Michela Alioto-Pier, carpetbagger.
That's what her Democratic primary challenger called her in 1996, when Alioto-Pier ran for the House of Representatives from the 1st congressional district, which hugs the California coastline from the town of Napa to the Oregon border.
Alioto-Pier, a San Francisco native, had spent the previous two and a half years at the White House advising Al Gore on telecommunications issues. After returning to the West Coast, the ambitious 26-year-old packed up her belongings and moved to St. Helena in Napa County, buying a home there in November 1995 and registering to vote the following month.
Her opponent, Monica Marvin, promptly attacked with a commercial showing a moving van heading across the Golden Gate Bridge alongside a photo of Alioto-Pier and a voice-over condemning outside candidates.
"I think the perception was that someone who'd lived most of her life in the district had a more comprehensive grasp of the issues and the culture reflected by those constituents," Marvin told the Guardian recently.
Alioto-Pier nonetheless won the primary, but she narrowly lost the general election to a Republican incumbent named Frank Riggs. He too assailed her for moving to the district just before the race.
More than a decade later, District 2 supervisor Alioto-Pier hasn't managed to escape accusations that she's detached from her constituents, nor has she succeeded in clearly reestablishing residency here since beginning a new political career at San Francisco's City Hall.
THE SECOND-HOME STORY
Alioto-Pier is registered to vote at a Vallejo Street condo that she bought in 2005 for $1.9 million, and she told us that she, husband Thomas Paul Pier, and their three children make it their primary residence.
"Depending on the time of year, we spend some weekends at our St. Helena house, which is on the same street as Congresswoman [Nancy] Pelosi's St. Helena house," she said in a written response to our questions.
An Alioto-Pier office assistant, Gene Eplett, left a voice message with the Guardian insisting that second homes are commonplace. "You probably have one as well," Eplett said.
Not exactly. Particularly not one with a taxable value of $774,793.
And in some legal documents, Alioto-Pier lists the Napa County house as her residence.
In August the supervisor formed a limited liability company for the purpose of "wine production" with Pier, called Alioto-Pier Vineyards, according to state business registration records. Both listed their home address as the three-bedroom, two-bath St. Helena home on Zinfandel Lane. Alioto-Pier paid $590,000 for the place, which sits on 2.6 acres of world-famous Napa County soil.
Within days of Mayor Gavin Newsom's appointing her to the Board of Supervisors in January 2004, she signed a deed of trust for a $100,000 equity line of credit, again listing the Zinfandel Lane property as her home address, according to Napa County records.
In early May 2003, not long before she joined the board, former mayor Willie Brown tapped her to sit on the powerful San Francisco Port Commission. That same week she reregistered another wine-making business in Napa County she'd founded years before called Alioto Cellars, a.k.a. Alioto Winery. In the area of the original form asking for a residence, she began to list the St.