George Moscone

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George Moscone
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
In office
Preceded byHarold Thomas Sedgwick
Succeeded byJohn Francis Foran
Constituency10th district (1967–71)
6th district (1971–76)
Member of the
San Francisco Board of Supervisors
In office
Personal details
George Richard Moscone

(1929-11-24)November 24, 1929
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedNovember 27, 1978(1978-11-27) (aged 49)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Cause of death Assassination
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma, California, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Gina Bondanza(m. 1954)
Children4, including Jonathan
Alma mater University of California, Hastings College of the Law
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (Pantone).svg  United States
Branch/serviceFlag of the United States Navy (official).svg  United States Navy
Years of service1953–1956
Battles/wars Korean War

George Richard Moscone ( /məˈskni/ ; November 24, 1929 – November 27, 1978) was an American attorney and Democratic politician. He was the 37th mayor of San Francisco, California from January 1976 until his assassination in November 1978. He was known as "the people's mayor", who opened up City Hall and its commissions to reflect the diversity of San Francisco. Moscone served in the California State Senate from 1967 until becoming Mayor. In the Senate, he served as Majority Leader.

Democratic Party (United States) political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

Moscone–Milk assassinations assassinations of politicians Moscone and Milk

The Moscone–Milk assassinations were the killings of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, who were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. White was angry that Moscone had refused to reappoint him to his seat on the Board of Supervisors, from which he had just resigned, and that Milk had lobbied heavily against his reappointment. These events helped bring national notice to then-Board President Dianne Feinstein, who became the first female mayor of San Francisco and eventually U.S. Senator for California.

In U.S. politics, the majority floor leader is a partisan position in a legislative body.


Early life and education

Moscone was born in the Italian-American enclave of San Francisco's Marina District, California. [1] His father was George Joseph Moscone, a prison guard at nearby San Quentin, and his mother, Lena, was a homemaker who later went to work to support herself and her son after she separated from her husband. [1]

Moscone attended St. Brigid's, and then St. Ignatius College Preparatory, where he was a noted debater and an all-city basketball star. He then attended College of the Pacific on a basketball scholarship and played basketball for the Tigers.

St. Ignatius College Preparatory

St. Ignatius College Preparatory (SI) is a private, Catholic preparatory school in the Jesuit tradition, serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1855. Located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, in the Sunset District of San Francisco, St. Ignatius is one of the oldest secondary schools in the U.S. state of California.

University of the Pacific (United States) Private university in Stockton, California, United States

The University of the Pacific is a private university in Stockton, California. It is the oldest chartered university in California, the first independent co-educational campus in California, and both the first conservatory of music and first medical school on the West Coast.

Basketball team sport played on a court with baskets on either end

Basketball is a team sport in which two teams, most commonly of five players each, opposing one another on a rectangular court, compete with the primary objective of shooting a basketball through the defender's hoop while preventing the opposing team from shooting through their own hoop. A field goal is worth two points, unless made from behind the three-point line, when it is worth three. After a foul, timed play stops and the player fouled or designated to shoot a technical foul is given one or more one-point free throws. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins, but if regulation play expires with the score tied, an additional period of play (overtime) is mandated.

Moscone then studied at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where he received his law degree. [1] He married Gina Bondanza, who he had known since she was in grade school, in 1954. The Moscones would go on to have four children. [2] After serving in the United States Navy, Moscone started private practice in 1956. [1]

University of California, Hastings College of the Law

The University of California, Hastings College of the Law is a public law school located in the Civic Center area of San Francisco. Although affiliated with the University of California, Hastings is not directly governed by the Regents of the University of California. The one other UC campus that provides only postgraduate education is the University of California, San Francisco.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the Navy is the third largest of the service branches. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the second-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force.


As a young man playing basketball and as a young lawyer, Moscone became close friends with John L. Burton, who would later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. [1] John Burton's older 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. [1] On the Board, Moscone was known for his defense of the poor, racial minorities and small business owners, as well as supporting the first successful fight in San Francisco to block construction of a proposed freeway that would have cut through Golden Gate Park and several neighborhoods.

United States House of Representatives lower house of the United States Congress

The United States House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate being the upper chamber. Together they compose the legislature of the United States.

Phillip Burton American politician

Phillip Burton was a United States Representative from California serving from 1964 until his death in San Francisco in 1983. A Democrat, he was instrumental in creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Burton was one of the first members of Congress to acknowledge the need for AIDS research and introduce an AIDS bill. He was the brother of California State Senator and Congressman John Burton.

California State Assembly lower house of the California State Legislature

The California State Assembly is the lower house of the California State Legislature, the upper house being the California State Senate. The Assembly convenes, along with the State Senate, at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.

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. [3] 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, as well as a bill legalizing abortion that was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. 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. [1]

California State Senate upper house of the California State Legislature

The California State Senate is the upper house of the California State Legislature, the lower house being the California State Assembly. The State Senate convenes, along with the State Assembly, at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.

The California Democratic Party is the state branch of the United States Democratic Party in the state of California. The party is headquartered in Sacramento, and is led by acting-Chair Alex Gallardo-Rooker.

Progressivism is the support for or advocacy for percieved improvement of society by reform. As a philosophy, it is based on the idea of progress, which asserts that advancements in science, technology, economic development and social organization are vital to the improvement of the human condition.

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

On December 19, 1974, Moscone announced he would run for Mayor of San Francisco in the 1975 race. [4] In a close race in November of 1975, Moscone placed first with conservative city supervisor John Barbagelata second and supervisor Dianne Feinstein coming in third. [4] 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. [4] 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.

Moscone ran a grassroots mayoral campaign which drew volunteers from organizations like Glide Methodist Memorial Church, Delancey Street (a rehabilitation center for ex-convicts) and the People's Temple which was initially known as a church preaching racial equality and social justice but turned into a fanatic cult. [5] 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. [6]

The Peoples Temple also worked to get out the vote in precincts where Moscone received a 12 to 1 vote margin over Barbagelata. [7] 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. [8]

Moscone's first year as Mayor was spent preventing the San Francisco Giants professional baseball team from moving to Toronto and advocating a citywide 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 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 April 1977 Moscone stood up to officials in Washington by supporting 25-day occupation of San Francisco's Federal Building by a group of over 100 people with disabilities demanding their civil rights in what would become known as the 504 Sit-In. While federal officials hoped to starve out the protesters, the mayor visited them and arranged to have portable showers and towels brought in. Thanks in part to Moscone's support, the occupation was successful, and helped pave the way for passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thirteen years later. [9]

In 1977 Moscone, Freitas and Hongisto all easily survived a recall election pushed by defeated Moscone opponent John Barbagelata and business interests. It was a political vindication for Moscone, who won in a landslide. Barbagelata announced he was retiring from politics. 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 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 murder-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 in 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 would allow Moscone to choose White's successor, which could tip the Board's balance of power in Moscone's favor. Recognizing this matter as such, those who supported a more conservative agenda and opposed integration of the police and fire departments talked White into changing his mind. White then 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, three days after Moscone's 49th birthday, White went to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Moscone and make a final plea for appointment. White snuck into City Hall through a basement window to avoid the metal detector at the main door. He carried his old police revolver. When Moscone agreed to talk with him in a private room, White pulled the gun out of his suit jacket and shot and killed Moscone. White then re-loaded his gun, walked across City Hall, 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. Outrage over White's lenient sentence provoked a mass riot in San Francisco during which police cars were set on fire by angry protestors. White was released from prison and then shortly afterward committed suicide in 1985.


Moscone's grave at Holy Cross 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.

Moscone's main political legacy is his opening up San Francisco City Hall to be a more diverse and inclusive place with political appointments that represented the full spectrum of the population, including minorities and the growing gay community. Despite a backlash from the old political guard and conservatives, culminating in the double assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, both leading progressives, the city never retreated from Moscone's more inclusive view of politics.

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 accepted by San Francisco's Art Commission. Arneson included as part of the decoration on the pedestal the likeness of a pistol that gained public disapproval. At issue were references to Harvey Milk, the assassinations, the "Twinkie Defense", the White Night riots, and Dianne Feinstein's mayoral succession. Arneson refused to make alterations to the work, the commission was returned to him, and it was later resold. 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] Moscone's then-14-year-old son Jonathan later co-wrote the play Ghost Light with Tony Taccone about the effects the assassination had on him. It premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2011. A public television documentary about Moscone's political career, Moscone: A Legacy of Change, debuted in November 2018, the 40th anniversary of Moscone's death. Produced by Nat Katzman, written by Stephen Talbot and narrated by Peter Coyote. [17]

See also

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John Barbagelata was a San Francisco City Supervisor and 1975 mayoral candidate, when he narrowly lost to George Moscone. He was also the owner of a local real estate firm. As of 2018, he was the last Republican to be elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in 1973.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sward, Susan, Moscone's Time Was Anything But Quiet, November 26, 1998
  2. "Mayor, Supervisor Killed in San Francisco Shooting", Cornell Daily Sun, November 28, 1978
  3. JoinCalifornia, George R. Moscone, Candidate Election History, Retrieved February 19, 2007
  4. 1 2 3 Nolte, Carl, CITY HALL SLAYINGS: 25 Years Later, San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2003
  5. Taylor, Michael, "Jones Captivated S.F.'s Liberal Elite", San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1998
  6. Cothran, George. Barbagelata's Return?, San Francisco Weekly, November 18, 1998.
  7. 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.
  8. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.
  9. Shapiro, Joseph (1993). No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. Three Rivers. p. 67.
  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. 1 2 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. "Portrait of George, 1981". Archived from the original on October 13, 2008.
  15. 1 2 Hartman, Chester, City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2002, 193–196.
  16. "Dead Kennedy's". I Fought the Law lyrics. Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2007.
Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Alioto
Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by
Dianne Feinstein