George Moscone

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George Moscone
File:George Moscone.jpg
37th Mayor of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 1976 – November 27, 1978
Preceded by Joseph Alioto
Succeeded by Dianne Feinstein
Member of the California Senate
from the 6th district
In office
Preceded by (redistricted from 10th)
Succeeded by John Francis Foran
Member of the California Senate
from the 10th district
In office
Preceded by Harold Thomas Sedgwick
Succeeded by (redistricted into 6th)
Member of the
San Francisco Board of Supervisors
In office
Personal details
Born George Richard Moscone
(1929-11-24)November 24, 1929
San Francisco, California
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
San Francisco City Hall
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery Colma, California
Nationality Italian-American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Gina Bodanza
Children Jenifer, Rebecca, Christopher and Jonathan
Profession Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic [1]
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1953-1956

George Richard Moscone (/mɒsˈkn/; November 24, 1929 – November 27, 1978) was an Italian-American attorney and Democratic politician. He was the 37th mayor of San Francisco, California from January 1976 until his assassination in November 1978. Moscone served in the California State Senate from 1967 until becoming Mayor. In the Senate, he served as Majority Leader.

Early life

Moscone was born in the Italian-American enclave of San Francisco's Marina District, California.[2] His father was George Joseph Moscone, a prison guard at nearby San Quentin, and his mother, Lena, was a homemaker.[2]

Moscone attended St. Brigid's, and then St. Ignatius College Preparatory, where he was an all-city basketball star. He then attended College of the Pacific and played basketball for the Tigers. While in college, Moscone befriended John L. Burton, who would later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.[2]

Moscone then studied at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where he received his law degree.[2] He met and married Gina Bondanza, in 1954. The Moscones would go on to have four children.[3] After serving in the United States Navy, Moscone started private practice in 1956.[2]


Early politics

John Burton's brother, Phillip, a member of the California State Assembly, recruited Moscone to run for an Assembly seat in 1960 as a Democrat. Though he lost that race, Moscone would go on to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1963.[2] On the Board, Moscone was known for his defense of the poor, racial minorities and small business owners.

California State Senator

In 1966 Moscone ran for and won a seat in the California State Senate, representing the 10th District in San Francisco County.[4] Moscone was quickly rising through the ranks of the California Democratic Party and became closely associated with a loose alliance of progressive politicians in San Francisco led by the Burton brothers. This alliance was known as the Burton Machine and included John Burton, Phillip Burton, and Assemblyman Willie Brown. Soon after his election to the State Senate, Moscone was elected by his party to serve as Majority Leader. He was reelected to the 10th District seat in 1970 and to the newly redistricted 6th District seat, representing parts of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, in 1974. He successfully sponsored legislation to institute a school lunch program for California students. In 1974 Moscone briefly considered a run for governor of California, but dropped out after a short time in favor of California Secretary of State Jerry Brown.[2]

As a heterosexual, Moscone was considered ahead of his time as an early proponent of gay rights. In conjunction with his friend and ally in the Assembly, Willie Brown, Moscone managed to pass a bill repealing California's sodomy law. The repeal was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Mayor of San Francisco

Moscone decided in 1975 to run for Mayor of San Francisco.[5] In a close race in November of that year, Moscone placed first with conservative city supervisor John Barbagelata second and moderate supervisor Dianne Feinstein coming in third.[5] Moscone and Barbagelata thus both advanced to the mandated runoff election in December where Moscone narrowly defeated the conservative supervisor by fewer than 5,000 votes.[5] Liberals also won the city's other top executive offices that year as Joseph Freitas was elected District attorney and Richard Hongisto was re-elected to his office of Sheriff.

Members of the People's Temple leftist religious cult saturated San Francisco neighborhoods, distributing slate cards for Moscone, Joseph Freitas and Hongisto.[6] For the rest of his life, Barbagelata maintained that the People's Temple had committed massive election fraud on behalf of Moscone by bussing people in from out of town to vote multiple times under the names of deceased San Francisco residents.[7]

The Peoples Temple also worked to get out the vote in precincts where Moscone received a 12 to 1 vote margin over Barbagelata.[8] After Peoples Temple's work and votes by Temple members were instrumental in delivering a close victory for Moscone, Moscone appointed Temple leader Jim Jones as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Commission.[9]

Moscone's first year as Mayor was spent preventing the San Francisco Giants professional baseball team from moving to Toronto and advocating a city-wide ballot initiative in favor of district election to the Board of Supervisors. Moscone was the first mayor to appoint large numbers of women, gays and lesbians and racial minorities to city commissions and advisory boards. In 1977, he appointed Del Martin, the first openly gay woman and Kathleen Hardiman Arnold, now Kathleen Rand Reed, the first Black woman, as Commissioners on the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (SFCOSW). Moscone also appointed liberal former Oakland Police Chief Charles Gain to head the San Francisco Police Department. Gain (and by extension Moscone) became highly unpopular among rank and file San Francisco police officers for proposing a settlement to a lawsuit brought by minorities claiming discriminatory recruiting practices by the police force.

In 1977 Moscone, Freitas and Hongisto all easily survived a recall election pushed by defeated Moscone opponent John Barbagelata and business interests. That year also marked the passage of the district election system by San Francisco voters. The city's first district elections for Board of Supervisors took place in November 1977. Among those elected were the city's first openly gay Supervisor, Harvey Milk, single mother and attorney Carol Ruth Silver, Chinese-American Gordon Lau and fireman and former police officer Dan White. Milk, Silver, and Lau along with John Molinari and Robert Gonzales made up Moscone's allies on the Board, while Dan White, Dianne Feinstein, Quentin Kopp, Ella Hill Hutch, Lee Dolson, and Ron Pelosi formed a loosely organized coalition to oppose Moscone and his initiatives. Feinstein was elected President of the Board of Supervisors on a 6–5 vote, with Moscone's supporters backing Lau. It was generally believed that Feinstein, having twice lost election to the office of mayor, would support Kopp against Moscone in the 1979 election and retire rather than run for the Board again.

