Cothran

Warren Hinckle, the Independent's columnist, a master of the scurrilous hit piece, a man with no shame, a huge appetite for ugly political warfare, and little apparent regard for facts.

Jack Davis, the most feared political consultant in San Francisco, a man politicians hire just so he won't oppose them.

These men, it seems, will do anything, say anything, print anything, sink to any depth to support their man. And Hallinan knows this has been, and will be, their approach. He applauds it. They are his insurance policy.

Anyone who has considered running against Hallinan has had to wonder: How badly do I want the job? Badly enough to be falsely accused of everything and anything? Badly enough to have my family and friends fried on the altar of my political ambitions?

The most formidable challenger Hallinan could have faced is Katherine Feinstein. A former prosecutor who now heads up the City Attorney's child welfare unit, Feinstein, an assistant district attorney during the 1980s, is highly regarded for her smarts, her fairness, and her refusal to trade on her famous mother's name.

Feinstein could well have beaten Hallinan, but after months of considering a bid, she declined to run, citing the "cesspool" of political campaigns. The cesspool remark could have referred to her experience working on her mother's trying campaigns against Pete Wilson and Michael Huffington.

But the younger Feinstein could also have been referring to the treatment Fazio received at the hands of Hallinan cronies in 1995. And similar treatment she might have received at the hands of the unholy three.

Sources have told me that the minute Feinstein's name was floated as a potential candidate, Hallinan's camp floated their own trial balloon: They let it be known that if Feinstein ran, her husband, a graduate of the Delancey Street drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, would have his name dragged through the mud. A lawyer close to Feinstein said this was one of the factors in her decision not to run.

"People know the kind of hardball Terence will play," says Randy Knox, a former San Francisco prosecutor turned defense attorney who advised Fazio's campaign in 1995. Then he amplifies by explaining exactly what kind of hardball that is:

"They all remember the Fazio-Mafia thing," he says.
It's an ugly thing to remember.

The Independent ran a series of stories on the eve of the last election. The stories seized on routine conduct by Fazio while an assistant district attorney and twisted that conduct into concocted, totally unsubstantiated allegations that he had engaged in serious misconduct and consorted with criminals.

The series, titled "Tainted Prosecutor?" began with a screaming headline: "D.A. candidate's underworld ties."

The story simply didn't -- and doesn't -- stand up to scrutiny. The paper alleged that Fazio had a significant and questionable relationship with a convicted drug dealer, Victoria Magana. This was simply not true. What was true (but got buried deep in the story) was that Fazio prosecuted a kidnapping case. Victoria Magana's sister was the victim of the kidnapping; Magana was a witness in the case. So, of course, Fazio had to talk to the witness.

That was the extent of the relationship.
Next, Fazio's work on a 1990 murder trial was used to heavily suggest he had mob ties.

Fazio prosecuted Giovanni Toracca, a North Beach club owner accused of murdering a neighborhood restaurateur. Toracca had never been convicted of a crime. But because he had been investigated by the FBI twice for drug dealing and had his house briefly confiscated by the feds as part of those probes, the Independent called him an "underworld figure." (Read: mob.)

Fazio was accused of arranging extraordinarily low bail for this "underworld figure" -- a really not very low $250,000 -- and improperly deciding not to retry the case when a jury deadlocked on the charges. But both those decisions were made by Fazio's superiors -- superiors who were feeding false information to the Independent.

The Independent went further afield and well beyond the journalistic boundaries, using campaign contributions from businesses and individuals with really quite tangential ties to Toracca to suggest that Fazio had been rewarded for tanking a murder case that his superiors had agreed to plea bargain.

The newspaper ran a graphic with Fazio's picture in the middle, connecting him to a list of Italian-American nightclub owners. The Independent chart even connected Fazio to the Medellin cocaine cartel.

Other horribly distorted case histories followed. By election day, Fazio had been linked in many minds with illegal activity and organized crime, even though no such link had actually been demonstrated.

Fang and Hallinan got one thing they wanted: a narrow victory. They also sent a message to local pols that still reverberates today.

The Independent's "stories" shocked San Francisco's political elite. A worried Jeff Brown took me aside at the time and said, "My big question is: If the Independent can run stories like that with impunity, where are the political careers of the rest of us? We are all at the whim of their retribution."

Last week, he revisited the issue when discussing his decision not to run against Hallinan this year. "Who wants to wake up in the morning and read your name in the Independent connected to all sorts of nefarious deeds?"

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