The governor said he could not stop it. The parole board has no authority to intervene. Federal offi- cials expressed a passing interest in try- ing him again, on federal charges, but last month announced that they would not; the day they made the announcement, 200 police in full riot gear were summoned to a building near City Hall, just in case.
There is nothing to do now but wait. Daniel James White, the former San Francisco supervisor who shot to death Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in November 1978, is about to get out of prison. Including the weeks he spent in jail before his trial, he will have served five years and five weeks' time. On Castro Street, where Harvey Milk held joyous court over thousands of newly public homosexual men, a hand-lettered wall sign has counted down the days until White's release this Friday. 85 days. " 'Is there going to be violence?' " Scott Smith, the bereaved lover referred to for years in the gay press as "the widow Milk," does a breathless parody of a microphone-thrusting television reporter. 78 days. Rumors skitter through the city: White is going to Ireland, White is going to San Diego, White will be lifted from prison by helicopter, there is a contract out on his life. Someone will try to kill him. This is not rumor. That someone will kill Dan White if he stays in San Francisco has been elevated to gospel here, even by those who feel sympathy for him; he would have at most a year, it is said, before a hired professional got to him, or some sad driven homosexual man lunged for certain celebrity by bringing down the killer of Harvey Milk. There is a faint relish in many San Francisco voices as they repeat this, as though they find consolation in the prospect of Dan White living out the rest of his days in fear.
For five years this city has been raw at the mention of Dan White's name. It would have been all right somehow if he had been psychotic or on drugs or newly arrived from some other place where one might imagine assassins are bred; but the killer was a local boy, local hero, policeman, fireman, Catholic schools, Catholic church, wife and child, old San Francisco. When he killed, firing precise coup de gra ce shots into the heads of the liberal mayor and the homosexual supervisor, it was as though something had heaved up from within and smashed at the city. But the verdict, six months later, was what pushed grief over toward danger: A jury of white, heterosexual men and women found Dan White guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the lightest possible ruling, requiring a maximum sentence of seven years, eight months, reducible for good behavior in prison. A police officer called to riot duty that night still lives with the memory of the smashing glass, the faces cracked with rage, the man lifting a whole bicycle overhead, as though to hurl it at the frightened line of police.
Gina Moscone, the mayor's widow, has not spoken publicly about the killings since the day her husband died. A young gay activist still blurs into tears when asked to talk about Harvey Milk. Jurors changed their jobs, hung up on death threats, got unlisted telephone numbers, moved away; one broke his silence long enough to say to a newspaper reporter, "It's the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life." A commissioner appointed by George Moscone still lunches regularly with one of the mayor's former press aides, and they talk about a number of things, the commissioner says, but never about what happened, never about Dan White.
Now his name, all at once, seems draped across the town. Newspapers have relived the killings and printed photographs of all the principals. Two filmmakers are preparing a documentary about Harvey Milk and the shootings, and a separate crew has worked Castro Street for the potential film version of an already-published biography of Milk. Two artists have constructed mammoth heads of White, Milk and Moscone, which they intend to use as props for a dance reenactment of the killings in City Hall plaza this Friday. A book about White and the killings is due out this year. A televised dramatization of the shootings and trial aired on public television last month and received the largest audience of any local production in the history of the station. A local theater is showing a play about Dan White, in which a gay man sets out to murder him; two other plays about White have preceded this one.
He is mythic here. That he is Irish, or professes to be, two generations back, only thickens the myth and commends it wholly to the ragged history of San Francisco; it was duly noted that when White turned himself in after the killings, he asked that no one take from him the dust jacket of Jill and Leon Uris' "Ireland: A Terrible Beauty," which White had torn to a square of deep green hills and folded into his breast pocket. He confessed shortly thereafter, weeping noisily from time to time, and that was the last public statement from Dan White. A San Francisco Chronicle correspondent who happened by White's cell in the protective housing unit at Soledad Prison asked if White would like to say anything to the people of San Francisco. "---- you," White said, and slammed down the opening to his cell door.
When there is no business in the barbershop of Alfred Cinti, the man who used to cut Dan White's hair, Cinti stands inside his large window, the door locked for reassurance, and gazes out at Leland Avenue. There are many ways to get to Castro Street from Leland Avenue, but each of them requires a crossing of such imposing borders that it is possible to reach adulthood in San Francisco without ever making the journey: down the sad two-lane strip that is Leland, with its pharmacies and its small sweet bakery and the old women in hats tugged down to keep the fog from their hair; way up Mission Street, past the empty union offices now bumped up against Filipino grocery stores; past the bars, past Italian restaurants long abandoned by their neighborhood, past the first taquerias and then the cantinas and the Salvadoran restaurants and the Latino murals splayed loud against windowless walls.
Even the weather is usually different here, the mist somehow cleared away, and now the last hill rises toward Castro Street and the Victorian houses are suddenly brilliant in their new plumage, cream-white walls, scarlet cornices, purple window trims, hedges trained to precision. They take good care of their homes, is one of the things people like Alfred Cinti sometimes say, in benevolent moments, about the masses of gay men who over the past decade have transformed Castro Street into something only slightly describable in the vocabulary of a barber from Leland Avenue. At the unmarked gateway, where Castro Street meets the broad thoroughfare out of San Francisco's downtown, the huge plate glass window of the Twin Peaks bar used to loom like some insolent social signpost: no hiding, no dim lights, just table after table of handsome men in blue jeans, their chests bare on warm afternoons, men who spilled out down Castro Street, in and out of gay beer halls and gay restaurants and gay flower shops, men who sprawled over front steps, leaned languid against brick walls, hundreds and hundreds of men.
So thoroughly was this Harvey Milk's domain that even before his startling election to the San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors, he had begun brandishing the title that later named his biography: "The Mayor of Castro Street." He was a good-humored, big-eared, middle-aged, lecherous New Yorker whose eloquence on the subject of intolerance toward gays could bring impassioned cheers from crowds. The Castro Street camera store he owned with Scott Smith was Milk's base; from there Milk ran one noisy political campaign after another until in 1977, with the nationwide gay press paying elated attention, Harvey Milk won his seat. Homosexuals had attained public office before, and not always by hiding their sexual preference, but no one had ever been elected by displaying his homosexuality with such feisty joy--declaring, again and again, that he deserved election because he was gay. "Harvey was running almost as a beacon light to lesbian and gay people everywhere, and he knew it," says Donald Montwill, a San Francisco cabaret manager who lived in Atlanta when Milk was elected, and still remembers the celebration even there.
It was the same political contest, the Board of Supervisors election in 1977, that brought to office Dan White, the 36-year-old fireman from District 8. District elections, which have since been rescinded, had come to San Francisco only after years of passionate debate, with neighborhood organizers clamoring for some weapon against an amorphous but powerful enemy generally referred to here as "downtown business interests." Leland Avenue was only part of Dan White's district; he represented a southeastern swath of the city that once was so firmly Irish and Italian working class that a now-retired machinist there remembers the rise they used to call "Dago Heights."
Now the Irish and Italians were losing ground out, scattered to the suburbs before the relentless push of Asians, blacks, Filipinos and Hispanics, all the families who brought unfamiliar vegetables to the market shelves and made aging white barbers lock their doors at midday. There were other parts of San Francisco where the same thing was going on, and White managed in his speeches, with his calls to public safety and his often-quoted warning against "social deviates," to give voice to much of the resentment building all over the pastel stucco neighborhoods that had traditionally bred and given solid Catholic education to the city's police and firemen. White had been both: three years with the police department, and then three years with the fire department. Vietnam veteran, before that. Crack baseball player. White was not universally loved by the police--he is said to have been labeled a turncoat after reporting another officer's rough handling of a suspect--but he arrived in public office an unofficial emissary of the people who believed San Francisco was giving way to an assault that would ultimately consume it.
George Moscone, given that particular view of things, was part of the problem. Moscone was an immensely likable man, a Catholic boy from the most sentimentally Italian part of town and a veteran politician who had spent 13 years as a supervisor and then state senator before his election as mayor. He was perceived as a liberal who sympathized with the difficulties of San Francisco's racial minorities and gays: He scattered women and Chinese and Hispanics among his appointed commissions; he hired as police chief an innovative outsider who arrived to an icy reception; when the police department was sued for discrimination, Moscone personally negotiated a settlement that included quotas for minorities and women and awarded enormous damages to certain black officers.
"They hated him because he turned the city over to Them," says Mike Weiss, a San Francisco writer who listened to a lot of anti-Moscone talk during the research for his forthcoming book, "Double Play: The San Francisco City Hall Killings." "But that was political hatred, and political hatreds don't run very deep in most cases. With George it was the added dimension of, 'He turned the city over to them, and he's not good to his wife. Everybody in the city knows he's running around.' "
Weiss, whose book has already been excerpted in local magazines, was the first to say in print what police, reporters and city hall regulars had been saying for years: Moscone had a reputation as a womanizer whose exploits were so ill-concealed that more than one police officer talked about having rescued the mayor from extremely compromising situations. That Moscone chased women was not in itself unforgivable, but it deepened the already considerable hostility between the mayor and the police--which extended, predictably, to the wide circle of police relatives and friends.
That was a taste of the City Hall intrigue that greeted the new Supervisor White, and he quickly established himself as a conservative force on a board that often split clearly into liberal-conservative factions. For a man whom a psychiatrist would later describe as "rigid, unrealistic in the sense of seeing things in black and white, in terms of good and bad," there must have been much to offend in the trade-offs and grudges and day-to-day workings of local politics. And with his fireman's income suddenly gone, White was pressed for money; in 1977 San Francisco supervisors earned a salary of only $9,600. White invested in a Fisherman's Wharf area stand that sold hot potatoes. His wife began working there. But it was apparently not enough to abate the financial and emotional pressures of his supervisor's job, and in November 1978, without warning, Dan White quit.
For the liberal block at City Hall, this was a blessing. Moscone's hard-fought settlement in the suit against the police department, for example, might finally be approved by the Board of Supervisors, who were set 6-5 against the settlement, with White, the former policeman, unalterably opposed. Moscone immediately set about looking for a replacement to name to White's seat. Then White, pressed to stay on by the people who badly wanted him in office--policemen among them, certainly--changed his mind. He wanted his job back. Moscone agreed to take him, then waffled, then decided against it and chose a new man, a politically active federal employe from District 8.
Moscone never told White about his final decision. The news came in a telephone call, the evening of Nov. 26, from a radio reporter. That call, which has since become part of the public legend, was recreated in the teleplay Steve Dobbins wrote for public television here: " 'Well, it was indicated to me that sometime tomorrow the mayor would be announcing your replacement. I would like to find out your feelings on the matter.'
"(LONG PAUSE.) 'Mr. White?' "
Tomorrow: The Verdict