Fisher-Alioto-Pier-Chronicle War on Peskin

by Randy Shaw on November 14, 2007

In recent weeks, the San Francisco Chronicle has slammed Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin for a variety of alleged ethical violations. Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier has been the main source of these charges, and is also the Board’s leading recipient of Fisher family campaign money. Gap CEO Don Fisher made his largest local campaign donation ever in his losing effort to pass Prop H and defeat Prop A, losing both contests to campaigns led by Peskin. The San Francisco Chronicle is a longtime ally of Fisher, and the paper did its best to help Fisher by opposing Prop A. Editorial Page Editor John Diaz even wrote a personal defense of Fisher’s opposition to the initiative. The Chronicle also wrote a pre-election article attacking Peskin for accepting Prop A donations from Clear Channel Billboards while voting to give them a new contract, an action that violated no ethics laws. Fisher, Alioto-Pier and the Chronicle have decided to make Peskin pay dearly for his successful effort to improve the city’s public transit system, hoping that they can destroy his effectiveness during his last year in office.

The Chronicle’s focused campaign to undermine Supervisor Aaron Peskin became clearer this week when columnists Matier & Ross—known for breaking news—led off their November 11 column with a quote that had previously appeared in the paper’s October 25 edition. The alleged quote—that Peskin told Alioto-Pier that “payback’s a bitch”–apparently didn’t have traction when the paper first ran it, so the columnists had to resurrect it as part of the Chronicle’s anti-Peskin campaign.

The stated news hook for the duo’s running of a three-week old item was a letter that Alioto-Pier wrote on November 9 to the city and district attorney’s requesting an opinion as to whether Peskin violated ethics laws.

Why did Alioto-Pier wait over two weeks to write such a letter? The obvious answer was the letter was written solely to make it appear as if Matier & Ross were “breaking” news, rather than recycling an item that proved to have no legs.

Alioto-Pier is the Chronicle’s typical foil when it comes to bashing progressive supervisors. She is also the Supervisor most closely aligned with the Fisher family.

Alioto-Pier was the only Supervisor to endorse Proposition H, and her face appeared on a “Yes on Prop H” mailer paid for by Fisher. That really showed her political clout with the City’s electorate!

In 2004 and 2006, Donald Fisher and eight other family members made a total of 16 contributions of the $500.00 maximum to the supervisor election campaigns of Alioto-Pier. That’s a total of $7750 from people whose last name is Fisher alone.

Now Alioto-Pier is helping Fisher get revenge on Peskin, who publicly embarrassed the GAP founder in both the Prop A and H campaigns.

Recall that most of the public charges against Supervisor Chris Daly were leveled by Alioto-Pier, whose anti-Daly quotes were then repeated for weeks and even months in the Chronicle.

Now Alioto-Pier and the Chronicle are trying the same game plan against Peskin, in the hope of reducing his increasing political influence.

Between its questionable October 25 and November 11 attacks on Peskin, the Chronicle ran a front-page October 31 story charging Peskin’s Prop A committee with receiving a $20,000 donation from Clear Channel Outdoor two days before he and the Board voted to award the company the Muni advertising contract. Peskin was only one of seven supervisors who backed the Clear Channel contract, and deep into the story is a quote from San Francisco’s Ethics Commission Director saying that Peskin did nothing wrong.

Why did the Chronicle give this October 31 attack on Peskin such prominence? Two reasons.

First, the Chronicle was trying to help Don Fisher defeat Prop A by associating the measure and its chief sponsor with corruption allegations. I have previously described the paper’s slavish devotion to Fisher’s agenda.

The Chronicle’s No on A editorial was so poorly researched that it claimed that SEIU had not endorsed the initiative. In truth, SEIU was leading the “Yes on A” campaign – as volunteers were dispatched out of the Local 1021 office in Potrero Hill.

Second, Alioto-Pier campaign manager Eric Jaye is a close Fisher ally who also represents CBS Outdoor, which lost the Muni contract to Clear Channel. It would not be surprising if Jaye “leaked” the story of this non-existent Peskin ethical violation to the Chronicle, who then sought to help Fisher by giving it prominent placement.

Matier & Ross, who historically have given Peskin favorable press, also used the paper’s November 4, Sunday pre-election edition to try to scare voters about Prop A’s chief backer. In a column that referred to the Peskin vs. Fisher “slap-down,” the column described Peskin as the “Napoleon of North Beach” while identifying Fisher as a “friend of Mayor Gavin Newsom and longtime point man for various cultural and civic causes.”

Get the difference? Democratically elected Peskin is a dictator intent on expanding his power, while Republican billionaire Don Fisher is motivated only for what’s best for San Francisco.

Matier & Ross then quote Fisher saying that he “doesn’t know why (Peskin) feels the way he does… I’ve never asked him for anything, and I don’t do business in the city. I just think Aaron is a control freak and he doesn’t control me.”

The Chronicle’s intrepid columnists never asked Fisher why he spent $180,000 of his money to fight Prop A and pass Prop H if he had no business interests in the city. Nor why he helped fund a massive attack campaign against incumbent progressive Supervisors in 2004 —-was that part of his “civic and cultural causes”?

The column then repeats the attack on the Clear Channel donation to Prop A, and cites developers claiming that “given Peskin’s history of killing deals that come before the board, he’s not a guy to whom they like to say ‘no’.”

It’s not easy portraying an unelected Republican billionaire as more ethical and civic minded than a progressive elected official who dedicated months to passing a measure improving public transit.

Peskin ultimately raised over $500,000 for Prop A, publicly humiliated Fisher in his hometown, and has not allowed Alioto-Pier’s whining to back him off one inch from aggressively representing his constituency’s interests. Chris Daly did some things that gave weight to Alioto-Pier’s attacks, but Peskin will not create such openings.

This will require Fisher, Alioto-Pier and the Chronicle to fish even deeper for anti-Peskin stories, and to publish whatever they have caught, regardless of its credibility. Peskin’s support among his Board colleagues has never been stronger in the wake of Prop A’s success, and they know all too well that Alioto-Pier is perhaps the least credible source when it comes to ethics and public integrity.

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