Thirty Five Years Ago On November 27…

Angered that he wasn’t to be reappointed to the Board of Supervisors slot he resigned from on November 10, Dan White enters San Francisco City Hall at 10:30 a.m. through a basement window.

Mayor George Moscone agrees to meet with White after a meeting with Assemblyman Willie Brown concludes. Brown leaves. White enters. Moscone lights a cigarette and pours he and White a drink. As he does so, White shoots the mayor four times at point blank range with a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.

Leaving the 49-year-old father of four dead, White reloads and walks to where the supervisors’ offices are located and asks Supervisor Harvey Milk, the state’s first openly gay elected official, if he can speak with him privately. White ushers Milk into White’s former office and kills him with five gunshots, two to the back of his head. 

A stunned and tearful Dianne Feinstein, president of the board, announces the murders. “Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed…. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White,” she tells reporters.

As the news spreads through the city, tens of thousands of mourners form an impromptu candlelight march, beginning in the Castro District and ending at City Hall. Joan Baez leads the assembled in “Amazing Grace.”  Moscone and Milk lay in state at City Hall. Moscone’s funeral is attended by 4,500 people. Feinstein becomes mayor – the first and only woman to hold the office.

White, a former policeman and fireman, was elected along with Milk in San Francisco’s first district-based – rather than city-wide – election, a change championed by Moscone that created a much more diverse board of supervisors. White, one of the bloc of conservative members who held a narrow majority on the board, clashed routinely with the liberal minority, which included Milk. Forced to quit his higher paying job with the fire department when he became a supervisor, White suffers financially.

Chafed by the charged political atmosphere at City Hall and the inclusive policies championed by Moscone,  the cash-strapped White resigns. His supporters urge him to reconsider and seek reappointment so the board’s majority doesn’t swing to Moscone and the liberals. Rather than reappoint White, Moscone decides to name Don Horanzy, a federal housing official, who is more supportive of Moscone’s political agenda. A formal announcement is scheduled for 11:30 a.m., Monday, November 27.

Long-time Bay Area television journalist  Belva Davis reports:

White surrenders to police officers one hour after the shootings. He is tried for first-degree murder but his lawyers convince the jury that White’s depression creates “diminished mental capacity,” which prevents the premeditation necessary to be guilty of first-degree murder.  

Convicted of voluntary manslaughter, White is paroled in 1984 —  spending just over five years behind bars for the murders. Riots erupt in the city after the announcement of the verdict. Several years later, state lawmakers repeal the diminished capacity defense. 

On October 21, 1985, the 39-year-oild White runs a hose from the exhaust pipe of his 1979 yellow Buick LeSabre into the passenger compartment, poisoning himself with carbon monoxide. The New York Times report.



Filed under: California History

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