Joseph Alioto

Last updated

Joseph L. Alioto
Joseph Alioto.jpg
36th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 1968 January 8, 1976
Preceded by John F. Shelley
Succeeded by George Moscone
Personal details
Born(1916-02-12)February 12, 1916
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedJanuary 29, 1998(1998-01-29) (aged 81)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Angelina Genaro Alioto (1941–1977)
Kathleen Sullivan Alioto (1978–1998)

Joseph Lawrence Alioto (February 12, 1916 – January 29, 1998) was the 36th mayor of San Francisco, California, from 1968 to 1976.

Mayor of San Francisco head of the executive branch of the San Francisco city and county government

The Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco is the head of the executive branch of the San Francisco city and county government. The officeholder has the duty to enforce city laws, and the power to either approve or veto bills passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the legislative branch. The Mayor serves a four-year term and is limited to two successive terms. Because of San Francisco's status as a consolidated city-county, the mayor also serves as the head of government of the county; both entities have been governed together by a combined set of governing bodies since 1856.



Alioto was born in San Francisco in 1916. His father was a Sicilian immigrant who owned and operated several fish processing companies. His mother, Domenica Mae Lazio, was born in San Francisco in 1893. His parents met on a fishing boat while escaping the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

San Francisco Consolidated city-county in California, US

San Francisco, officially City and County of San Francisco and colloquially known by its initialism SF, is a city in—and the cultural, commercial, and financial center of—Northern California. San Francisco is the 13th most populous city in the United States, and the fourth most populous in California, with 883,305 residents as of 2018. It covers an area of about 46.89 square miles (121.4 km2), mostly at the north end of the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area, making it the second most densely populated large U.S. city, and the fifth most densely populated U.S. county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs. San Francisco is the 12th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States, with 4,729,484 people in 2018. With San Jose, it forms the fifth most populous combined statistical area in the United States, the San Jose–San Francisco–Oakland, CA Combined Statistical Area.

1906 San Francisco earthquake major earthquake that struck San Francisco and the coast of Northern California

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18 with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.9 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme). High intensity shaking was felt from Eureka on the North Coast to the Salinas Valley, an agricultural region to the south of the San Francisco Bay Area. Devastating fires soon broke out in the city and lasted for several days. As a result, up to 3,000 people died and over 80% of the city of San Francisco was destroyed. The events are remembered as one of the worst and deadliest earthquakes in the history of the United States. The death toll remains the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California's history and high in the lists of American disasters.


He attended Sacred Heart High School (presently Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory). [1] He graduated with honors from St. Mary's College, Moraga, California in 1937 and from law school at The Catholic University of America with honors in 1940.[ citation needed ]

Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory co-ed Catholic school in San Francisco, California, United States

Sacred Heart Cathedral "Preparatory", commonly known as SHC, or SH, is a Catholic school located in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California. Founded in 1852, Sacred Heart Cathedral is the oldest Catholic secondary school and the first co-ed Catholic high school in San Francisco.

Saint Marys College of California

Saint Mary's College of California is a private Catholic college in Moraga, California. It is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and administered by the De La Salle Christian Brothers.

Law practice

Alioto worked for the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and then for the Board of Economic Warfare.[ citation needed ] He returned to San Francisco after World War II and started an antitrust practice, representing Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn, among others, eventually becoming a millionaire.[ citation needed ] He was on the briefs in Radovich v. National Football League and argued Continental Ore Co. v. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., 370 U.S. 690 (1962), [2] an antitrust landmark, and Utah Pie Co. v. Continental Baking Co., 386 U.S. 685 (1967), [3] all three Supreme Court of the United States cases. In Radovich, the Supreme Court held that professional football, unlike baseball, was subject to antitrust laws. Continental Ore is one of the most comprehensive and important antitrust cases ever decided by the Supreme Court.[ citation needed ]

United States Department of Justice U.S. federal executive department in charge of law enforcement

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), also known as the Justice Department, is a federal executive department of the U.S. government, responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries. The department was formed in 1870 during the Ulysses S. Grant administration.

Walt Disney American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer

Walter Elias Disney was an American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. A pioneer of the American animation industry, he introduced several developments in the production of cartoons. As a film producer, Disney holds the record for most Academy Awards earned by an individual, having won 22 Oscars from 59 nominations. He was presented with two Golden Globe Special Achievement Awards and an Emmy Award, among other honors. Several of his films are included in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Samuel Goldwyn Polish-American film producer

Samuel Goldwyn, also known as Samuel Goldfish, was a Polish-American film producer. He was most well known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood. His awards include the 1973 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1947, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1958.

