Feinstein, former SF mayor, won't run again for US Senate

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 14, 2023
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U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein announced February 14 that she would retire at the end of her term next year. Photo: Rick Gerharter
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein announced February 14 that she would retire at the end of her term next year. Photo: Rick Gerharter

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein — who took office as San Francisco mayor in 1978 the day the late mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated — announced Tuesday she doesn't intend to seek another term in the Senate next year.

"I am announcing today I will not run for reelection in 2024 but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends," Feinstein, 89, stated.

"Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives. Each of us was sent here to solve problems. That's what I've done for the last 30 years, and that's what I plan to do for the next two years. My thanks to the people of California for allowing me to serve them," added Feinstein, a Democrat and California's longest serving senator.

Feinstein's departure helps to mark the end of an era in Bay Area politics; just four months ago Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) announced she was stepping down as Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives after 20 years. (She remains in Congress and has yet to say if she will seek another term in 2024.)

Feinstein, the longest-serving woman in the Senate's history, made her decision in the wake of discussions and conversations questioning her cognitive abilities over the last several years. The New Yorker's Jane Mayer first raised questions about her mental faculties in December 2020, followed by an article in the San Francisco Chronicle last year that further questioned her fitness to serve.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the city's first Black female mayor, paid tribute to her predecessor in a statement midday Tuesday, calling her "a trailblazer in every sense of the word."

"From becoming San Francisco's first female mayor in 1978 to being sworn in as California's first female senator in 1992, she has always served our city, state, and country with conviction and honor," Breed stated. "Her landmark policy victories in the Senate like the Assault Weapons Ban, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and reckoning with our country's past with unlawful interrogation tactics made our country safer, our society more equal, and our nation more true to its ideals. As the longest serving female senator in our nation's history, Senator Feinstein will leave a long legacy of legislative achievements and shattered glass ceilings that young women everywhere can look to and be inspired by as they too consider what service they can do for their country."

Already, Congressmembers Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Katie Porter (D-Irvine) have announced their candidacies to replace Feinstein in the chamber, though these came before Feinstein's announcement. Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) is also expected to announce her candidacy for Feinstein's seat, as she has been publicly exploring a campaign for weeks.

Schiff stated, "Senator Dianne Feinstein is one of the finest legislators the state of California and our country have ever known. She's a mentor and a friend, and I'm so thankful for her work.

"Senator Feinstein's retirement at the end of her term will be felt throughout Congress and California," added Schiff, whom Pelosi endorsed earlier this month for the Senate seat should it become open.

Lee said that Feinstein's "historic Senate career will be marked by her unwavering commitment to passing groundbreaking legislation."

She went on to mention the assault weapons ban that Feinstein championed and other legislative items. "A protector of our natural environment, she passed the California Desert Protection Act that safeguarded more than 7 million acres of California desert wilderness," Lee stated. "A fighter for women's and human rights, she pushed the 2022 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and passed legislation to combat human trafficking and protect marriage equality."

Lee added that she will soon address her plans regarding a Senate campaign. "While I hope we will keep the focus in these coming days on celebrating the senator and her historic tenure in the Senate, I know there are questions about the Senate race in 2024, which I will address soon," she stated.

Career forged in tragedy

Feinstein, who'd been president of the Board of Supervisors and represented the Marina neighborhood at City Hall, became mayor on November 27, 1978 following the assassination of Moscone by former supervisor Dan White inside City Hall. White then killed Milk, the first gay elected official in the Golden State, in his City Hall office.

Feinstein's dramatic announcement of the political leaders' deaths and the identity of the suspect were televised nationwide. She was subsequently elected mayor in her own right in 1979.

Earlier in that campaign she'd faced some opposition from members of the LGBTQ community after she made remarks to Ladies' Home Journal perceived as homophobic, but later won community support after gay candidate David Scott endorsed her in a runoff against independent Quentin Kopp. Scott endorsed Feinstein after she committed to appoint a gay person to the police oversight panel, which Feinstein followed through on with her appointment of lesbian Jo Daly.

Feinstein's veto of city employee benefits for domestic partners led to a recall effort in 1983, though she won 81% to 18%.

After departing the mayoralty in 1988, she made an unsuccessful run for California governor in 1990. Feinstein then ran for the U.S. Senate seat, winning in 1992's Year of the Woman that saw a record number of female candidates elected. In the Senate she was one of the few Democratic members who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which had been supported by then-senator and current President Joe Biden (D), and was an outspoken advocate for gun control. The expiration of her assault weapons ban in 2004 has been blamed, in part, for the spate of America's mass shootings.

The last vestiges of DOMA were formally repealed in December when Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act. DOMA had key provisions struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 (Section 3, U.S. v. Windsor) and 2015 (Section 2, Obergefell v. Hodges). Not only does it require federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages nationwide but also mandates states must recognize such unions performed in other states. The act includes protections for religious liberty.

Feinstein was never without controversy though, and in 2004 upset more progressive Democrats when she said then-mayor and now Governor Gavin Newsom's decision to order San Francisco officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was "too much, too fast, too soon."

Newsom issued a statement praising Feinstein.

"A daughter of San Francisco, Senator Feinstein became the first woman to serve as mayor of the city after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk," the governor stated. "The tragic events of that day led to her lifetime crusade for common-sense gun control laws, including her role as author of a federal assault weapons ban. For the last 30 years, she has served her state with distinction as our senior U.S. senator, blazing a trail for a new generation of female lawmakers."

More recently, she was criticized in 2020 when she said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing was "one of the best" and hugged Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), then the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barrett's vote last June on the Supreme Court was key for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion as a constitutional right, a key issue for Feinstein.

Feinstein's husband Richard C. Blum, a regent of the University of California, died last February at the age of 86.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) stated via Twitter that he is proud of Feinstein.

"Dianne Feinstein has been a trailblazer for more than 50 years," he stated. "Her accomplishments are legion. We're so proud of her in San Francisco & grateful for her service to our city & our state."

Feinstein's California colleague in the Senate, Alex Padilla (D), also paid tribute to her Tuesday, stating, "On a personal note, Dianne gave me one of my first jobs in politics as a young MIT grad looking to make a difference in my community. She was the embodiment of principled leadership and taking on the difficult issues, and it's in part because of her groundbreaking career that a Latino son of immigrants could one day join her in breaking down barriers and serving alongside her.

"I'll truly miss her leadership and her counsel in the U.S. Senate. But the legacy she leaves behind will be carried on by the 40 million Californians who now see their government — and their country — differently because of her service," Padilla stated. "Thank you, Senator Feinstein."

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