Angela Alioto's Inferno
by Hank Donat
Angela Alioto makes a killer cappuccino. "I like a good cappuccino," she says, "I think it's important." And so do I. Maybe it's the Sicilian background we share. I explain that my father is French and my mother is Italian. Part of me wants to throw the pizza up into the air; the other part wants to be rude to it. She explains her deep and abiding affinity with our sister city, Assisi, and her devotion to the secular Franciscan order.
The dining room of her Pacific Heights home, with its solid, enduring furniture and great acoustics, is delicately painted and detailed with gold leaf in the manner of the St. Francis Basilica. It's a fitting backdrop for a conversation with the woman whose 1997 book, "Straight to the Heart: Political Cantos" uses sign posts inspired by the work of Franciscan writer Dante Alligheri to navigate a River Styx of political patronage, municipal corruption, and thieves who rob the public trust right here at home. Nearly five years since the book's publication, it's time for a temperture check. "Was I right or what?" she asks rhetorically, "All of that stuff is happening again and again. It's even worse now." Caution: the cappuccino is hot, but it's Alioto's opinions that might scald.
"We're not well," she says of the state of the City, "There are so many serious issues. There's more homelessness than ever. The streets are dirty. There's nobody there that wants to take care of the City, literally, and that's what it needs."
According to the former president of the Board of Supervisors and leader in the area of anti discrimination law, an immediate problem for San Francisco is its seeming inability to run a clean election, as evidenced by the recently announced recount of the 2000 vote, and a whole host of irregularities surrounding the election of November 2001.
"It is the hugest of scandals," says Alioto, "It's even more obviously criminal than what happened in Florida in 2000. It's blatant. There's nothing more fundamental than voting. It's one of the few things in our American lives that people died for us to be able to do. The entire Board of Supervisors and the mayor, none of them think this is a scandal. In my opinion it's not only a scandal, it's criminal.
"There are a few different issues. Number one, there were eight floating [ballot] box tops found in the bay. Okay, please. Number two, ballots being taken to Brooks Hall on the night of the election, and Pier 29. We know that votes being moved to Brooks Hall because of an alleged anthrax scare is a lie because how does that explain ballots being taken to Pier 29 if they've got anthrax? The back of Pier 29 is so porous that anyone could get out of their boat and load it up with ballot boxes, get back in their boat and leave. Anyone. The moving around of these ballots gives people the ability to lose ballots and gives people excuses for malfeasance.
"When I first heard about the floating box tops I was stunned. Then I thought, 'I don't know why I'm stunned.' There hasn't been a decent, non malfeasant election in this City since Willie Brown's been mayor. Not one."
"Oh, then we've got 240 ballots that were allegedly jammed in machines. Does that mean that the one that was stuck was counted 240 times? Then this discovery that the director of the election goes to [current Board of Supervisors President] Tom Ammiano's house on a Friday night to talk about 600 missing ballots and the public doesn't know about the visit for four days. Of course it's a scandal. Remember, on the first first count we only lost our measure for public power by 538 votes."
Explaining the battle for public power is easy for Angela, who explains the 1913 Raker Act, which granted the City of San Francisco the right to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley, as follows: "The Raker Act gives San Francisco a huge diamond ring. That diamond ring will produce the finances that we need to take people off the street, to feed our poor, to shelter our poor, to take care of the mentally ill, to support our small businesses and to make this a healthy City. Instead of taking that diamond and using it for those purposes, our corrupt officials gave that diamond to the biggest diamond wholesaler in the world [metaphorically, PG&E] for them to profit instead of for our City to profit. I want the diamond back." What went wrong in her attempt to retrieve the public power gemstone?
She says Ammiano's introduction
of Proposition F, a competing initiative along with the Alioto-endorsed
MUD measure Proposition I, sank public power in San Francisco and was a
vindictive act. "You could take my name off it, I just wanted public power."
says Alioto, whose son, Joe Alioto-Veronese, ran for the prospective MUD
board. "It's right for the City. (Ammiano) didn't want my MUD to pass,
and that's petty." She's clearly not happy about the MUD defeat, and saves
the harshest criticism for Ammiano.
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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat