’ is going to improve things.

    You applaud Mike H for 32 yrs of successfully running the dept. Mirk steps in and his boys leave a gal to die in a locked staircase at GH, and some other of his boys are playing Gladiator. Is this holdover from the Hennssy years? Or is Mirk so easy-going that he’s created a culture of literally ‘anything goes’?

    And personally I don’t think he’s ‘easy going’. For one, he’s a blowhard – but also a Kevin.Shelly-style powe .abuser. He’s known for yelling at his staff; and I guess it carried over to his family.

    If Eliana really wanted to ‘get her story out’, then she could have done it much sooner. This just smells like more election year politicking.

  3. I think the difference is that you have a pattern of abuse vs one really bad thug. The former is hard to ignore, the latter isn’t always so easy to spot.

    Look, I think we can all agree that Mike Hennessey did a fantastic job, and did whatever he can to foster a good culture in the Sheriff’s office. But did some thugs slip by? Sure. Was there occasional abuse? Absolutely. Same with any chief who’s honestly trying to do right. Culture is hard to change. That profession, like I said, sometimes attracts the wrong people -people who are just sadistic and enjoy exersizing power over others.

    The question I asked still remains -who is more likely to do their best to fight that tendency? Vicky Hennesy comes from their ranks. And if you want to accuse Ross of poor leadership skills because there were bad apples under his watch, then Vicki Hennessy can be accused of the exact same thing:
    http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/ross-mirkarimi-sheriff-vicki-hennessy/Content?oid=3330638

    (note the third comment)

  4. Can a leader really be expected to know about every incidence of misconduct in their department before it happens? That’s a pretty high bar.

  5. Thanks for the reply, but I don’t think anyone cared about Lopez’s hair or pajamas. It’s the bruise and her tearful account that concerned people. I think it unfair of you to suggest she was lying in her video. After all, Mirk admitted that what she said was true.

    I don’t think I would enjoy the play on an aesthetic level.

  6. Making the video was not “despicable”, it was documenting evidence of a crime. You remind me of Mirk’s insistence that this was all a private matter. That is not how we handle domestic violence in this country, Greg.

    What Lopez says now should be viewed with caution. Victims of domestic violence often recant and try to protect their abusers. It’s a common phenomenon.

  7. Obviously, he didn’t know. That’s why he has to go. This is the definition of poor leadership.

  8. Do you think the gladiator fights were something Mirk knew about and turned a blind eye to? If it turns out that he did, I would instantly turn from a supporter to an opponent, but that would go against everything I know about him and his values.

    Whenever you give people authority and the power to kill, you’re always going to have a certain percentage of people who are drawn to that sort of profession because they’re just sadistic pigs. There’s a certain percentage of all LE types who are just inclined to do disgusting shit like that.

    The question you need to ask is, who is more likely to tolerate that kind of behavior/ turn a blind eye to it? An outsider like Mirk or former Sheriff Mike Hennessey, or someone from within their own ranks?

  9. PKReader,
    It wasn’t so much a dodge on my part; more of a desire to stop feeding the trolls. When you frame the question the way it was framed, it’s pretty much trolling. It’s like “so the story in the video is not the same as what she’s saying now. Well then she must be lying.” I think anyone with an open mind understands that it’s much more complicated than that. She was in a vulnerable place and it was a despicable thing to do for her failed-attorney so-called “friend” to take advantage of that and manipulate her.

    The comments from the other side got so bizarre that at one point I decided it was just best to let them twist in the wind. According to the other side, Lopez left a successful career in Venezuela, fame and financial security, but now she’s manipulating the situation for the money and because she wants to be a “trophy wife.” It’s so obviously nonsensical (not to mention sexist) that I figured I’d just let them continue to dig themselves deeper.

  10. I will not dodge the question. The video was ad hoc, but it was certainly directed by the neighbor lawyer who pressured her. take off your sweatshirt, muss up your hair, wear your pajamas to my house. Look disheveled. Remember, Eliana was told, you are fighting for custody of your child! Place yourself in a desperate situation, then ask yourself what you would or would not do or say. To think otherwise is naive and dishonest. You who blindly oppose the Sheriff owe yourself the opportunity of seeing the play. The only way one’s mind can open is to put one’s opposing views to the test.

  11. Wrong, Greg, Lopez made the video honestly – it was an honest attempt to manipulate.

    My point was that is was spontaneous and therefore more authentic. Her play is a post facto rationalization designed to keep Ross in his 200K a year job so she can carry on being a trophy wife.

  12. I recommend it even if you’re not bilingual, since the subtitles made it easy to follow. They’re projected on a screen along with other pictures, and the screen is a key part of the scenery, not just there for the subtitles. They play has English subtitles when she’s speaking Spanish, and vice versa.

  13. Ever watch an opera where you don’t speak the language but you know what’s going on anyway, and you can appreciate the art? Guess not.

  14. funny post.

    Sitting next to someone so unself aware that everyone within 20 feet can hear him, another qualification for office in your book I suppose. You strike me as the person yapping into your phone at the top of your lungs annoying everyone, so I doubt you know would have heard Mirkarimi. You might have been annoyed that he was louder than you?

    I wouldn’t vote for Pat Buchanan or Mirkarimi because of their politics, I also wouldn’t vote for either one because they are shouting buffoons.

    You like Mirkarimi because he is your shouting buffoon.

  15. You’re totally contradicting yourself. You claim that Lopez made the video with less-than-honest motives, but then you also claim that it was the only thing she ever did that wasn’t fake. This proves my point, that you’ll believe whatever suits your a priori opinion, regardless of the facts.

