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ALIOTO, SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR DURING TIME OF CIVIC UPHEAVAL.

Byline: Associated Press

Former Mayor Joseph L. Alioto, who presided over one of his city's most tumultuous eras and was often mentioned as a prospect for higher office before a spate of bad publicity cooled his career, died Thursday. He was 81.

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

``Joe Alioto's death brings to a close a long and distinguished public service career,'' Gov. Pete Wilson said. ``His historic mayorship during an era of great political and social growth ensured that the Alioto name would become inseparable with that of San Francisco.''

Current Mayor Willie Brown Jr. remembered him for his commitment to racial diversity.

``Joe Alioto was a fighter throughout his life. He was a brilliant antitrust lawyer, and a champion of racial diversity long before it was fashionable,'' Brown said. ``His imprint on San Francisco is indelible - from the city's downtown landscape to its cultural institutions to its public parks.''

The 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 candidate he supported for the 1967 San Francisco mayor's race dropped dead on a handball court two months before the election.

A nationally 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, a moderate Democrat, was largely successful at keeping the peace in the city, despite the tumult of the times. He asked young African-American militants to ``come to me with your problems before you take them to the streets'' and pushed unions to boost minority hiring. He praised student radicals' desire for a more relevant education but said he would not tolerate violence.

``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 also presided over a building boom that significantly altered the city skyline and saw the famous Transamerica Pyramid constructed.

His high-profile post quickly made him one of the state's brightest political stars. He gave the nominating speech for Hubert Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and was rumored to be in the running for the vice presidential nomination. At one point, he also was mentioned as the next California governor.

But outside of his home city, 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 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, 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 later said. He blamed much of his legal troubles on John Mitchell, President Nixon's attorney general, saying the Republicans wanted to cripple a rising Democratic star.

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.

``Some people call my practice the millionaires vs. the billionaires,'' Alioto once joked. ``Maybe that's partly true.''

Davis on Thursday remembered Alioto as a ``giant'' and said his heart goes out to the family.

``Joe was a giant,'' he said. ``He was a star among stars. He was the standard of excellence by which all others have been and will be judged. But most of all, he was our friend. I love the guy.''

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

Three of his sons broke off from the family firm, Alioto & Alioto. One of them, John, sued his father for the right to the firm's name, while granddaughter Michela sued to recover $1.9 million she said she loaned to the firm, money from a settlement in an accident that had left her a paraplegic. Her grandfather argued that the money was a personal loan to Michela Alioto's father, not a loan to the family law firm.

He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Sullivan Alioto; sons Lawrence, Thomas, Joseph M., John, Michael and Patrick; and daughters Angela and Domenica.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Joseph Alioto, who died Thursday at 81, attends a funeral in 1996.

Associated Press
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Jan 30, 1998
Words:852
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