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The Mystery Supervisor

District 2 Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Daniela 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 one.

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 elections 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 the excitement.

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 gentle.

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, and skill.

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 record.

"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 is listed 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 and 2006 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 are filed.

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.

Kepa Askenasy contributed research to this report.



Harbingers of awareness on St. Helena residence


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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