Family act

Pub date October 28, 2008
WriterSarah Phelan


District 3 supervisorial candidate Joe Alioto Jr., 36, has stated repeatedly on the campaign trail that he is not running on his family’s name.

But his lack of policy or political experience, combined with his campaign’s close ties to his sister, District 2 Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier — the most conservative and reactionary member of the Board of Supervisors — has progressives fearing he’ll be even more hostile to their values than his sister if he is elected this fall.

Records show that Alioto-Pier, 40, who was appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004, consistently votes against the interests of tenants, workers and low-income folks. She recently sponsored legislation that passes increased water and sewer rates along to tenants. In the past, she has voted against relocation money for no-fault evictions and against limits on condominium conversions. And that’s just her record on tenants’ rights.

"Michela makes Sup. Sean Elsbernd look like a progressive," said Board President Aaron Peskin, who is termed out as D3 supervisor and has endorsed David Chiu as his preferred candidate to represent this diverse district, which encompasses Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and Telegraph Hill.

Alioto, who bought a $1.3 million Telegraph Hill condominium in 2004, has said in debates that he was proud to serve on the Telegraph Hill Dwellers Board for three years, citing his alleged involvement in stopping the Mills Corporation’s development at Piers 27 and 31, improving the Broadway corridor, and working on neighborhood parks.

But a former THD Board member says Alioto’s claims are wildly overstated.

"He did not achieve anything in North Beach as a board member," our source said. "His attendance was poor, he lacked leadership, and when he was asked to head a Broadway corridor subcommittee to tackle the Saturday night issue, he said no, he was too busy. He was on the opposite side of all our policies and goals. There were even questions whether he was residing in the district, when he house-sat for his parents in the East Bay."

In a March 2006 e-mail to THD members, Alioto acknowledges that he and his wife had indeed been house-sitting in the East Bay for months while his parents were in Italy. "Of course, I have never intended to stay in the East Bay, my being there for simply a temporary period," Alioto wrote, referring to the Supreme Court’s definition of residency, which he said he "relied on to continue to contribute to THD activities."

THD board members aren’t the only ones accusing Alioto of stretching the truth.

The Sierra Club’s John Rizzo is irate over the use of the club’s name in a recent Alioto campaign mailer in which Alioto claims that he helped create the San Francisco Climate Challenge "in collaboration with the Sierra Club and DF Environment."

"What he says is highly misleading," Rizzo told the Guardian. "It makes it sound like an ongoing effort he cofounded with the Sierra Club, but it was a one-time effort that, while worthwhile, only lasted a month and is over and done with."

Rizzo further noted that Alioto did not complete or return the Sierra Club’s candidate questionnaire, as is requested of candidates seeking the club’s political endorsement. Alioto also has ruffled feathers by claiming that he prosecuted criminal cases while working in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in 1999.

Alameda County Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Dunleavy told the Guardian that Alioto was, in fact, "a summer intern, a student law clerk working under supervision" in 1999. "He got to prosecute a few cases under our supervision, including a misdemeanor jury trial, but he never worked as an actual deputy DA," Dunleavy said.

But Alioto’s alleged distortions have tenants’ rights advocates like Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union wondering if Alioto will preserve rent control and try to abolish the Ellis Act, as he has promised on the campaign trail. Alioto never completed a Tenants Union candidate endorsement questionnaire, and has a massive amount of financial backing from the same downtown real estate and business interests that support his anti-tenant sister, Alioto-Pier.

Campaign disclosures show that Alioto’s campaign consultant, Stephanie Roumeliotes, led the Committee to Reelect Michela Alioto-Pier in 2006. Roumeliotes is also working on two other political campaigns this fall: No on B, which opposes the affordable housing set-aside, and Yes on P, which supports giving Mayor Newsom even greater control of how transportation funds are allocated and spent, and which even Alioto-Pier joined the Board of Supervisors in unanimously opposing.

