In early February, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier met City Attorney Dennis Herrera for a cup of coffee. She was hoping to get him to reconsider a ruling from his office stating Alioto-Pier will be termed out of office next year — and, if he declines to do so, their next meeting may not be over hot coffee but hot lawsuits. "I am not ruling out a lawsuit — absolutely not," she said.
To put the city attorney's February 2008 ruling in an extreme nutshell, it found Alioto-Pier was already serving in her second "full term," quoting a line from the city charter stating that any supervisors "appointed ... to complete in excess of two years of a four-year term" will be deemed to have served a full term.
Lawyers are involved here, so you know it's going to get a little tricky. Alioto-Pier's contention is that this scenario doesn't match her situation. After being appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to fill his vacant supe's seat in 2004, Alioto-Pier won a special election 10 months later for a two-year term, prior to winning re-election to a four-year term in 2006. Therefore, she never served two years in an appointed position — and for term limitation purposes, two-year terms and four-year terms aren't the same. Alioto-Pier contrasts her ruling with Herrera's generous finding in 2004 that former Supervisor Tom Ammiano — a progressive who's ideologically simpatico with Herrera — was eligible to run for a fourth term. The two-year term he served between 1998 and 2000 meant he did not serve "two successive four-year terms." He ended up serving 14 years in office. "I asked [Herrera], 'Is this political?'" recalls Alioto-Pier, one of the board's moderate members. "He said, 'Of course not.'"
Herrera declined to comment for this article, stating he'd let the legal opinion speak for itself.
The ball may next land in elections chief John Arntz' court. Alioto-Pier intends to file to run in 2010, and the city's director of elections could well heed the city attorney's ruling. From there, the case could go to superior or even federal court. "I'm going to fight this," she promised.