In 1980, despite being a zombie, he represented Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in a landmark antitrust case entitled Los Angeles Coliseum Commission v. The NFL. The case established the right of football franchises to move to football markets throughout the United States without the approval of other franchise owners.[ citation needed ] In 1993, he represented his father-in-law Billy Sullivan in his lawsuit against the NFL. The court ruled that Sullivan was forced by the league to sell his team at below market value and awarded him $114 million.[ citation needed ]

Al Davis American football player, coach, executive

Allen Davis was an American football coach and executive. He was the principal owner and general manager of the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League (NFL) for 39 years, from 1972 until his death in 2011. Prior to becoming the principal owner of the Raiders, he served as the team's head coach from 1963 to 1965 and part owner from 1966 to 1971, assuming both positions while the Raiders were part of the American Football League (AFL). He also served as the commissioner of the AFL in 1966.

Billy Sullivan (American football) American businessman

William Hallissey Sullivan Jr. was an American businessman who owned the Boston Patriots franchise from their inception in the American Football League until their sale, as the New England Patriots of the NFL, to Victor Kiam in 1988.

Political career

Alioto served on the San Francisco Board of Education from 1948 to 1954, and in the 1960s, served as the chair of the city's Redevelopment Agency. Alioto on the death of California State Senator J. Eugene McAteer, went from campaign finance chairman to candidate for mayor. He entered the mayoral race in 1967 when John Shelley, the incumbent, bowed out of the race, allegedly because of poor health but probably because Alioto was more pro-development than Shelley (Shelley, whose rival Eugene McAteer was being backed by Alioto, was also expected to lose against a Republican opponent, Harold Dobbs, after McAteer collapsed and died while playing a game of handball).

J. Eugene McAteer (1916–1967) was a San Francisco Supervisor (1953–1958) and a California State Senator (1959–1967). He coauthored legislation to start the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The commission's first director, Joseph Bodovitz, said, "What people tend to forget now is how unusual it was to have anybody of McAteer's stature interested in an environmental issue in the sixties."

John F. Shelley American politician

John Francis "Jack" Shelley was a U.S. politician. He served as the 35th mayor of San Francisco, from 1964 to 1968, the first Democrat elected to the office in 50 years, and the first in an unbroken line of Democratic mayors that lasts to the present. His term in the United States House of Representatives, immediately prior to his mayoralty (1949-1964), also broke a long streak of Republican tenure and began a streak of Democratic representatives for San Francisco that continues to the present.

Republican Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP, is one of the two major political parties in the United States; the other is its historic rival, the Democratic Party.

Joseph L. Alioto was inaugurated on January 8, 1968, served a term, and was handily re-elected in 1971. Alioto delivered the speech nominating Hubert Humphrey at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. There were rumors that Humphrey would select Alioto as his running mate, but Humphrey selected Edmund Muskie. An article in the September 23, 1969 issue of Look magazine claimed that Alioto had business and personal ties to the Los Angeles Mafioso boss Jimmy Fratianno. Alioto later sued Look for libel and won a $450,000 judgment. [1] In the course of the litigation, Alioto proved that Look, desperate and on the verge of bankruptcy, simply conjured up (with no proof) an alleged mob meeting in Vacaville, California at the Nut Tree Restaurant. [1] He later claimed that he had documents that showed that the Nixon administration leaked disinformation to the magazine in order to stall his career. [4]

In January 1970, the State of Washington, three cities, a port authority, and eight public utilities brought a civil suit against Alioto because he split a $2.3 million fee in an antitrust case with Washington State Attorney General John J. O'Connell and an O’Connell deputy, George Faler. Attorney General O’Connell had maintained Public Utility Districts as private clients during his time as AG. The Public Utility Districts were suing electrical manufactures that were fixing prices at an improperly high level. The case began in 1962 and O’Connell retained Alioto, a very successful anti-trust attorney, to work on the case. Originally, Alioto agreed to receive 15% of what was awarded with a $1 million cap. Later, O’Connell, apparently without telling his clients, abolished the fee ceiling. Alioto ended up receiving approximately $2.3 million and gave $802,815 of those fees to O’Connell and Faler. The state and other groups sued to have the entire $2.3 million returned. The trial took six months and jury unanimously found the three were entitled to the $2.3 million.

