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Saturday, September 30, 2023


Senator Dianne Feinstein, who just died at age 90, is shown here at a press conference in November 1978 announcing to the public the murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. WikiCommons photo

By Thomas Shess, ex-San Francisco reporter and Editor in Chief of San Francisco Magazine--The last time I saw Dianne Feinstein in person was the day she uttered the words (above) hours after San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and local district Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in cold blood. 

The defenseless elected leaders died on November 27, 1978, at the hands of Dan White, an embittered ex-cop who felt he was cheated out of a chance to recant his resignation from the Board Supervisors earlier. Other explanations for the killings also surfaced. The killer was a troubled man. He is dead now. 

When I did see Dianne (who died this week at 90 years), she was conducting a press conference following the killings. As the ranking President of the Board of Supervisors, Feinstein was by law appointed San Francisco Mayor, a post she was re-elected to for more than a decade thereafter. 

I was in the pool of journalists covering the sad events that day. I don’t remember a word she said to the nation, but I admired the strength she possessed and the steely professionalism with which she spoke. She rose to the occasion and, as history will remember, she went on to a brilliant lifelong career in the United States Senate. 

Image from Thomas Shess Media Collection
The Senator’s passing has rekindled memories of when I first met George Moscone. I never met Harvey Milk.  I was editor-in-chief of an inflight magazine for a San Diego-based airline. Pacific Southwest Airlines only flew routes within California. I was in my mid-20s when I was hired away from being a business reporter for the San Francisco Examiner to edit PSA California Magazine

 Although the magazine was a publication of a corporation, my staff was given free rein to cover the state as if we were a real journalistic enterprise. Of course, we had our limits. Writing about airplane crashes was a big taboo. 

However, PSA management was enlightened about important topics of the day. They agreed to my idea to interview George Moscone, the newly elected Mayor of San Francisco, as they did beforehand when we interviewed President Nixon and his 1972 opponent George McGovern. 

Moscone was a gregarious San Franciscan. His love for his city rubbed off. I have never stopped loving the Bay Area and especially North Beach, a favorite Moscone stomping ground. I believe my short time with George Moscone influenced my decision to leave PSA Magazine to take the top editorship of San Francisco Magazine. 

While at SF Mag, we published an article critical of one of Moscone’s leadership positions. He was on the phone to me right after he read it. Details of the call are fuzzy almost 50 years later, but I do know we offered him a chance to rebut. “Your honor, you can have the cover story for the December [1978] edition.” He agreed. 

 When deadline came for him to submit the article, he called me and wanted to hand it to me in person. I agreed and we decided to meet later at his office. We met in his private office, just off the big office where he ran the City. 

He reiterated his points, where he felt the magazine misunderstood a leadership decision that he made. I was surprised the meeting lasted an hour. He remembered the cover story PSA Magazine ran on him the year before and kidded me because he, indeed, was not an airline hostess. Back in the 70s, PSA liked putting stewardesses on the cover. We shared an adult beverage as we negotiated who was going to be on the cover. “Your honor, it would be our honor to have you on the cover.” Sorry, life is corny sometimes. 

 He directed me to contact his press staff for the photo shoot we had to schedule for later in the week. By noon, the next day, George Moscone was dead. 

 He was murdered in the small office where we met the early evening before. Frankly, San Francisco has never been the same. 

 George Moscone’s bylined article ran in the December 1978 edition of San Francisco Magazine

He didn’t make the cover. Instead, we ran an image of the city he loved. 

 Reading a recent CNN report on Feinstein’s death, it was noted that Feinstein rarely talked about the day when Moscone and Milk were shot, but she opened up about the tragic events in a 2017 interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. 

Bash wrote, “Feinstein was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors then, and assassin Dan White had been a friend and colleague of hers. “The door to the office opened, and he came in, and I said, ‘Dan?’ “I heard the doors slam, I heard the shots, I smelled the cordite,” Feinstein recalled via CNN. 

Dianne Feinstein for Mayor photo on Steiner Street, San Francisco.

Feinstein on the campaign trail, San Francisco.

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