This is the original unedited
version of my interview with Dianne Feinstein. A
new (British) editor inexplicably removed all reference
to Richard Blum, now Dianne's husband.
They had called her many things. Some did it with
malice, some with envy, some with concern, some with
disappointment, but all with more than a twinge of
respect. Goody Two-Shoes. Cassandra. Joan of Arc
become the Wicked Witch of City Hall. They said she
was too independent, too brilliant, too cold, too
beautiful, too humorless, too ambitious.
But when Dianne Feinstein tood up, tall and pale
and dignified , on that bitter, cold, grey morning
of Wednesday, November 29 1978, she kindled a flicker
of hope in the hearts of numbed San Franciscans.
As she offered a warm and eloquent tribute to the
murdered Mayor, George Moscone, and the slain supervisor,
Harvey Milk, she began to restore the city's shattered
sense of self-respect.
Only nine months earlier, she had contradicted Milk
during the swearing-in ceremony for new supervisors. " A
true function of government," that generous
gay man had said, "is not just to pass laws
and approve appropriations, but to give hope."
"Hope is fine," replied the pragmatic
president of the 11-member legislative board, "but
you can't live on hope. The name of the game is six
On that bleak November morning, she rose above the
rules of the game. For a city still steeped in shock
and bewilderment at the Guyana mass suicide-murder
orgy ignited by a false messiah, the subsequent double-murder
by a "law and order" supervisor seemed
like the extension of a nightmare. Minutes after
Feinstein heard shots in the office adjacent to hers,
she was the first person to reach Harvey Milk. "I
tried to get his pulse," she later recalled, "but
a bullet had gone through his wrist; all there was
As thousands gathered to grieve in Civic Center,
the Acting Mayor re-affirmed the essential quality
of a community that has been stunned too often by
"The spirit of this city," the native
daughter declared with unshakeable conviction, "is
one of promise and hope, of progress, of generosity,
of love, tolerance and forgiveness. If today's vision
of the city is clouded and if our spirits are numbed,
tomorrow's future can be a bright one."
Listening to this calm-faced woman, few realized
how heavy an echo of personal heartbreak and loss
permeated her words. She was just regaining her own
sense of equilibrium after the long drawn-out painful
death seven months earlier of her husband, Dr. Bertram
Feinstein, a distinguished and popular neurosurgeon.
Theirs had been an unusually close, mutually supportive
and happy 15-year marriage. In 1975, cancer had also
struck down the father she idolized: Dr . Leon Goldman,
a highly respected professor who was internationally
known for his contributions to surgery of the digestive
and endocrine systems.
She was only beginning to recover from this double-blow,
when she was helped by a new friendship with Richard
Blum. A lean and lanky 6'4" self-made millionaire
at 43, Blum was founder and co-chairman of Mayor
Moscone's Fiscal Advisory Commission. He and Feinstein
had met about a year ago when she asked him to explain
his Commission's report.
Then in the fall of 1978, after months of looking
worn and ashen, a radiant Dianne Feinstein suddenly
emerged in public, escorted by the recently divorced
Blum. The occasion was the 50th wedding anniversary
of Morris Bernstein, an old family friend and a Democratic
power broker. Everybody who was anybody was there.
