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 byJoseph Alioto
Succeeded byDianne Feinstein
Member of the California Senate
In office
January 2, 1967 – January 8, 1976
Preceded byHarold Thomas Sedgwick
Succeeded byJohn Francis Foran
Constituency10th district (1967–1971)
6th district (1971–1976)
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.
Manner of deathAssassination by gunshot
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Gina Bondanza
(m. 1954)
Children4; including Jonathan
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/serviceUnited States Navy
Years of service1953–1956
Battles/warsKorean 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, appointing African Americans, Asian Americans, and gay people.[1] Moscone served in the California State Senate from 1967 until becoming Mayor. In the Senate, he served as Majority Leader. Moscone is remembered for being an advocate of civil progressivism.

Early life[edit]

Moscone was born in the Italian-American enclave of San Francisco's Marina District, California.[2] The Moscone family comes from Piedmont and Liguria.[3] His father was George Joseph Moscone, a Correction Officer 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.[2]

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. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1953.[4]

Moscone then studied at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where he received his law degree.[2] 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.[5] After serving in the United States Navy, Moscone started private practice in 1956.[2]


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.[2] 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.[2] On the Board, Moscone was known for his defense of poor people, 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.[citation needed]

California State Senator[edit]

In 1966 Moscone ran for and won a seat in the California State Senate, representing the 10th District in San Francisco County.[6] 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.[2]

Moscone also was 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.[citation needed]

Mayor of San Francisco[edit]

On December 19, 1974, Moscone announced he would run for Mayor of San Francisco in the 1975 race.[7] In a close race in November 1975, Moscone placed first with conservative city supervisor John Barbagelata second and supervisor Dianne Feinstein coming in third.[7] 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.[7] 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.[citation needed]

Mayor Moscone waves to parade watchers along Market Street

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 Peoples Temple which was initially known as a church preaching racial equality and social justice but turned into a fanatical political cult.[8] For the rest of his life, Barbagelata maintained that the Peoples 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.[9]

Moscone passed legislation reducing marijuana sentences, granting abortion rights, establishing a school meals program and overturning the state's anti-sodomy laws.[1]

The Peoples Temple also worked to get out the vote in precincts where Moscone received a 12 to 1 vote margin over Barbagelata.[10] 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.[11]

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, gay, lesbian 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.[citation needed]

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.[12]

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.[citation needed]

Refusal to investigate Peoples Temple[edit]

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.[13] The later mass murder-suicide at Jonestown dominated national headlines at the time of Moscone's death.[14]

After the massacre, 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.[15] 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."[15] 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".[16]


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.[17]

Moscone originally indicated a willingness to reconsider, but more liberal city leaders, including Supervisor Harvey Milk, lobbied him against the idea.[18] 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 sneaked 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 and walked across City Hall to Milk's office, where White shot and killed Milk as well.[19]

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.[citation needed]

Dan 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. White was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter, due in part to his claim of severe depression, which White's attorneys argued was evidenced by his consumption of Twinkies and other junk foods. 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.[20]


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.[citation needed]

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 political old guard and conservatives, and despite 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.[citation needed]

1981 bust by Robert Arneson

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[21] 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." 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."[22]

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".[23] Moscone's son Jonathan, aged 14 at the time of his father's murder, 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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Remembering George Moscone, 'The People's Mayor' of San Francisco".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sward, Susan (November 26, 1998). "Moscone's Time Was Anything But Quiet". San Francisco Chronicle.
  3. ^ "George Moscone".
  4. ^ Doty, Richard. "George Moscone: COP graduate ('53), S.F. Mayor, dead at 49," Pacific Review (University of the Pacific), November 1977. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  5. ^ "Mayor, Supervisor Killed in San Francisco Shooting", Cornell Daily Sun, November 28, 1978.
  6. ^ George R. Moscone, Candidate Election History. JoinCalifornia, Retrieved February 19, 2007.
  7. ^ a b c Nolte, Carl (November 26, 2003). "CITY HALL SLAYINGS: 25 Years Later". San Francisco Chronicle.
  8. ^ Taylor, Michael (November 12, 1998). "Jones Captivated S.F.'s Liberal Elite". San Francisco Chronicle.
  9. ^ Cothran, George (November 18, 1998). "Barbagelata's Return? Archived December 7, 2014, at the Wayback Machine" San Francisco Weekly.
  10. ^ Kilduff, Marshall; Ron Javers (1978). Suicide Cult: The Inside Story of the Peoples Temple Sect and the Massacre in Guyana. New York: Bantam Books. p. 45. ISBN 978-0553129205.
  11. ^ "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple". American Experience. April 26, 2006. PBS. Archived from the original on March 14, 2009. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
  12. ^ Shapiro, Joseph (June 22, 2011). No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (reprint ed.). New York: Crown. p. 67. ISBN 978-0307798329. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  13. ^ Kinsolving, Kathleen; Tom (1998). Madman in Our Midst: Jim Jones and the California Cover Up – via Cult Education Institute.
  14. ^ Rapaport, Richard (November 16, 2003). "Jonestown and City Hall slayings eerily linked in time and memory". San Francisco Chronicle.
  15. ^ a b Crewdson, John (December 16, 1978). "Followers Say Jim Jones Directed Voting Frauds". The New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  16. ^ Talbot, David (May 1, 2012). "Jim Jones' sinister grip on San Francisco". Salon.
  17. ^ "Supe who quit takes it back". Oakland Tribune. November 16, 1978. p. 3. Retrieved June 11, 2022.
  18. ^ Pogash, Carol (November 23, 2003). "Myth of the 'Twinkie defense': The verdict in the Dan White case wasn't based on his ingestion of junk food". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 10, 2007.
  19. ^ "Murders at City Hall: retracing the killer's steps". The San Francisco Examiner. November 28, 1978. p. 18. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  20. ^ Lindsey, Robert (October 22, 1985). "Dan White, Killer Of San Francisco Mayor, A Suicide". The New York Times. Retrieved December 29, 2008.
  21. ^ "Portrait of George, 1981". Archived from the original on October 13, 2008.
  22. ^ Hartman, Chester (October 1, 2002). City for Sale: The Transformation of San Francisco. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 193–196. ISBN 978-0520914902.
  23. ^ Dead Kennedys. I Fought the Law lyrics. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. Archived from the original on April 16, 2007. Retrieved April 17, 2007.
  24. ^ Nat Katzman, Director; Stephen Talbot, Writer (November 5, 2008). Moscone: A Legacy of Change (Television production). PBS.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of San Francisco
Succeeded by