Dianne Feinstein

The Book of the Week is “Dianne Feinstein, Never Let Them See You Cry” by Jerry Roberts, published in 1994.

Born in June 1933 in San Francisco, Feinstein was the oldest of three sisters. Her uncle inspired her to become a politician. In November 1969, she was sufficiently popular to get elected not only to the board of supervisors of San Francisco, but also get elected its president. However, in 1974, she lost her primary campaign for mayor, though she was good at fundraising, and adopted moderate views on most every issue.

A number of traumatic events occurred in the mid to late 1970’s in the Bay Area, some of which ignited controversy around Feinstein:

  • Beginning in October 1973 – the “Zebra” killings, which left fifteen dead and fanned the flames of racial tension in San Francisco;
  • February 1974 – Patty Hearst’s kidnapping in Berkeley;
  • January 1975 – mail bombs were sent to San Francisco politicians but were defused by law enforcement;
  • Beginning in 1975, the New World Liberation Front (NWLF) sent threatening messages to Feinstein and other local politicians, that they better help the poor or else;
  • August 1975 – San Francisco police officers and firefighters went on strike;
  • September 1975 – assassination attempt on president Gerald Ford in San Francisco;
  • December 1975 – an explosive device failed to go off, that might have killed Feinstein’s teenage daughter at their residence, and the NWLF claimed responsibility in demanding better prison conditions;
  • November 1978 – murders and mass suicides at the compound of Jim Jones’ cult in Guyana, and around the same time, the mayor of San Francisco and a member of the board of supervisors were shot and killed.

With regard to the last two aforementioned deaths, “The speed with which the lobbying began reflected the political reality that a massive vacuum of power had suddenly opened in the polarized city.” Within days, the opportunists made Feinstein mayor.

  • In May 1979, when the verdict and sentence on San Francisco’s political murderer was announced, rioting ensued around City Hall.

Feinstein had a reputation for favoring gay rights, up until her actions during the above rioting. Also, in late 1979, local religious authorities of various stripes convinced her to veto a bill that conditionally treated co-habitating lovers like common-law marriage partners so that they got certain government benefits. After that, gays criticized her. But, she acted early and often and decisively to stem the AIDS epidemic beginning in 1983.

In summer 1982, she signed a bill that banned handguns in San Francisco. She started by turning in her own handguns. Nevertheless, California state courts ruled that the city’s law was unenforceable. Unsurprisingly, her gun-control stance did not sit well with the NRA. In 1983, her enemies tried to petition for her to be recalled as mayor.

Read the book to learn much more about Feinstein’s political career, all of which was spent in a male-dominated field, and a quarter century of which was spent in an urban area with a unique geographic, demographic and political composition.