On November 27, 1978, recently resigned Supervisor Dan White walked into City Hall and shot both Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in retaliation for his not having been reappointed to the Board after his resignation. It's a story most of you likely know, particularly through the version depicted in Gus Van Sant's 2008 film, Milk. The tragedy solidified the political career of Dianne Feinstein, who was president of the Board of Supervisors and was immediately appointed mayor, and has gone down as one of the darkest days in local history in what turned out to be a particularly dark year the mass suicide and murders at Jonestown, which included Peninsula Congressman Leo Ryan and many former San Francisco residents, had just happened nine days earlier, and the White Night Riots following White's trial would happen just six months later.
The story of the assassinations on this day, 34 years ago, have largely centered on the death of Harvey Milk, and what many perceived as a hate crime against the man who was the first openly gay person elected to the Board of Supervisors, and the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. The fact is, Dan White's grievances were far larger than Milk, or a hatred of gay people. There was evidence early on in their brief time together on the Board that White was relatively congenial with Milk, and was even trying to be friends. However the political divisions of the day, reflective of the changing population of San Francisco in the 1970s, had much more to do with White's eventual crime than one specific prejudice. He came into his position on the Board having been a police officer and firefighter in San Francisco, and from a largely white community that felt increasingly threatened, and intolerant, not only because of the "invasion" of homosexuals in the city, but also hippies, pot smokers, "cynics," and probably people of other races, too, though political correctness prevented him from saying so.
In fact, the police officer to whom White turned himself in, Frank Falzon, said in 1988 that White had come to him 1984, shortly before his suicide, and confessed that he was after four people that day, including then Assemblyman Willie Brown, and another Supervisor, Carol Ruth Silver, whom he believed conspired with Moscone and Milk to prevent him from getting his job back on the Board. "I was on a mission. I wanted four of them," White allegedly said. "Carol Ruth Silver, she was the biggest snake ... and Willie Brown, he was masterminding the whole thing." White saw all four as part of a liberal cabal standing against him and dishonoring him, and that was what he wanted to avenge.
Though our age of identity politics might have us focus primarily on the assassination of Milk and its historic significance, we should all take a moment today to think also of Moscone, his impact on the city, and his surviving family. Moscone was also a great proponent of gay rights, and from his position on the State Assembly, prior to his being mayor, he was instrumental along with Willie Brown in repealing California's sodomy law. We also have him to thank for keeping the Giants from moving to Toronto, and for district elections of supervisors. (The subject of Moscone's legacy having been eclipsed by Milk's was central to a play, Ghost Light, directed by Moscone's son Jonathan, that premiered in January at Berkeley Rep.)
Starting at 4:30 p.m. there's a vigil at City Hall for Moscone and Milk, with remarks by Milk’s nephew Stuart, and a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus. There will then be a candlelight march to the Castro at 5:30, concluding at Milk’s old camera shop at 575 Castro Street. There is also a separate vigil, for some reason, at 6:45 p.m., at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro, with speakers including Supervisors David Campos and Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club President Anna Conda/Glendon Hyde.