St. George and St. Daniel Stylite, the namesakes of the two Catholics who found themselves at opposite ends of a gun one November, missed being contemporaries by a century. All we truly know of St. George is that he was martyred around 303 A.D. at Lydda, Palestine. He may have been a soldier. As time passed, he became a savior. The need for a military saint led to some embellishments to the life of the saint, beginning in the sixth century. Twelfth century manuscripts added the dragon which St. George obligingly killed for some villagers in return for their being baptized. In romantic versions of the myth, he gets a princess.¹
Against the example of the robust, almost lusty St. George, St. Daniel the Stylite is a hard character. A monk who rejected the distracting society of his abbey, he followed the example of St. Simeon and erected a pillar upon which he lived for thirty-three years. He refused to come down, even for his ordination. Gawkers received sermons and corrupt monarchs dire prophecies. He died on his pillar: followers took him down at last to lie in the earth after a bleak life spent close to heaven.²
The compassionate politics which led Moscone to speak for the interests of the poor, gays, women, and other downtrodden groups was derived from a strong liberal tradition within the Church. Progressive Catholics like Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day and Trappist monk Thomas Merton were the new saints for a movement which sought to improve the lot of the poor, oppose capital punishment, lobby for a nuclear test ban, and create a genuine and accessible democracy for all. Post-Vatican II progressive Catholics labored for Peace and Justice. They gave their church theologies of liberation and a new appreciation of ethnic minorities and social outcasts. Moscone lent a hand both as a state senator and as mayor to those Catholic agencies which sought to care for and improve the lot of the disadvantaged. When Sister Columba of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd wanted to sell their shelter for wayward girls so that it could be turned into a home for disturbed children, Moscone only exacted a prayer for the health of his daughter. In some Catholics' eyes, he was a worldly saint.
Not all the city's Catholics appreciated Moscone's progressive piety. Some felt he'd betrayed the church's pro-life doctrine. Others felt that his support of gay rights and his adultery made him a bad Catholic. When he ran for Mayor in 1975, he was opposed by a fellow Italian-American Catholic: the supervisor and realtor John Barbagelata. Barbagelata capitalized on Moscone's suspect status with the Catholic community by treating him as unclean. In their televised debates, the supervisor refused to shake Moscone's hand. His campaign insinuated to the press that Moscone was an adulterer and a drug addict: a bad Catholic. The state senator was forced to declare: "I am a devout Catholic. By devout I mean that I do not let the socioeconomic pressures of neighborhood Catholicism tell me what my Church is all about."³ Moscone won the 1975 election by a mere 4445 votes.
Barbagelata did not give up. As a supervisor, he blocked many of Moscone's programs. In 1977, he mounted a recall effort against Moscone which had, as an additional goal, blocking the implementation of a 1975 city initiative to divide the city into eleven supervisorial districts. District elections allowed new hearts and minds to aspire to office. A campaign for supervisor could now be funded without appeal to the downtown power brokers. Candidates such as gay activist Harvey Milk and single mother Carol Ruth Silver could not win in at large elections because of prejudices among the City's west side voters and the high cost of campaigning city-wide; but they had a chance when the electoral territories were their own neighborhoods. Barbagelata knew that district elections meant a power shift that threatened the interests of his pro-growth patrons. Progressives with no love for the pro-growth policies of previous mayoral administrations would change the way things were done. When District elections survived the recall, Supervisor Barbagelata saw his power waning and declined to run for reelection.
