From a three-story gothic temple on San Francisco's Geary Boulevard, exerting an almost mystical hold over an army of followers estimated in the thousands, the chrismatic Rev. Jim Jones worked his political magic.
At the drop of a bat, he was able to muster large crowds to assist politicians in need. The Jones minions turned out for last-minute leafleting, to drive voters to the pools and, frequently, to provide a cheering background crowd for out-of-towners on the campaign trail. Rosalynn Carter was among them.
In early September 1976 the presidential candidate's wife arrived in San Francisco for the grand opening of the city's Democratic Party headquarters in a seedy downtown storefront.
She finished her speech to mild applause, and then a soft-spoken minister stepped to the podium to what was reported as a thundering, foot-stomping ovation. It was Jim Jones, who took credit for delivering 600 of the 750 people at the rally in Peoples Temple buses - old folks, families, children, people of all races.
"It was embarrassing," a local rally organizer told New West magazine. "The wife of a guy who was going to the White House was shown up by somebody named Jones."
Jones exerted enormous political clout, by most accounts, and state and local politicians took advantage of every chance to address his overflowing pews. "When he had an event, you just knew a lot of people would attend, and politicians don't run away from a place where they know people will congregate," Mayor George Moscone said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Moscone describes Jones as a "soft-spoken man who never pounded the table. People believed in him." That's one reason, the mayor says, he appointed Jones to the city's Housing Authority, a position Jones had to leave under pressure in August 1977.
The mayor liked Jones' approach in dealing with the poor and the frustrated.
"He was very effective," says Moscone. "He understood their plight; he didn't turn a deaf ear to their pleas; he turned them away from violence and showed them someone cared."
It was Jones' apparent ability to inspire society's outcasts and mold them into an effective political force that lured a number of powerful politicians - Moscone, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally, State Assemblyman Willie Brown - to court his flock.
"He could always turn out people for a cause," and they would work very, very hard," said Joe Holsinger, administrative aide to the slain California congressman, Leo J. Ryan. "He was a political influence in the city."
But there was a darker side to Jones' power. When New West magazine editors prepared to print an article last year on the Peoples Temple, they were flooded with hundreds of letters and phone calls from church members as well as prominent politicians and city business leaders - all urging another look.
One anonymous letter said in part:
"The editor . . . does not seem to understand the precarious faith people from disadvantaged backgrounds have in the system, and their proclivity toward militant reaction to what they might perceive as an unfair or unwarranted attack."