Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Joseph Lawrence Alioto (b. February 12, 1916, San Francisco, California – d. January 29, 1998, San Francisco) was the mayor of San Francisco from 1968 to 1976. He was born to Sicilian immigrants (his father was a fisherman; his parents met on a fishing boat while escaping the 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Alioto graduated from St. Mary's College in 1937 and from the Catholic University of America in 1940. Alioto worked for the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department and then for the Board of Economic Warfare. 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.
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. 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).
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 Democratic National Convention in 1968. There were rumors that Humphrey would select Alioto as his running mate, but Humphrey selected Edmund Muskie. In July 1969, an article in Look Magazine claimed that Alioto had ties to the Mafioso Aladena Fratianno . Alioto sued the magazine for libel and won a $450,000 judgment after an 11-year course of litigation. He later claimed that he had documents that showed that the Nixon Administration leaked disinformation to the magazine in order to stall his career. Alioto was also indicted by the federal government on bribery charges after he was accused in 1969 by the state of Washington of splitting a $2.3 million fee in an antitrust case with Washington State Attorney General John O'Connell. These charges were later dismissed. Alioto's focus on fighting these charges led him to reluctantly put aside plans to run for the California governorship against Ronald Reagan in 1970.
Alioto presided over a time of turmoil and change in San Francisco. He ran on a platform of reducing taxes and fighting crime. Alioto put his energy behind the development of two building complexes, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Embarcadero Center , that engendered opposition in the development stage but were eventually built and transformed the skyline of the city. 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 also saw a strike at San Francisco City College during 1968-1969, strife in the Haight-Ashbury, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, and the Zebra murders and Zodiac killings. In 1971, Alioto's wife Angelina vanished, reappearing after 18 days to say that she had taken off to "punish" her husband for neglect. Angelina filed divorce proceedings against him in 1975. He remarried in 1978.
Alioto ran in the 1974 primary for the governor's office, losing to Jerry Brown. After he left office, Alioto went back into private practice, but he and his son Joseph Jr. lost a major malpractice case in 1980. In 1991, he and his son went to battle in court against one another over legal fees in another case. Alioto died of prostate cancer in 1998.
Members of Alioto's family are still deeply involved in San Francisco politics. Angela Alioto , a daughter from his first marriage, has served several times as a county supervisor and continues to run her father's practice. One of his granddaughters, Michela Alioto-Pier, was appointed to the Board of Supervisors in 2004 by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom.
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