In some parts of the City, though, district elections intensified the voices of those who feared that progressives were transmogrifying their home town. Down in the Excelsior District, a valley neighborhood on the south side of the city filled with the kind of neighborhood Catholics which Moscone had distinguished himself from, one candidate circulated brochures which said:
I am not going to be forced out of San Francisco by splinter groups of radicals, social deviates and incorrigibles. You must realize that there are thousands upon thousands of frustrated, angry people such as yourselves waiting to unleash a fury that can and will eradicate the malignancies which blight our beautiful city.¹¹
Excelsior residents were then urged to
When District elections were repealed but a few years after Barbagelata's recall campaign failed, repeal supporters argued that supervisorial districts inevitably let fanatics like Dan White win. Like Moscone, Dan White was a Catholic, but of the Irish strain. Italian Catholics came from an unoppressed society where the Church was the main source of faith. Irish Catholicism, on the other hand, had fought to survive under occupation by English Anglicans. Where Italian Catholicism could afford to be lenient, the black-robed Jesuits who looked after Ireland's flocks came down hard on any deviation from Church doctrine. Sin was to be punished, by the club if necessary.
Dan White's arm of the Church saw sin as weakness. Where George Moscone's Catholicism could accept having flawed leaders, White's called upon them to exhibit an austere perfection. The great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats knew the dangers of this when he wrote:
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart
Dan White began his life in Long Beach, California on 2 September 1939. Though this did not make him the native San Franciscan he claimed he was, White had played on the streets of the City long enough to be accepted as one. He grew up fearing the Church's authority, but also sensing a personal right over things around him. His father was a fireman, a hero who had saved a boy's life by talking him down from a radio tower. After Charlie White's death, Dan sought to be like him. In wanting to be a hero, Dan set himself up for an impossible life, lived on behalf of a people who were themselves facing the unstoppable metamorphosis of their community. The Irish and Italian worked who lived on the south side believed that their lives were slipping away from them as new immigrants and wealthy young professionals pushed them out of their old neighborhoods. The reasons were economic: the financial powers were seeking to undercut the power of the Irish and Italian unions by bringing in Asians and Latinos who would work for less. And they wanted the houses for their own. Rather than join the progressive forces which sought to preserve neighborhoods and livelihoods, in their angerthe southsiders were duped. They blamed the disintegration of their way of life not on those who shamelessly manipulated local economics for private gain, but on the "immoral" lifestyles practiced by a set of newcomers, San Francisco's gay community.
The people of the south side knew many demons: from city officials who closed their libraries and health centers or determined where the stop signs went to the young, black neighborhood toughs "from the projects". Catholic leaders like Father Tom Lacey urged them to "stand up for themselves". He talked back to Police Chief Charles Gain and threatened to lead a march up Interstate 280 bearing a casket if Gain didn't place a stop sign at a corner where one of the parish's teachers had been killed. He believed that the way to handle young toughs was to give them a good licking. A disciple of Saul Alinsky, Lacey believed in confrontation. And, like the young fireman he anointed to champion the cause of District 8 San Franciscans, he viewed the growing gay community as a cancer.
"By choosing to run for supervisor," White told his campaign audiences, "I have committed myself to the confrontation which can no longer be avoided by those who care."¹² Commitment was a new thing to Dan White, who had quit his high school baseball team in mid-game after arguing with the coach; who'd come back from a tour in Vietnam to join the police force in 1969, left it to go to Alaska to become a writer like his hero Jack London, and then return to join and quit it for good; and who'd womanized and drank with the best of them until he dropped his last mistress to marry Mary Ann Burns.
White had always lived an idealized ascetic's life. He bragged to friends that as long as he had his mattress and his books, he'd be happy. After he married Mary Ann, he both changed and he didn't change. By all accounts, Mary Ann White was a nice person who struggled to understand and support her husband. It is doubtful that Mary Ann shared Dan's passionate intensity. Dan had black moods which Mary Ann dreaded. If a new challenge like running for supervisor lightened his mood any, Mary Ann would give her whole soul to its realization. She loved him. She just wanted to ease Dan's pain.
Looking back at Dan White's campaign and supervisorial career, it becomes clear that he was an unstable man who reflected the worst in his handlers. Sometimes the flaws were large, like the homophobia of Father Tom Lacey or the conniving hunger for power of his chief political advisor, Ray Sloan. Others told him to stand up -- stand up for God's sake Dan! If Mary Ann contributed to any dire tendency in Dan, it was to his naiveté about how things got done around City Hall. With Mary Ann's help, Dan lived on a pillar, sheltered from the stressful but necessary realpolitik of urban councils.
