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Former SF mayoral candidate David Scott dies

by Cynthia Laird

David Scott
David Scott  

David Scott, a gay man whose 1979 campaign for San Francisco mayor ended in defeat but had an influence on San Francisco and California politics for decades to follow, died July 18 at his home outside Petaluma. He was 82.

The cause of death was leukemia, his friends said.

The 1979 mayor's race featured major contenders Dianne Feinstein, who had become mayor a year earlier after the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, and Supervisor Quentin Kopp. Alarmed by what many in the community said was a lack of choice, friends said that Mr. Scott entered the race, knowing he likely wouldn't win.

Mr. Scott did indeed come up short, but his presence in the race forced a runoff between Feinstein and Kopp, and in order to secure his endorsement, Feinstein pledged to appoint a gay or lesbian to the city's Police Commission.

According to a pre-election ad in a 1979 issue of the Bay Area Reporter, Feinstein had promised to appoint a gay to the police oversight panel, but Mr. Scott's friends said that he was able to secure that commitment from her in return for his endorsement in the runoff.

"She essentially made that promise when she came before the Milk club," recalled Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club member Gwenn Craig. "We waited and waited."

Craig said that what the club really wanted was the appointment of gay men and lesbians to city commission posts "in proportion to our numbers in the population."

"It was not just the police commission," she told the B.A.R. in an interview this week.

The B.A.R. endorsed Mr. Scott in the mayor's race, as did its late political editor, Wayne Friday. During the campaign, Mr. Scott participated in the mayoral debates, which gave him exposure as he had a small budget.

Randy Alfred, a retired journalist and friend of Mr. Scott's, said people at what was then called the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club urged Mr. Scott to run.

"David decided that he was willing to do that," Alfred recalled. "It was a successful strategy."

Craig also said that despite misgivings, she and others applauded Mr. Scott's decision to enter the race.

"In the end, it was good," she said. "It was good somebody had a voice and talked about things that [Feinstein] was not doing as mayor. He'd speak of things progressives wanted."

The Milk club endorsed Mr. Scott with 84 percent of the vote.

In the runoff, most of the city's LGBT voters went for Feinstein, propelling her into Room 200 at City Hall. In 1992, she was elected a U.S. senator, a position she continues to hold.

"If Feinstein had not been elected, it might have been the end of her political career," Alfred said.

In a statement, Feinstein said, "I have fond memories of campaigning with David Scott in 1979. He was a powerful voice for San Francisco's gay community and a leader, and he'll be missed."

For his part, Kopp, a retired judge, told the B.A.R. that he believes he would have won had Mr. Scott endorsed him. The New York Times reported that Mr. Scott finished third with 10 percent of the vote; Feinstein finished with 42 percent and Kopp garnered 40 percent.

Mr. Scott met with Kopp after the election, and indicated he wanted a seat on the airport commission. Kopp said that he was advised to do it, but refused.

"She beat me 52 percent to 48 percent," Kopp said of the runoff election four weeks later. "I would have won with his support."

Kopp said that Mr. Scott "was a substantive candidate."

Gay former Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who himself came up short in the 1999 mayor's race after launching a successful write-in campaign but falling to incumbent Willie Brown in the runoff, said Mr. Scott was a serious candidate.

"What he did was so transformative," Ammiano said in an interview. "He brought Dianne and Quentin to heel. He was kind of under the radar, but pivotal."

A copy of Mr. Scott's campaign material refers to Feinstein as "Tweedledee" and Kopp as "Tweedledum." His message was "Make your vote count. For a change."

Ammiano said that at the time, the gay community "was reeling from the Milk-Moscone murders."

"People looked at their choices 'Tweedledum' and 'Tweedledee' and it didn't look that gay-friendly," he said.

Larry Myers, Ph.D., a fellow Penn State graduate who knew Mr. Scott for 30 years, said he should have been mayor of San Francisco.

"David got many votes when he ran against Dianne Feinstein and was prophetic, consummately political, and a powerful presence," Myers, a bicoastal professor, playwright, and director of Playwrights Sanctuary, said in an email. "He wasn't just a person but an energy field."

Mr. Scott was born April 5, 1935 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn State University in 1958 and attended George Washington University Graduate School in business administration. He moved to San Francisco in 1960 after his honorable discharge from the Navy.

He served as a vice president for the old Bank of California, and worked as a Realtor. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Realtors but "because of his deep concerns for people problems, he is often the minority on board votes," an old campaign flier stated.

At the time of his entry into the mayor's race, Mr. Scott served on the San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals. Alfred said that Feinstein asked him to resign once he became a candidate, and he did. After the election, Feinstein appointed him to the powerful San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which at the time included the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir and Muni.

Feinstein appointed the late Jo Daly, a lesbian, to the police commission.

"David was a nice guy," Alfred said. "He may have been too nice for politics."

Craig said that Mr. Scott was affable.

"You couldn't dislike the guy," she said.

Per Mr. Scott's request, there are no plans for a public memorial.




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