Alioto was also indicted by a federal grand jury in March 1971 on bribery charges because of the means by which the fees were awarded. When the case went to court, Alioto was cleared of the federal charges by a judge who ordered acquittal because he was convinced a jury would not convict when it considered the evidence. [5]

Under California law it was illegal for public employees to strike. [6] Nevertheless, city employees called a strike in March 1974, picketing city hall and shutting down municipal services. After a week Mayor Alioto and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors agreed to the strikers demands. The city controller, however, refused to payout what he believed were illegal salaries. In April 1975 the California Supreme Court ordered the city controller to pay the salaries, with Justice Tobriner finding that contracts secured through illegal strikes are still legally enforceable. [7]

Major crime became a problem with the Zodiac Killer, the Symbionese Liberation Army attacks and the Black Power Zebra Murders all occurring under Alioto’s watch.

During the Zebra Murders in 1974, Alioto's wife, Angelina Alioto, vanished, reappearing after 18 days to claim that she had taken off to "punish" her husband for neglect. During the time Angelina was missing, she toured the missions of California as part of a religious pilgrimage. Angelina filed divorce proceedings against him in 1975. He remarried in 1978.

Alioto ran in the 1974 Democratic primary for the governor's office, losing to Bob Moretti and Jerry Brown.

In July 1975 the LAPD unexpectedly announced a pay raise. For years the San Francisco Police Department had been the top paid in the state, with the San Francisco Fire Department guaranteed the same pay. [8] The SF Police promptly demanded they be paid more than the LAPD. [9] The Board of Supervisors, however, determined that the pay raise would drive the city into deficit, and unanimously approved a raise only half of what the police requested. [10]

California law still prohibited public employees from striking. [11] The police and firefighters elected to strike anyway, with 90% illegally abandoning their posts. [9]

The city then obtained a court order declaring the strike illegal and enjoining the officers to return to work. The court messenger delivering the order was met with violence and the police continued to strike. [9]

Only managers and African-American officers remained, [12] with 45 officers and 3 fire trucks responsible for the whole city. [13] Supervisor Dianne Feinstein pleaded for Mayor Alioto to ask Governor Jerry Brown to call out the National Guard to patrol the streets but Alioto refused.

When enraged citizens confronted police at the picket lines the police arrested them. [9] Federal authorities were forced to intervene after striking firefighters attempted to seize San Francisco International Airport. [14] Heavy drinking on the picket line became common and after striking police officers started shooting out streetlights the ACLU obtained a court order prohibiting strikers from carrying their service revolvers. Again, the police ignored the court order. [9]

On August 20 a bomb detonated at the Mayor’s home with a sign reading "Don’t Threaten Us" left on his lawn. [10] On August 21 Mayor Alioto advised the Supervisors that they should concede to the strikers demands. [10] The Supervisors unanimously refused. Mayor Alioto then immediately declared a state of emergency, assumed "legislative powers", and granted the strikers’ demands. [15]

The Supervisors and taxpayers sued but the court reaffirmed that contracts obtained through illegal strikes are still legally enforceable. [15] Nevertheless, the Supervisors placed on the November ballot charter initiatives revoking the mayor’s emergency powers, requiring police to be automatically fired if they strike, preventing firemen from holding second jobs, and requiring future pay raises to be averaged with California’s other large cities. [10] All the ballot initiatives passed by extremely large margins. [10]

After he left office, Alioto went back into private practice. He and his son Joseph Jr. lost a major malpractice case against a cattle rancher in 1980. He received millions in legal fees after counseling the Oakland Raiders win against the City of Oakland. [16] In 1991, he and his son went to battle in court against one another over legal fees in the Raiders case.


Alioto died of prostate cancer in San Francisco on January 29, 1998 and was interred at Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California. [17] A cenotaph is located at Holy Cross Cemetery (Section D).[ citation needed ]


Alioto presided over a time of turmoil and change in San Francisco. Events that occurred during his tenure as mayor included strife in the Haight-Ashbury with the drug culture, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the start of the gay Castro District, Black Panther marches, The Zebra murders and Zodiac killings. He ran on a platform of reducing taxes and fighting crime.

Alioto put his energy behind the development of three major building projects: the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART); the Transamerica Pyramid; and the Embarcadero Center. These efforts engendered opposition in the development stage but were eventually built, transforming the quality of life and skyline of San Francisco.

Alioto helped to bring more minorities into city politics, launched a reform of the city charter, and mediated protracted police and fire department strikes in 1975. Alioto's tenure began with a citywide newspaper strike of the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner in February 1968. The first faculty strike at a college or university in the United States—was at San Francisco State College now San Francisco State University during 1968–1969, where Alioto gave the resources of the law enforcement of the City and County of San Francisco to the university president, S.I. Hayakawa.

Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center.jpg
Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center

The Joseph L. Alioto Recreation Center at his alma mater, Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California opened in 2015 and is named after him. The privately funded facility cost $23.5 million, and includes an outdoor aquatics center, indoor exercise equipment, a rock climbing wall, and a cafe. The center serves the general student body, while varsity athletes use separate dedicated training facilities. [18]

Alioto family

Alioto had five sons and a daughter with his first wife, [19] and a son [20] and daughter [21] with his second wife.

Members of Alioto's family are still involved in San Francisco politics. His second wife, Kathleen Sullivan Alioto, was a member of the Boston School committee and a candidate for a United States Senate seat in Massachusetts in the 1978 primary. [22] Sullivan and Alioto married in 1978 and remained together until his death in 1998. [23] Because they were both divorced, the wedding was performed by excommunicated Catholic priest and activist Joseph O'Rourke. [24]

Angela Alioto, the daughter from his first marriage, served eight years as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, two as its President. One of Angela's three sons, Joe Alioto Veronese, campaigned for the California State Senate seat in 2008. One of his granddaughters, Michela Alioto-Pier, was appointed to the Board of Supervisors in 2003 by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and won election to the Board in 2004. His grandson Joseph Alioto Jr. ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in District 3. Several of his sons, as well as many of his grandchildren, are successful attorneys and businesspersons in the San Francisco Bay Area.[ citation needed ]

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  1. 1 2 3 Williams, Lance; D. Hatfield, Larry (January 30, 1998). "Joseph Alioto, 1916–1998". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. "Alioto's Odyssey" in Time Magazine, November 13, 1972
  5. "U.S. Judge Orders Acquittal for Alioto, 2 Others," Associated Press in the Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1972, page A-1 Library card required
  6. City and County of San Francisco v. Cooper, 534 P.2d 403, 13 Cal. 3d 898, 120 Cal. Rptr. 707 (1975).
  7. City and County of San Francisco v. Cooper, 534 P.2d 403, 13 Cal. 3d 898, 120 Cal. Rptr. 707 (1975).
  8. Crouch, Winson W. (1978). Organized Civil Servants. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 288.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Comment, Emergency Mayoral Power: An Exercise in Charter Interpretation, 65 Cal. L. Rev. 686.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Crouch, Winston W. (1978). Organized Civil Servants: Public Employer-Employee Relations in California. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 288. Archived from the original on June 15, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  11. Verreos v. City and County of San Francisco, 63 Cal. App. 3d 86, 133 Cal. Rptr. 649 (Ct. App. 1976).
  12. Crouch, Winston W. (1978). Organized Civil Servants: Public Employer-Employee Relations in California. Berkeley: University of California Press. Archived from the original on June 15, 2015. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  13. Comment, Emergency Mayoral Power: An Exercise in Charter Interpretation, 65 Cal. L. Rev. 686. citing S.F. Chronicle, Augu. 20, 1875, at 1, col. 2.
  14. Comment, Emergency Mayoral Power: An Exercise in Charter Interpretation, 65 Cal. L. Rev. 686 citing N.Y. Times, Aug. 21, 1975, at 28, col 4.
  15. 1 2 Verreos v. City and County of San Francisco, 63 Cal. App. 3d 86, 133 Cal. Rptr. 649 (Ct. App. 1976).
  16. City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, 203 Cal. App. 3d 78, 249 Cal. Rptr. 606 (Ct. App. 1988).
  17. Epstein, Edward (February 3, 1998). "Festive Homage To Joe Alioto Wins Support". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  18. Modenessi, Jennifer (March 12, 2015). "Saint Mary's College opens new $23.5 million rec center". San Jose Mercury News . Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  19. (Thur., 17 May 2018)
  20. "Former mayor is father at 62". Associated Press. February 19, 1979. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  21. "Daughter born to Alioto". Associated Press. May 20, 1981. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  22. "Senate Candidate Alioto Pregnant". Associated Press. July 25, 1978. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  23. "Senate Candidate Alioto Pregnant". Associated Press. July 25, 1978. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  24. "Alioto Weds Kathleen Sullivan But Ex-Wife Claims It's Invalid - Priest Excommunicated". The Blade (Toledo). February 28, 1978. Retrieved June 11, 2011.
Political offices
Preceded by
John F. Shelley
Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by
George Moscone