Dan understood that there was a game, but he could never figure out how to play it. For one thing, he didn't realize that he still had to make a living. When he won the election, he had to resign his fireman's job. Ray Sloan asked Dan how he was going to make it on $10,000 a year with a wife and a baby on the way. Dan sanguinely replied that as long as he had a mattress and his books, he'd be fine. He was an innocent who believed that everyone thought as he did. Dan and Mary Ann gave out roses to the supervisors and candy to the secretaries as if these gifts would win him good will. For another, he didn't know how to make deals. In the weeks following the passage of Proposition 13, he'd given his word to Mayor Moscone to support a package of business taxes which would help keep the city afloat. At the last minute, he changed his vote. When he had a chance later to regain Moscone's favor in a plebiscite on which voting machines the city would use, he voted against the mayor's preference. Dan wanted to wheel and deal, but he didn't understand how to give.
White was instrumental in helping to pass the city's first gay rights law, but he overestimated his ability to buy off the conscience of Harvey Milk, who voted to support the Youth Campus which Dan and his neighbors detested. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd had the Mayor's support. Moscone did not want to keep sending disturbed children out of their neighborhoods to the state hospital at Napa: wouldn't they do better in familiar surroundings? When Sister Columba spoke to Dan White, however, he did not listen. Dan treated her like one of the sweet little sisters of parish myth: a meek, mousey, Christian woman whose work came after the wills of her parishioners. If the Catholics who fed and supported her didn't like her work, she had to stop it. Dan's problem was that from his lofty vantage point, he couldn't see beyond his neighborhood or, more narrowly, beyond his friends and himself. He offered the Sisters no alternate plan. He did not trouble himself with their commitment to care for the children. Once out of his parish, they became someone else's concern, not his.
He tried to buy votes against the campus with his votes. Dan repressed his homophobia long enough the committee that drafted the nation's first gay rights law. For this great concession, he was certain Milk would be obliged to vote against the Youth Campus. Milk, however, agreed with the Mayor. Though he joked to his aides that he would rather that the Campus go in Pacific Heights where Dianne Feinstein's lived, he felt it had to go somewhere. The gay Jew voted to back the chaste Catholic sisters. By a 6-5 vote, the Youth Campus went into District Eight. In Dan's mind, Milk had betrayed him.
Dan began to see the Board of Supervisors as a selfish bunch who put their own egos above the good of the City. Diversity puzzled Dan. It was difficult for Dan to discriminate between his own self interests, the interests of his handlers, and the interests of his constituents. He assumed that they were all the same. His vote against Moscone's business taxes package brought him new support from downtown interests who paid off his campaign debt. One new admirer, Warren Simmons, arranged for Dan to get space at his new Pier 39 development. What Dan didn't get was that the lease on the Hot Potato wasn't given to him because he was a decent fellow; he got it because he voted like the Chamber of Commerce wanted. Ray Sloan quit his job as aide to help the Whites get it going. He was surprised when Dan tried to turn his new living into an escape hatch.
Folks at City Hall saw less and less of Dan White. He dreaded the Monday evening Board meetings. He avoided his office. When one of his aides entered his office looking for a document, she found his desk clear and its drawers empty except for a stapler and a few paperclips. He was disgusted with his fellow supervisors, particularly Harvey Milk and John Molinari. They lied. They cheated. They never voted for what was right like he did. They didn't even know how to play baseball. Neighborhood activist Goldie Judge came downtown to look at Dan one day and thought she saw a ghost. When at City Hall, Dan lived in a hallucination. He didn't pay attention to committee meetings. He was far away, perhaps dreaming of being a hero, perhaps mentally counting the potatoes he had to peel that day. Perhaps he entertained the disembodied whispers of his cop friends who amused themselves with juicy rumors about George Moscone.
