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Former San Francisco Mayor Dies

January 30, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Joseph L. Alioto, mayor of the city in the tumultuous late ’60s and early ’70s and touted for higher office until a spate of bad publicity cooled his career, died Thursday. He was 81.

Alioto, who had suffered from prostate cancer, died at home of pneumonia.

``Joe Alioto was a fighter throughout his life,″ Mayor Willie Brown said. ``His imprint on San Francisco is indelible _ from the city’s downtown landscape to its cultural institutions to its public parks.″

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told radio station KCBS: ``He was part of the dynamism of what makes a great city.″

Son of a Sicilian fish merchant who immigrated to the United States, Alioto was fond of saying he got his political start by accident when the mayoral candidate he supported in 1967 dropped dead on a handball court two months before the election.

A prominent antitrust lawyer who was long active in civic affairs, Alioto entered the race in the man’s place, and won with what he called ``a kind of New Deal coalition of labor and minorities, plus flag-waving Italians.″

Alioto, who was mayor from 1968 to 1976, was largely successful at keeping the peace in the city during the anti-Vietnam war years.

While saying he wouldn’t tolerate violence, he urged young black militants to ``come to me with your problems before you take them to the streets,″ and pushed unions to boost minority hiring.

``Militants who seek change through nonviolence should be brought into the chain of decision-making, and not isolated and forced into alliance with the lawless,″ he said.

He quickly became one of the state’s brightest political stars, and gave the nominating speech for Hubert Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. He was rumored to be in the running for the vice presidential nomination, and also was mentioned as the next California governor.

But his political star sagged after Look magazine ran a story in 1969 linking him to organized crime. Alioto responded with a $12.5 million libel suit that he eventually won, collecting $450,000.

About the same time, the state of Washington and several other agencies sued Alioto for taking a share of $2.3 million in attorneys fees for a $16 million price-fixing case he had won. Later, the federal government indicted him on charges of bribery in the way the fees were collected.

He was eventually cleared of all civil and criminal charges.

While the bad publicity didn’t hinder Alioto’s re-election as mayor in 1972, he said it stymied his run for the statehouse in 1970 and played a part in his loss to Jerry Brown in the 1974 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

He didn’t let the difficulties slow him down, though.

``I don’t come from a wailing tradition,″ he told Time magazine in 1972. ``We take life as it is. It is a tough life, and we know it is.″

After retiring from politics in 1976, Alioto returned to his antitrust practice, once the biggest in the country with such well-known clients as Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn and Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders football team.

Daughter Angela Alioto served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and ran unsuccessfully for several other offices, including mayor of San Francisco. His son, Joseph M. Alioto, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and his granddaughter, Michela Alioto, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996.

In recent years, money squabbles chipped away at the legal and political dynasty.

Three of his sons broke off from the family firm, and one, John, sued his father for the right to the firm’s name. Michela Alioto sued to recover $1.9 million she said she had loaned to the firm, money from a settlement in an accident that had left her a paraplegic.

Alioto is survived by his wife, Kathleen Sullivan Alioto, six sons and two daughters.

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