George Moscone

From Academic Kids

George Richard Moscone (November 24, 1929 - November 27, 1978) was the mayor of San Francisco, California from January 1976 until his assassination in November 1978.

Moscone was born in San Francisco, California. His father was a San Quentin State Prison guard and his mother a homemaker. Moscone attended University of the Pacific and then Hastings College of the Law, where he got his law degree. While in College, Moscone befriended John Burton, who would later become a US Congressperson. During this time he would also meet and marry his wife, Gina Moscone.

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. On the Board, Moscone was known for his defense of the poor, racial minorities and small business owners. In 1966 Moscone ran for and won a seat in the California State Senate. 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 Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Soon after his election to the State Senate, Moscone was elected by his party to serve as Majority Leader. 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. Moscone was an early proponent of gay rights, and in conjunction with his friend and ally in the Assembly, Willie Brown, Moscone managed to pass a bill repealing laws against sodomy. The repeal was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Moscone decided in 1975 to run for Mayor of San Francisco. In a close race in November of that year, he placed first in a three-way race with conservative city supervisor John Barbagelata placing second and moderate supervisor Dianne Feinstein coming in third. Moscone and Barbagelata both advanced to the mandated runoff election in December where Moscone narrowly defeated the conservative supervisor. Progressives 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. Moscone's first year as Mayor was spent attempting to prevent the San Francisco Giants professional baseball team from moving to another city and attempting to pass a city-wide ballot proposition 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. One of his most controversial appointments would be that of Reverend Jim Jones, head of the so-called People's Temple to the city's Housing Commission. The People's Temple would later be discovered to be a thinly-veiled cult headed by the demagogic and mentally unstable Jones. Moscone also appointed controversial 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 disallowing the consumption of alcohol while on duty and for proposing a settlement to a lawsuit brought by minorites 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 big 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 of 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 conservative 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 White, Feinstein, Quentin Kopp, Ella Hill Hutch, Lee Dolson, and Ron Pelosi formed a loosely organized conservative 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.

Early in his term, White was forced to resign his job as a San Francisco fireman due to a provision in the city charter barring any person from holding two city jobs. Debate on the Board was sometimes acrimonious with White verbally sparring with Milk and Silver most often. Much of Mayor Moscone's agenda of neighborhood revitilization and increased city support programs was thwarted or modified at this time in favor of the business-oriented agenda supported by the conservative (by San Francisco standards) majority on the Board. Increased antagonism between Harvey Milk and Dan White also marked this period in the Board's history. Though the reasons are often disputed, White claimed that Milk had agreed to oppose a group home project that White considered unnecessary. Milk voted in favor of the group home, which was to be based in White's district, later claiming there was no formal agreement. This event sparked further tension between the two men, and led to White being the only vote opposed to the historic gay rights ordinance, passed by the Board and happily signed by Mayor Moscone in 1978.

Under increased stress due to a failing restaurant business and unable to counter criticism that he was an ineffectual legislator, White abruptly resigned his office in the fall of 1978. Many business interests, who depended on White's vote to keep their agenda in favor, pressured him into asking that his resignation letter be returned. Despite White's request, the letter had already been filed and his resignation was effective immediately. Through his power of appointment, Moscone was now the only person who could return White to the Board. Though Moscone considered appointing White back into his Board position, Milk, Silver and several other Moscone allies persuaded the mayor to appoint a progressive to replace White, hoping the shift in power in favor of progressives on the Board would allow Moscone to more easily legislate his agenda. The dispute over Dan White's Board position soon took a back seat however, when it was learned that on November 18, 1978, more than 900 members of the Reverend Jim Jones' People's Temple committed suicide on their commune in Jonestown Guyana. Before the suicides, members of the Temple assassinated San Francisco area Congressman Leo Ryan, who was preparing to leave Jonestown after investigating allegations of inhumane practices on the commune. Also killed in the attack were three journalists and a Temple member who chose to leave with Ryan's party. The vast majority of the dead were from the San Francisco area and the city immediately plunged into mourning. After attending the funeral of his friend, Leo Ryan, Moscone finally decided to turn to the White matter and decided to appoint progressive Federal Housing official Don Horanzy. White was infuriated after learning of Horanzy's pending appointment from a CBS news reporter seeking a comment.

On Monday, November 27, 1978, the day Moscone was set to appoint someone to the vacant District 8 seat, White dressed in a brown suit, packed his loaded policeman's service revolver and several extra bullets into his coat pocket and had an unsuspecting friend drive him to San Francisco City Hall. Once there, White parted from his friend and slipped into City Hall through a basement window in order to avoid metal detectors. He climbed the stairs to the mayor's office and was allowed to see Moscone after a short wait. Upon entering Mayor Moscone's outer office, the two men began to argue about the pending appointment. Moscone suggested they retire to a small private lounge attached to the mayor's office so as not to be overheard by those waiting outside. Once inside the small room, White pulled his revolver and shot the mayor twice in the chest. White then stood over the prostrate mayor and pumped two more bullets into his head. Moscone was dead. White hurried out of the mayor's office, passing an unwitting Dianne Feinstein on his way to the supervisors' side of the city offices. Once there, White beckoned unsuspecting supervisor Harvey Milk to a private talk in an adjacent conference room. Once inside, White screamed at Milk, pulled his gun and shot the Supervisor twice in the chest, once in the back and two times further in the head. White fled city hall unchallenged as chaos reigned inside. Milk was discovered by Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein, who attempted to resuscitate the mortally wounded Milk to no avail. After calling for assistance, Feinstein was joined by Police Chief Gain and several members of Moscone's staff who informed now Acting-Mayor Feinstein of Moscone's death. Several minutes later, Chief Gain accompanied Feinstein onto the City Hall's rotunda, where she announced to gathered reporters that both Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk had been assassinated and that the main suspect was former Supervisor Dan White. That night, thousands of San Franciscans turned out to mourn the two slain politicians, carrying candles as they marched through the heavily-gay Castro neighborhood in Milk's supervisorial district and filed past City hall.

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.

Today, both Moscone and Milk are mourned as martyrs of the gay rights movement.

Moscone Center, San Francisco's largest convention center and exhibition hall, is named for George Moscone.


  • Wolfgang Saxon. "George Moscone, a Firm Mayor Who Stressed Anticrime Effort." The New York Times. November 28, 1978. B12.
  • Wallace Turner. "San Francisco Mayor is Slain; City Supervisor Also Killed; Ex-Official Gives Up to Police." The New York Times. November 28, 1978. A1

Preceded by:
Joseph Alioto
Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by:
Dianne Feinstein

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