Only hours after Mayor Diane Feinstein had routed the effort to recall her, two developments of national political significance emerged.
First, Feinstein, with her political opposition in despairing disarray and her own November reelection virtually guaranteed, is now a certified national leader of the Democratic Party. As she proved in her remarkable 4-to-1 victory, she is an accomplished, effective politician. There are currently no Democratic women in the Senate or the Statehouses; the pro-ERA Democrats need Diane Feinstein.
The second development is that, in spite of the voters' apparent repudiation of political fringe types on Tuesday, the selection of San Francisco to host the 1984 Democratic National Convention is shown to be a high-risk political move that could haunt the Democrats in the 1984 campaign.
On election night, with recognized hyperbole, the mayor toasted her bizarre, if beautiful, home town as "indeed an island of sanity." But there was no exaggeration Wednesday morning when she said to and of her potential November challengers: "Anybody who files against me is going to get creamed."
Two months ago such optimism did not pervade the mayor's camp. It is not easy, during a recession, to be an elected executive at any level of government. Incumbents, including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, have frequently won reelection by convincing voters to concentrate on their challengers' vices rather than on their own virtues. A recall leaves the incumbent with no flawed human opponent with whom to be favorably compared. Sometimes, a somebody can be beat by an idealized nobody.
Adroitly, the Feinstein campaign made the election into a public referendum on the recall itself. Recall proponents were criticized for the cost and the timing--six months before a scheduled election--of the recall. The mayor's controversial veto of legislation that would have extended city health insurance to the "domestic partners" of homosexual city employees turned out to be a plus for her; voters saw her as decisive and strong.
Strong is also the impression television may provide the nation of the Democrats who meet in San Francisco next July. It was once said of Bernard Baruch, a truly distinguished American with a penchant for being photographed while on park benches, that he could, at distances of up to two blocks, actually hear the sound of film being loaded in a camera. In the case of Sister Boom-Boom, the transvestite in modified nun's habit with white face and black net stockings, and other contemporary San Francisco exhibitionists, it's videotape and TV mini-cams that they can detect, and at much greater distances. Publicity is their passion; attention and exposure are their oxygen.
Obviously, not all exhibitionists are gay. But many San Francisco gays apparently do not consider themselves honestly "out of the closet" until they audibly and visibly slam the closet door.
At the Feinstein headquarters on election night, there were all kinds of ordinary San Franciscans celebrating the victory. There were also probably more male earlobes with rings than at any time since the filming of "Treasure Island," and more people with raspberry streaks in their hair than you see on an average Tuesday. On the 11 o'clock news, the more unordinary were the ones who sought the TV mini-cams and whom the mini-cams sought.
Like heliotropic flowers that seek the sun, exhibitionists crave TV. Per- capita, Feinstein's city has more exposure addicts than Chicago or Detroit. The mayor is surely now a leader of her party; what may not be so sure to the nation after the San Francisco convention is where her party wants to lead.