The Mystery Supervisor
District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier
Kirshenbaum, Fog City Journal I-Team
November 17, 2006
Michela Alioto-Pier has it all: looks, money, fame, and a wonderful
family. Unfortunately, it is too easy to forget that she is a
city supervisor, too. And it's too easy for her to forget to be
Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has some interesting qualities
for a San Francisco supervisor. Not one for the usual rumpled
suits and midnight oil, she has a glamorous sort of Palm-Beach-at-night
style. She favors slim black outfits topped with designer-sunglasses-as-a-hat.
She also spends a good deal of time at her home in St. Helena.
When she decided to enter the family business of politics, an
magazine chronicled the then-27 year-old's feat of winning
a primary for Congress in 1996 at such a tender age and with next
to no political experience. Youth, attractiveness, a well-known
name and a simple message - plus money for TV spots - seemed to
do the trick.
Alioto-Pier didn't make it any further than the primary, but
two years ago she was appointed supervisor of District 2 by Mayor
Gavin Newsom. With a nice apartment in Pacific Heights, she didn't
have to give up her residence in St. Helena.
District 2, and all of San Francisco, were pleased by the idea
that this fashionable lady might show the world how a woman could
be both mother and city leader. That she used a wheelchair heightened
Unfortunately, there's been disappointment. Now that she is safely
reelected, her constituents ask if it might be a good time to
ask for some redirection. Until now, coverage of her time in office
has been very
District 2 residents have complained for some time about a lack
of responsiveness - and even presence. Aides can do but so much.
While the district is known for its comfortable, well-heeled residents,
it happens to be under tremendous pressures from real estate and
retail interests. It's also a premium area for schools and hospitals,
all of which are expanding as rapidly as they dare. The muscle
behind these trends requires a civic leader with time, attention,
As examples, Alioto-Pier's constituents have repeatedly asked
for help on historic preservation and dramatic residential construction
projects; on re-zoning Fillmore Street and other commercial areas;
on defending itself from the many private academies and California
Pacific Medical Center, which both seek air and land in the district.
(Few bother to ask anymore for help with development in the Presidio.)
Each time, the citizens of her district were let down. Just this
week, Alioto-Pier declined to vote to assist in saving a worthy
little cottage. Many of her constituents thought she would be
sympathetic to its historic value.
"You can always count on Alioto-Pier to side with the developers,"
said a specialist in historic real estate who lives in District
2, near Alta Plaza Park. "She's AWOL. You rarely see her
at neighborhood functions. She seldom interacts or responds to
pleas to control the hospital. Does she still live here?"
He is partly right. The supervisor does have her fans. They aren't
necessarily her constituents, but they aren't only developers.
At a luncheon just yesterday, Ms. Alioto-Pier was given an award
as "public official of the year." The honor was bestowed
upon her by BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association,
and the news was carried by business magazines across the country.
Supervisor Alioto-Pier receives Public Official of the Year award
from BOMA President Kathy Mattes and BOMA Director Ken Cleveland.
Public official of the year! For what, exactly? Said BOMA: "For
her pragmatic and fair-minded approach to working on issues affecting
the local community." Specifically? This non-profit, pro-business
group pointed to the supervisor's "promotion of tax breaks
for biotechnology companies as a specific example of her work
to draw businesses to the city."
These tax breaks are controversial, to say the least. Alioto-Pier
has developed a reputation for other, business-first votes and
legislation she has supported and introduced on behalf of groups
like the Committee on Jobs and the Chamber of Commerce. Her very
first contentious debate as supervisor was a rebuke of restrictions
on chain stores, or formula retail establishments, despite the
idea's popularity in her district.
One District 2 woman who works in the political lobbying industry
feels that Alioto-Pier's business-friendly reputation doesn't
carry much substance. She recalls with bitterness the supervisor's
introduction of Prop I in 2005, which created the "Office
of Economic Analysis." The measure passed, and the new office
now duplicates efforts that already existed. The woman said the
measure was the brainchild of the Chamber of Commerce.
The lobbyist, who declined to identify herself, was more upset
with Alioto-Pier for her general performance. At a function for
the Pacific Heights Residents Association and again at an award
dinner from the 3 I's (the Irish, Italian, and Friends of Israel
group), Alioto-Pier retreated into titters and platitudes rather
than ringing statements of original thoughts on local issues.
Just as serious, said the lobbyist, is Alioto-Pier's attendance
"If you can't hold the job, don't run for it," she
said. "Now that supervisors are making real money, their
asses should be in that chamber at 2:00 p.m." She added that
Alioto-Pier's door is dark and locked more often than other supervisors'
offices on the marble corridor.
None of this has been spoken of publicly. "You think anybody
is going to criticize a mother in a wheelchair?" said a colleague
on the board.
Indeed, blank page after blank page greets the reader of arguments
against Alioto-Pier's Proposition B in this month's Voter Information
Pamphlet. The measure was a potentially sensitive one: allowing
pregnant women to participate in meetings by teleconference. Lacking
any real opposition, Prop B passed easily.
During a Rules Committee meeting of June
30, 2005 (item 1) Alioto-Pier discussed qualifications for
Ethics and Elections Commissioners. While observers felt certain
this was targeted towards enemies of Alioto-Pier's supporters,
she herself called for increased attention to following Ethics
rules. Critics are still agog. Surely, they say, if she were truly
concerned about the issue, she would look into why she herself
on the Ethics Commission web site.
A request for documents and records revealed the reason why,
plus a history of letters sent to her campaign committee office
to assess for fines for not filing required campaign forms to
the Ethics Department on time. The first letters are minor, asking
for fines from $10 to $320, which were duly paid.
However, a letter in May of this year called attention to another
form, called the Statement of Organization Amendment, which her
committee has still failed to file as required. Later that month,
the committee's continued failure to file landed Alioto-Pier on
the non-responsive list of the Ethics web site. Intentionally
failing to file is a misdemeanor. A lack of response could also
trigger an enforcement action, possibly resulting in up to $5,000
more in fines.
Why won't she file a simple form? For a district race with no
serious candidates running against her, Alioto-Pier has raised
startlingly large amounts of money: nearly half a million dollars
all told for both 2004
elections. Given these resources, her filing lapse could be seen
as either incompetence on the part of her Burbank-based committee
treasurer, or general arrogance.
There are quite a number of candidates who receive these letters
for falling behind in filing and payments. But this election cycle
saw more attention than usual given to ethical campaign filings
by many candidates.
So it's all the more surprising to find a draft of a five-page
letter dated August 9 (scroll to page 32) of this year from
the Ethics Department, which records show was never sent. The
letter states that the Alioto-Pier campaign must forfeit over
$12,000 in donations for exceeding contribution limits by that
amount. And the letter itself, a painstaking catalogue of research
into the sources of her donations, looks like many hours of toil
on the part of city employees.
Not only do the forfeitures look bad, but the failure to file
the one-page Statement of Organization Amendment jeopardizes the
certification of her election. Section 1.174 of the Campaign Finance
Reform Ordinance states that the Director of Elections is prohibited
from issuing her certificate of election until all campaign forms
Before the next round of award dinners and luncheons, it might
be useful to know why that last Ethics letter was never sent.
Why so much money was being donated and spent on a race that was
largely unopposed. Why Michela Alioto-Pier didn't follow up on
her claim to demand greater accountability and ethics.
Finally, despite having it all, why is Michela Alioto-Pier intent
on being supervisor? Calls to her office and cell phone were not
returned, so we don't have those answers.
contributed research to this report.
of awareness on St. Helena residence
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