The LuLac Edition #653, Nov. 27th, 2008
3 DECADES AGO
Thirty years ago today the Mayor of San Francisco George Mascone was assassinated along with the first gay elected official Harvey Milk at City Hall. That autumn was a terrible time in San Francisco, the worst of times. Even the 49ers football team was headed to a 2-14 season under new coach Bill Walsh. The years when people wore flowers in their hair and dancing in the streets were long gone.
There were serial slayings -- a killer named Zodiac who taunted the police, another named Zebra who shot down people on the street. Ten days before Moscone and Milk were killed, a mad San Francisco preacher named Jim Jones and 914 of his followers perished in a South American jungle. The city was rocked to its roots. "What a bizarre period,'' Feinstein said.
And then, out of the blue on a beautiful Monday morning, the mayor of San Francisco was killed in his own office, and the killer then walked through the classic City Hall and shot down the most important gay political figure in the country. The killer was not a stranger, either. He was San Francisco born and bred, a former cop, former fireman, former member of the Board of Supervisors. And that wasn't all. White was tried a few months later and in May was found guilty, not of murder but only of voluntary manslaughter. A peaceful march to protest the verdict turned into a riot, and the mob attacked City Hall. "The hatred in the city was just enormous," Feinstein said. "It was a terrible, terrible time.''
Even that wasn't all. White served time in prison, got out, couldn't face life and in October 1985 killed himself. He left a wife and two children.
30 years ago, George Moscone, mayor of the city, former majority leader in the state Senate, was clearly the better known of the two men. Milk was the first up-front gay elected official, but he was only one of 11 supervisors. He had been in office less than a year, and the supervisors had passed only two of his ordinances. One was on gay rights. The other required dog owners to clean up after their pets.
Milk had been elected to the board in the fall of 1977, when San Francisco switched from citywide elections for supervisors to district elections. Milk represented the Castro and nearby neighborhoods, and his election drew a lot of attention.
But in another district -- the old-line working-class Excelsior, well south of Market -- another newcomer was elected. He was Dan White, a fireman,
who opposed all the changes in the city. Once elected, White proved to be not much of a politician. He didn't understand the give-and-take of City Hall politics. "He was one of the least likely people to have been elected a supervisor,'' Feinstein recalled.
White also was shocked to discover that once he took his seat as a supervisor, he had to give up his job as a firefighter. And he also found he couldn't support a family on a supervisor's salary, then $9,600 year.
On Nov. 10, he resigned from the board. But then, as Feinstein remembers, "The pressures from the police union and the firefighters union to get his job back were terrible.'' The mayor had the power to name a supervisor to replace White, and White asked to be reappointed.
Apparently, he got the impression that Moscone would give him the job back. And he also thought that Milk would back his reappointment. He was mistaken; Moscone had decided not to put White back on the job.
On Friday, White went into a rage.
By Monday, unknown to White, Moscone had made his final decision. He was going to name businessman Don Horanzy to replace White. White went to City Hall for a showdown. He had bitterness in his heart, and he carried a .38- caliber handgun.
Back then, everyone who entered City Hall passed through a metal detector at the main entrance. But supervisors and some others often used a side entrance on McAllister Street. They had private keys to open the door. White persuaded guards to let him in the window. He headed for Moscone's office. The rest is history: White shot Moscone four times; he then reloaded his pistol and, minutes later, shot Milk five times.
30 years later, Milk's name is the one more remembered, at least among the generation that was alive in 1978. He is the subject of books, a film, even an opera. An elementary school in San Francisco and a high school in New York are named for him.
It is ironic that thirty years later, Milk is the more recognized figure. But that is even changing. There are young gay people in San Francisco who are hard pressed to tell us who Milk was. A large part of it is the younger generation’s thinking that “history began on the day they were born”. But a new movie about Harvey Milk is set to be released and Moscone’s name is joined at the hip with the city he grew up in and loved, San Francisco. From YOU TUBE, NBC News on that fateful Monday in November.
Also from YOU TUBE, Eric Burdon and an ode to San Francisco.