Peoples Temple investigation

In August 1977, after Housing Commission Chairman Jim Jones fled to Jonestown following media scrutiny alleging criminal wrongdoing, Moscone announced his office would not investigate Jones and the Peoples Temple.[10] The later mass suicide at Jonestown dominated national headlines at the time of Moscone's death.[11]

After the tragedy, Temple members revealed to The New York Times that the Temple arranged for "busloads" of members to be bussed from Redwood Valley to San Francisco to vote in the election.[12] A former Temple member stated that many of those members were not registered to vote in San Francisco, while another former member said "Jones swayed elections."[12] Prior to leaving San Francisco, Jones claimed to have bribed Moscone with sexual favors from female Temple members, including one who was underage; his son, Jim Jones, Jr., later remembered how Moscone frequented Temple parties "with a cocktail in his hand and doing some ass grabbing."[13]


Late in 1978, Dan White resigned from the Board of Supervisors. His resignation was an indication that Moscone would choose White's successor, and thus could tip the Board's balance of power in Moscone's favor. Recognizing this, those who supported a more conservative agenda talked White into changing his mind. White then hastily requested that Moscone appoint him to his former seat.

Moscone originally indicated a willingness to reconsider, but more liberal city leaders, including Harvey Milk, lobbied him against the idea, and Moscone ultimately decided not to appoint White. On November 27, 1978, White went to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Moscone and make a final plea for appointment. When Moscone refused to reconsider his decision, White pulled a gun out of his suit jacket and shot and killed Moscone. White then went to Milk's office and shot Milk, killing him as well.

Dianne Feinstein, President of the Board of Supervisors, was sworn in as the city's new mayor and in the following years would emerge as one of California's most prominent politicians.

White later turned himself in at the police station where he was formerly an officer. The term "Twinkie defense" has its origins in the murder trial that followed, in which Dan White was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter. White committed suicide in 1985, shortly after his release from prison.


File:George Moscone grave.JPG
Moscone's grave at Holy Cross

Moscone is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California alongside his mother Lena.

Moscone Center, San Francisco's largest convention center and exhibition hall, and Moscone Recreation Center are named in his honor. Moscone and Milk also have schools named after them: George Moscone Elementary, Harvey Milk Elementary and Harvey Milk High School.

In 1980, sculptor Robert Arneson was commissioned to create a monument to Moscone to be installed in the new Moscone Convention Center. The bust portraying Moscone[14] was done in Arneson's expressionistic style and was considered acceptable by San Francisco's Art Commission. However, the pedestal which the former Mayor's head rested on was deemed inappropriate and Arneson was asked to change it. At issue were references to Harvey Milk, the assassinations, the "Twinkie Defense," the White Night Riots, and Dianne Feinstein's mayoral succession that Arneson had included on the surface of the pedestal. Arneson refused to make alterations to the work, returned the commission, and later resold the sculpture. In a critique of the event, Frederic Stout wrote that "Arneson's mistake was in presenting the city mothers/fathers with something honest, engaging and provoking, that is to say, a work of art. What they wanted, of course, was not a work of art at all. They wanted an object of ritual magic: the smiling head of a dead politician."[15] In 1994 a new bust by San Francisco artist Spero Anargyros was unveiled, depicting Moscone holding a pen, below which are words from Moscone: "San Francisco is an extraordinary city, because its people have learned to live together with one another, to respect each other, and to work with each other for the future of their community. That's the strength and beauty of this city – it's the reason why the citizens who live here are the luckiest people in the world.[15]

Moscone was portrayed by Victor Garber in Gus Van Sant's Harvey Milk biopic, Milk. Their murders were also the subject of the Dead Kennedys' version of the Sonny Curtis song "I Fought the Law."[16] The effects of the assassination on his then-14-year-old son, Jonathan, was written into a play titled "Ghost Light", by Jonathan Moscone and Tony Taccone. It premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2011.

See also


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Sward, Susan, Moscone's Time Was Anything But Quiet, November 26, 1998
  3. "Mayor, Supervisor Killed in San Francisco Shooting", Cornell Daily Sun, November 28, 1978
  4. JoinCalifornia, George R. Moscone, Candidate Election History, Retrieved February 19, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Nolte, Carl, CITY HALL SLAYINGS: 25 Years Later, San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2003
  6. Taylor, Michael, "Jones Captivated S.F.'s Liberal Elite", San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1998
  7. Cothran, George. Barbagelata's Return?, San Francisco Weekly, November 18, 1998.
  8. Kilduff, Marshall and Ron Javers. Suicide Cult: The Inside Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana. Bantam Books, New York, 1978. ISBN 0-553-12920-1. page 45.
  9. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.
  10. Kinsolving, Kathleen and Tom. "Madman in Our Midst: Jim Jones and the California Cover Up." 1998. at Ross Institute.
  11. Rapaport, Richard, Jonestown and City Hall slayings eerily linked in time and memory, San Francisco Chronicle, November 16, 2003
  12. 12.0 12.1 Crewdson, John, "Followers Say Jim Jones Directed Voting Frauds", New York Times, December 16, 1978
  13. Jim Jones' sinister grip on San Francisco, Salon, May 1, 2012
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Hartman, Chester, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002, 193–196.
  16. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by
Dianne Feinstein