Alioto-Pier court triumph shakes up board race 

Politics in Pacific Heights took a sudden turn Thursday after a judge ruled that a Board of Supervisors incumbent can seek another term.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who has served on the board since 2004, had sued City Attorney Dennis Herrera to overturn his opinion that she already served two four-year terms and could not seek re-election this November. 

Alioto-Pier was appointed in January 2004 by Mayor Gavin Newsom, who vacated the post when he won the mayor race.

Alioto-Pier served about one year before running and winning a two-year term to finish off what would have been Newsom’s stint. She was then re-elected in November 2006 for a term that ends in January.

Herrera had written an opinion in 2008 that said Alioto-Pier’s appointment followed by her election in 2004 means she was appointed to serve a more than two-year term, which, under the City Charter, constitutes a four-year term.

Alioto-Pier successfully argued that the approximate year she served in office following her appointment and the subsequent two years she served after winning a special election should not be counted together.

Alioto-Pier’s legal victory comes about two weeks before the deadline to file to run for the seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Already, a handful of candidates have jumped into the race for District 2, which includes the Marina and Pacific Heights neighborhoods. Notable candidates are Golden Gate Bridge transit district board member Janet Reilly, who has picked up key endorsements, and venture capitalist Mark Farrell, both of whom have received more than $140,000 in campaign contributions.

After the judge’s decision, candidates were left figuring out how best to proceed.

“This issue has clouded the election for District 2 supervisor for more than two years,” Reilly said in a statement. “As matters are sorted out over the coming weeks, I will be announcing my plans for November.”

“It’s extremely challenging and difficult to beat an incumbent,” political consultant Jim Ross said. “She’s been very popular in that district. My guess is [the other candidates] will decide not to run.”

Outside the courtroom, Alioto-Pier said, “I feel good about it. We felt very strongly about the case going in. I love this city. I love my district. We have a lot of things to do.”

Herrera may appeal the decision, according to spokesman Matt Dorsey.

“The job of the city attorney is to represent the voters,” Dorsey said. “To reach the conclusion that the judge reached, it means there is a provision of the charter that voters put there that can no longer be applied. So, the city attorney is going to consider his options and make a decision about whether or not to appeal.”

Superior Court Judge Peter Busch said his decision is “consistent with the plain language of the charter” that “carefully distinguishes between appointment and election.”

Time in office

The dispute about Michela Alioto-Pier running for re-election focused on her time appointed versus her time elected.

January 2004: Appointed to District 2 seat by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Jan. 26
November 2004: Wins election for January 2005 to January 2007 term after being required by law to run
November 2006: Elected to current term, which runs from January 2007 to January 2011
November 2010: District 2 seat up for election
January 2011: Current term ends

Source: Board of Supervisors

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