  16. So you’re recommending a show which was almost entirely in Spanish, and you speak “no spanish.” Yet you found it “outstanding, riveting, moving, and funny”
    I guess that shouldn’t be surprising at all.

  17. Lopez made the video with the motive of getting leverage over her husband. She made the show to try and get him re-elected. She is a manipulative woman and he is a control freak. They deserve each other but we the people deserve to see the back of both of them.

  18. The video is the ONLY thing Lopez has done that was not fake.

    She wanted to stick it to her husband until she realized she would lose her 200K a year gravy train, then she recanted faster than the Italian army in retreat.

  19. Yes, Greg, let’s just be honest here and not insult anyone’s intelligence. If Mirk were a conservative who slapped his wife, you’d be baying for him to resign.

  20. Does her one-woman show contradict the statements she made in the video? I’m not paying her $20 to find out. People feel strongly about domestic violence. Does that surprise you? I believe Lopez was telling the truth in her video. Do You? Answer the question.

  21. You say it’s not true, but the above sure sounds to me like your mind is made up and nothing can change it.

    Mirk haters always claim that it was never a witch hunt, just a noble crusade against domestic violence. Their concern for the victim would be touching, but their disingenuousness is laid bare when they reveal that they only believe her if she says something that supports their a priori political agenda.

  22. Honestly I don’t think I could sit through her show. It just sounds really cheesy and lame. Voices and hats? Please.

    Mirk supporters always dodge the question of whether they think Lopez lied in her video.

  23. Not true? Your mind is not made up a priori? Well then instead of haranguing a third party, you should go see the show yourself and get *her* perspective on the incident, and the video (why she made it, etc.), and then make up your own mind.

  24. Well if being a blowhard is a disqualifier from public office, then that excludes a lot of politicians -Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, that Republican woman who ran against Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Hillary Clinton, and pretty much anyone who claims they’re going to “clean up government” or run blank office “like a business.”

    Let’s just be honest here and not insult anyone’s intelligence. You could give a rat’s ass about how Ross behaves on public access TV. He’s progressive and you don’t like him. If he was conservative (what you call “moderate”), you’d judge him differently. Why is it so hard to say that you don’t like him because you don’t like the things he stands for?

    Well I guess it’s because the things he stands for are generally pretty good. Wouldn’t make for good campaign fodder in a town where people mostly agree with his views and the way he’s doing his job. So you have to make the campaign about other stuff -personality… hoping that you get just enough San Francisco liberals to vote against their values because they’re ill-informed about the issues and all they’ve heard was that he’s a jerk.

    Well maybe it’ll work, and maybe not. But you won’t find many of those types of voters reading 48 Hills. Everyone here, whether they love or hate Mirk, can see right through your argument and knows exactly why you hate him, and it has nothing to do with your perceptions of something he said in a laundromat.

    And btw… eavesdropping on private conversations -creepy.

  25. She can choose to do whatever she wants and you can choose to vote anyway you want as well. I can choose to judge him by what I heard then and what I have seen back in the day on public access.

    Listening to him pontificate and talk down to his wife, and also seeing him Newsom like blowhard on public access TV, he will never get my vote unless he is perhaps running against Rick Santorum for dog catcher

    If people don’t mind being treated like his subjects by him that is up to them and their limited views on self respect, if you like being treated like a loyal subject more power to you. I won’t be voting for the self absorbed opinionated Pat Buchanan crazy uncle syndrome.

  26. Not true. I voted for Mirk when he was Sup of my district and I voted for him for sheriff. All I know about the incident on New Years is what I saw in Lopez’s video. So, again, are you saying she lied in that video?

  27. I’m saying what I said. If you want to have a constructive dialogue, then I’m open to that. But you’re obviously not. Your mind is made up -hell, your mind was made up before Ross was even elected to anything -so you’re just interested in playing rhetorical gotcha games, and that doesn’t need to be dignified with a response.

  28. Yeah, Ross can be preachy. We all have our human failings. If being preachy is a deal-breaker for you, then you’re probably not the right person to marry him.

  29. You believe what you want to believe. If a video that was coaxed out of her during a time when she was emotionally vulnerable, by a poisonous snake pretending to be a “friend” in order to manipulate Ms. Lopez for her own purposes, fits your worldview… well then that’s what you’ll believe.

  30. Yes, and something that we need to carefully ignore is the fact that Mirkarimi pleaded guilty BEFORE “Mr. Lie” asked him to resign.

    So lets just leave out the bothersome details, celebrate Mirkarimi’s integrity and use Mayor Lee as our scapegoat for creating the whole unfortunate situation.

    Lee had just clobbered Avalos 60-40, but Avalos’s ally Mirkarimi was too powerful for him to deal with as Sheriff. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it.

  31. I don’t know about their interpersonal life, the time I sat next to them outside Brainwash I listened to him pontificate endlessly as she agreed to his pronouncements. Listening to the dynamic then between the two then…. uh… whatever.

  32. Yes, in fact, didn’t Ross threaten Eliana at the time by telling her that he was “a powerful man”?

  33. Hmm, so do I believe a spontaneous unscripted video she made at the time which she never thought would see the light of day? Or an “after the fact” rehearsed rationalization that she has had years to plan in a year when Ross is up for re-election?

    Hmmm.

  34. It was a good show. Although Lopez doesn’t blame anybody in particular, there’s really no excuse for those, like Kathy Black, who were willing to “talk about her but not with her.” There’s really no excuse for the child abuse inflicted by the “moderates” on Theo.

  35. Ross was just too powerful for “Mr. Lie” to work with. Ross had, and still has, a lot of supporters. Looking back, this situation really looks like payback to a man who had integrity, and refused to play ball with the 1% and their minions.

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