Monday, February 27, 2006


When the London Ballet visited in the mid 1960’s, San Francisco was excited by the glamour of its leading couple, prima-of-the-world Margot Fonteyn, and the newly defected young Bolshoi sensation Rudolf Nureyev. The biggest news during their stay was the couple's arrest at a Haight-Ashbury “pot party,” having “danced across rooftops,” according to the Chron, trying to evade police.

More impressive to me were comments made to a local interviewer:

Interviewer: What do you think of San Francisco?
Nureyev: It’s a toilet for dogs.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Nureyev: Everywhere I walk there is dogshit.
Interviewer: But really, don’t you think it's a beautiful city?
Nureyev: I don’t know. I can’t look up to see it. If I look up, I step in dogshit.

A decade and a half later, SF’s new elections-by-district produced the first openly gay legislator in the country, Harvey Milk. Supervisor Milk’s assassination by a right-wing ex-cop was followed by the killing, moments later, of the first-term liberal mayor, George Moscone. Having Milk and Moscone in office had represented a sea change in San Francisco’s historically conservative local politics.

A sweetheart prosecution by the assassin’s DA friends resulted in outrageously light manslaughter convictions, which spawned the White Night Riot. Civic Center streets were taken over, a dozen police cars were torched, and City Hall was surrounded and besieged, trapping inside for hours Diane Feinstein, who had run for mayor twice, and lost, but then, thanks to Dan White’s bullets, had become acting mayor, then, thanks to incumbency and the city’s sorrow, had been elected Mayor in her own right.

Presumably most of the rioters were gay, angered by the killing of Harvey Milk. News footage showing cop cars burning in the night, their sirens shrieking, made a deep impression in San Francisco’s memory. Since then, the gay community has been respected and courted by local politicians, and homophobia has been the hate that dare not speak its name.

Mayor Moscone had wanted to throw at least a few crumbs to the disadvantaged. Without the assassination, Feinstein’s political career might have ended in San Francisco, downtown interests might not have dominated local politics for the following fifteen years, and maybe a real Democrat would have vied for her senate seat.

Harvey Milk’s brief tenure in office might seem only symbolic, but he was responsible for a major improvement in San Francisco’s quality of life. Dogshit has mostly disappeared from the city’s footpaths and playfields. It’s gone away, and stayed away for twenty years now, thanks to Harvey Milk’s pooper-scooper ordinance.


sfmike said...

Good local history. Since I was actually at the White Night riots at City Hall, I'd say the participants were about half gay libbers of the time and about half pure underclass from the Tenderloin and the Western Addition. Everyone got along famously that evening (which as you know was not usual) since the bad guys were obviously the cops.

One of my favorite stories was told by my friend, the late Mick McMullen, who helped a cute young man start a fire in a large dumpster parked on Van Ness Avenue a couple of blocks from City Hall. A gay man came by and yelled at them to stop it, they weren't helping matters with their pyromania, and he actually jumped into the dumpster to try and put out the fire. Of course, soon after, police cars came tearing around the corner, the cops got out, and over the protestations of the gentleman that he was only trying to put out the flames, he was beaten to within an inch of his life.

"He deserved it," Mick observed afterwards. And Dianne and her gangster husband Richard Blum also deserve bad things to happen to them. They really are swine.

sfmike said...

Coincidentally, there was a post on Alexander Cockburn's site, "Counterpunch," written by Joshua Frank about DiFi and her war profiteering hubby. Check it out.

sfwillie said...

Hey sfmike,
I think just Diane's picture would have been enough to provoke you. Is Blum a real gangster (a particular type of crook) or is he just a regular crook? Or do you think of the ruling elite as a gang?

Speaking of which, traditional, as it were, organized crime had certain stardards of conduct. Killing cops or otherwise bringing heat was frowned upon. Likewise attacking wives and children.

The demand by some Iraqi kidnappers for the release of Iraqi women being detained by the US, is prompted by a tactic that even the Mafia wouldn't employ--the kidnapping of wives to force their husbands' surrender. The US has been doing this. Despicable.

sfmike said...

You're right about the fact that all it takes for me to feel revulsion is a photo of DiFi. Good question about Blum being a "real" gangster or a "regular crook" or whether I think the ruling elite is a "gang." Unfortunately, I'd say Yes! to all three, although in truth I have no real information. His involvement with the monstrous Tutor-Saliba construction company, which has sucked billions in construction overruns on both the SFO International Terminal redesign and the Bay Bridge redesign are deeply disturbing. His position as a director of the CALPERS billions funneling investment money to his special friends is also disgusting. His shell companies tend to be the kind that pay millions in fines in legal settlements to the government "without admitting wrongdoing."

Do I think he's more like Meyer Lansky or more like Michael Miliken? Probably the latter, but essentially that just means he's part of a new breed of Jewish gangster. The greed and utter comtempt for everyone outside of "The Family" is still the same, however.