Public records show that the Alioto siblings have 160 of the same campaign contributors. These include Gap founder Donald Fisher, wealthy socialite Dede Wilsey, and Nathan Nayman, former executive director of the Committee on Jobs, a downtown political action committee funneling big money into preferred candidates like Alioto.

All of which has progressives worrying that Alioto and his sister could become the Donny and Marie Osmond tag team for the same Republican downtown interests that are seeking to overturn the city’s universal health care and municipal identity card programs.

Talking by phone last week after months of stonewalling the Guardian’s requests for an interview, Alioto told us that he admires his sister very much, but that does not mean he shares her beliefs. "She has been through more in her relatively short life than most of us, and she does a great job representing her district," Alioto said. "But we are not the same people. Just because we are siblings does not mean we think the same."

Noting that, unlike his sister, he supports Proposition M, (which would protect tenants from landlord harassment), Alioto said, "If Michela ever proposed legislation that I thought was bad for the district and city, I’d vote against it."

Asked why he opposes the affordable housing measure Prop. B, Alioto told us that he doesn’t think that "locking away any more of our money helps … but I support affordable housing for low-income folks, including rental units, and we need more middle-income housing for police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers."

As for his endorsement by the rabidly anti-rent control SF Small Property Owners, Alioto said, "I think people are supporting me because I’d be fair and reasonable."

Alioto, who attended Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley and works as an antitrust lawyer at the Alioto Law Firm with brother-in-law Tom Pier, insists that he never claimed he’d been a deputy DA, "but I have a proven record of being interested in putting criminals behind bars."

Noting that he supports the property tax measures on the ballot, "notwithstanding the fact that some real estate interests supporting my campaign are opposed," Alioto further claimed that estimates that a third of his campaign money is from real estate interests are "severely overblown."

"I think they must have been including architects," he told us.

Asked about the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s lawsuit against the city’s universal health care ordinance, Alioto said he supports Healthy San Francisco, "but I am concerned a little about putting the burden on small business."

Claiming that he supports the mayor’s community justice center as well as "funding for whatever programs it diverts people to," Alioto talked about kick-starting the economy in blighted areas by creating jobs and incentives for small businesses in those districts. Alioto, who just saw the San Francisco Small Business Advocates kick down $9,500 in support of his campaign, also said he wants to increase the number of entertainment permits, add a movie theater, and decrease parking fees in Chinatown.

"And I support the [Chinatown] night markets," Alioto said, referring to a pet project of Pius Lee, whose Chinatown neighborhood association was found, during a 2006 audit instigated by Peskin, to have received excess city funds and allowed unlicensed merchants to participate in the markets.

But Lee is evidently now in good standing with Alioto and Mayor Gavin Newsom, since he accompanied both on a recent walkabout to boost Alioto’s standing with Chinatown merchants. And Alioto’s election is apparently very important to Newsom, given that the first public appearance the mayor made after returning from his African honeymoon was on behalf of Alioto’s campaign.

All of which seems to confirm progressives’ worst fears that Alioto, just like his sister before him, will become yet another Newsom call-up vote on the board. Three ethics complaints were filed against the Alioto campaign this week, and his detractors say he has a long history of questionable behavior, going back to 1996 when he had a severe ethical lapse while working on his sister’s campaign for Congress.

According to a July 27, 1996 Chronicle article, Alioto, who was then his sister’s campaign adviser, and their cousin, college student Steve Cannata, admitted they conspired to intercept the campaign material of Michela’s congressional opponent, Frank Riggs.

"If Miss Alioto tolerates this sort of deceit in her campaign, it is frightening to imagine how she would behave if ever elected," Riggs wrote at the time. Alioto-Pier lost that race. But if her brother wins this November, can progressives help but be a little frightened to imagine just how the Alioto siblings might behave?

As one observer who preferred to remain anonymous told us, "Alioto may be all Joe Personality on the campaign trail, and have the same photogenic smile as his sister, but in reality, he is a fraud."