Moscone was then embroiled in a test of wills with the city police. The mayor championed the rights of minority officers who were suing the city for discrimination in hiring and promotion. George wanted to make an out-of-court settlement with the officers, giving them much of what they demanded. In the mayor's heart, he sensed that the demands were just. But the mostly white police saw the mayor as a sellout. They were also none too happy with his appointment of political outsider Charles Gain as their Chief. Gain shared Moscone's views. He infuriated his men by having all the cars painted baby blue. He also consorted with people like Margo St. James and was photographed at COYOTE's annual Hooker's Ball arm-in-arm with St. James and a transvestite named Wonder Whore.
Most unforgiveable in the eyes of the cops was the way that Moscone kept getting special favors. Over the years, they'd looked the other way while he dallied with prostitutes. In Moscone's libertarian and progressive mind, the police had better things to do than to chase down poor women. Vice cops, who fulfilled their sense of duty by following single women on the streets or by peeking through ventilators into department store bathrooms, detested having to let George go again and again. So they talked behind his back. Sometimes they spoke of assassinating him. One lie they told was that Moscone controlled the City's cocaine trade. Dan began to believe was that Moscone was not the pure-hearted hero he should have been.
Dan's disgust led him to resign on 10 November 1978. His handlers, who'd been carefully nurturing the young supervisor were caught by surprise. White's resignation gave George Moscone the sixth vote that he needed to push through his reforms. This could not stand. Ray Sloan knew that the Chamber of Commerce had put good money into Dan. He met with White and convinced him to ask for his old job back.
Moscone was inclined to give it to him, but a technicality gave progressives on the Board and activists in District Eight time to act. White had delivered his resignation to the mayor's office. When Board Clerk, Gil Boreman, heard about it, he went up to the mayor's office, got a copy of the letter, took it down to his chamber, and stamped it with the seal of the City of San Francisco. This made the resignation official. Moscone, who was prepared to just tear up the letter, delayed to get an opinion from City Attorney George Agnost. Agnost told him that it was too late to rescind White's withdrawal.
When the progressives and liberals on the board heard about the resignation, they went to Moscone. John Molinari, Harvey Milk, and others made it clear that they believed that White should not get his job back. Meanwhile down in District 8, neighborhood activists led by Dan's onetime campaign manager Goldie Judge held a rally of their own. They accused White of neglecting the concerns of his constituents to be the pawn of the Police Officers Association and the Chamber of Commerce. White and Sloan appeared at the rally. There were words. Several old friends of White denounced him and Dan denounced them back. Television news cameras caught it all.
Moscone gave White the chance to prove that his constituents wanted him, but the xeroxed form letters and petitions that White produced were not convincing. The mayor had another headache at the time: his former Housing Authority chairman, the Reverend Jim Jones, had fled town in advance of a series of stories damning his People's Temple. Progressive politicians valued the Rev. Jones because he could reliably turn out pool of precinct canvassers. What they did not realize was that these "volunteers" were slave labor. The People's Temple tortured dissidents. Harvey Milk didn't trust them. As the stories came out, liberal Democratic representive Leo Ryan flew with his staff and reporters to Guyana. There they met Jim Jones face to face, saw the heart of darkness that was Jonestown, and were on their way back to the plane when members of the Temple ambushed them. On 18 November 1978, Ryan was killed.
This was an embarassment to Moscone. He could hear the chortles of his most probable opponent in the next election, Supervisor Quentin Kopp, as he followed the story. The mayor, who had not been successful in getting his program through the Board with its 6-5 pro-business majority, began to listen to Milk and Molinari. He could get the board to settle with the minority officers. His progressive crusade could be passed and implemented. Something could be done to take the attention away from Jonestown. Meanwhile, Dan White, who craved for publicity, found his own story buried by the Guyana news. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, he was watching television with Ray Sloan, his wife, and some aides. Everything was coming up Jonestown. White shook his head and whined "One day I'm on the front page and the next day I'm swept right off."¹³
He spent the next week trying to get back on it. He made it.Notes: