San Francisco Remembers Senator Dianne Feinstein 

Mourners wait in line outside City Hall under the beaming sun during a Bay Area heat wave. Photo by Leila Tselner/SF Foghorn

Late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s life and political career were memorialized during an Oct. 5 memorial service at City Hall, which drew thousands of attendees and prompted several blocks of street closures. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Feinstein’s granddaughter Eileen Mariano were among those who spoke at the event. 

President Biden did not attend the service in person, but gave pre-recorded remarks in which he commemorated Feinstein. “She always served the people of California and our nation for the right reasons — to make life better for everyday people,” he said. 

While the service was initially open to the public, security measures increased after former President Bill Clinton was added as an attendee on Oct. 4, closing the service off to all but 1,500 invited attendees, KRON reported. Law enforcement ensured no one without an invitation was present, turning away thousands. The service was also available to stream online.

Speaker of the House Emerita Nancy Pelosi recalled stories of Feinstein’s political strength. “When Dianne spoke, people listened,” Pelosi said of Feinstein’s time in the Senate. 

Vice President Harris said, “our country has come a long way — you helped move the ball forward.” During the speeches, the Blue Angels fighter jets, which Feinstein advocated for during her time as mayor to honor the United States Armed Forces, flew overhead, often interrupting the speakers. “It’s what she would have wanted,” Pelosi told the crowd. 

Breed gave a eulogy about how Feinstein paved the way for her to be accepted as a leader. Feinstein was the first woman to be elected mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate. “Kids my age always accepted that a woman could be in charge,” Breed said. “She created a world where girls like me could be tough, where we could lead.” 

Schumer recalled how Feinstein personally invited his daughter to religious services during the holidays when she had nowhere else to go to. 

Mariano commemorated her grandmother. “[She] taught me to play chess,” Mariano said. “And she would always sing me the song ‘You Are My Sunshine.’” Mariano told the crowd the advice the late senator gave her: “Do something that you can do for your entire life.” 

The day before the memorial, members of the public had the opportunity to attend a public viewing held at the rotunda of City Hall. As some residents stood in line for the viewing, they reflected on her legacy. 

Jim Martinez, self-identified gay veteran and 30-year resident of San Francisco, said, “I really miss her a lot because she was a fighter — she fought for LGBTQ+, she fought for gun reform, women’s rights… She fought for everything. She’s just a plain fighter.” 

In the 1970’s, Feinstein was a public supporter of gay rights and anti-discrimination laws. She supported the extremely controversial Harvey Milk anti-discrimination ordinance, and in 2011 she introduced the Respect for Marriage Act that would provide legal protections to same-sex couples and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. 

San Francisco resident Julie Makel said she remembers Feinstein for always “sticking to her guns.” 

“She was so passionate with us over and over, and just, from there just kind of went on and became just this phenomenal, dedicated public servant. It’s amazing what she’s done all these years for the city, for the state, for the country. She’s incredible.” said Makel. Throughout her career, Feinstein led the charge to federally ban assault weapons and preserve seven million acres of desert in California.  

During her time in the Senate, Feinstein took health-related absences, leading some to push for her retirement. The fact that the senator did not retire created controversy, since she died at age 90 while still holding office. Sophie Wolff, a junior sociology major, said, “I really respected her for her gun control advocacy, but I think her death can serve as a reminder of why term limits are necessary within our government. Condolences to her family.”  

Alyssa Traina, a junior politics major, said, “I think she represents a different generation of women involved in politics. I think most young people grew up with her presence so secure. I’m sure if I was a little girl in the 70s, I would have felt different.” 

“If she had retired 10 years ago, five years ago, even two years ago, we might have a fonder idea of her as a person — but instead, her greed and inability to recognize when she can no longer fulfill her duties of the office prevent her legacy from being something her and her allies would like,” Traina said. 

Judy Koran Taylor, a San Francisco resident, said that she will remember Feinstein through “how she fought for women, climate change, the Blue Angels… I appreciate having those, the cable cars.” 

When asked how she thought Senator Feinstein would be remembered in 100 years, Koran Taylor said she thought Feinstein would be remembered as a pioneer. “She was a strong, strong person at a very young age, and she never lost her strength.”

Niki Sedaghat contributed to the reporting of this story.


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