Later in mid- November, the city's ace columnist
Herb Caen reported that a sick Dianne Feinstein had
been flown out of the Himalayas on a Royal Nepal
helicopter while on a mountain climbing expedition
The popular diagnosis was "Delhi belly," Feinstein
said, grimacing and laughing about the ailment during
an exclusive interview at her home five days after
being elected Mayor by a 6-2 vote of the depleted
board of supervisors. The dissenters were her two
former conservative allies. Her other ally and protege,
Dan White, a former city fireman and policeman, was
in jail, charged with the murders of Moscone and
Milk. But if a municipal election had been held that
week, it is a safe bet that the dedicated woman,
known as the city's only full-time supervisor, would
have been the overwhelming choice of an exhausted
electorate, inspired by her fortitude and grateful
for her leadership. What the public didn't know about
was the courage she showed during the past few years
when she had lived with the constant threat of violence
aimed expressly at her. The Feinsteins had had police
protection since December 1976 when Katherine, her
daughter by a brief first marriage, looked out of
her bedroom window, spotted a plastic package clearly
marked "Gel Explo" and called police. They
came immediately and dismantled the bomb. The following
March, police were called in again to examine damage
caused by BB gun shots at the Feinsteins' beach front
vacation home, south of the city. But Feinstein told
me that she doesn't live in fear. "You can't
live that way," she emphasized, ignoring the
presence of a police officer sitting in an unmarked
car across the street from the Mayor's elegant old
brick and stucco Victorian Classic house. "I've
seen a lot of death since I've been in public life," Her
Honor said. "When a policeman is shot, I've
made it a practice to see him and how the trauma
unit is working at San Francisco General Hospital.
So I've seen a great deal of blood and emergency
work and sat with policemen's wives while their husbands
were dying. It's just a risk we all take. You do
what you can to be prudent. Beyond that, you take
She seemed more uneasy about taking time from her
new duties to give an interview that she felt should
have been postponed. Her Saturday afternoon calendar
was crowded with urgent city business. The strain
of the preceding week was obvious. She had lost 15
pounds during the Himalayan illness and had a nagging
cough . Still, she seemed younger than her 45 years
and more vulnerable than her public persona had ever
indicated. In her casual light blue cotton slack
suit, she didn't look like the $55,596-a - year chief
executive of a $1 billion municipal empire, but she
is . Everything in her life has pointed to this moment.
Although she had been elected supervisor twice —
the first time in 1969 — with the highest number
of votes and thus automatically elevated to the presidency
of the board, she had been decisively defeated in
two mayorality bids in 1971 and 1975. However, the
achievement of her dream through the city's tragedy
brought no sense of elation.
For the moment, she is relaxed in the handsome spacious
living room with its comfortable green velvet chairs
and sofa. The walnut-paneled entry hall is richly
carpeted in crimson. Samantha, their Yorkshire terrier,
barks sharply and then subsides. Everything is a
reminder of the life the Feinsteins shared.Her husband
who was 20 years older and took enormous pride in
his wife's achievements, did not hesitate to use
those priceless surgeon's hands to nail up her campaign
While she read books on government and history in
her spare time, he played "great jazz" on
their Baldwin piano. The new mayor is a demon player
too - of charades involving old movie titles. Once
when no one understood why she was vigorously waving
the flag, she lay down on the floor, realistically
simulating a woman in labor - and voila! "The
Birth of the Nation." On the wall is a friend's
portrait of husband, wife and daughter, dressed in
identical white Irish sweators, against a painted
Persian rug backdrop. The lovely Robert Russin sculptured
torsos are all inspired by the poetry of Omar Khayyam.
A large softly polished bronze entwined man and woman
is titled: "This is my beloved."
The tears she had controlled all week flowed when
she mentioned her husband's six terrible months of
unremitting pain and his unwillingness to accept
Her pale grey-blue eyes welled again when she recalled
the generous bachelor uncle who had exerted a "profound
influence" on her. He was a "character," she
said lovingly, a gambler, a man with little education
and a great admiration for the non-violent teachings
of Gandhi. A woman's clothing manufacturer, he had
put her father and another uncle through medical
school. She used to tag along with the big, heavy
-set, genial, white-maned man on his long walks,
greeting derelicts and big shots alike, all over
the city. She accompanied him on his fascinated visits
to what he called the "board of stupidfiers," as
well as to baseball games where he bet on every pitch.
At the opening of the 1979 season, she'll be the
first "lefty" mayor to throw out the ball.
Dianne's Uncle Morris constantly lectured her about
the importance of education. With his pals, he wagered
early on that his precocious and pretty little niece
would one day become the mayor.
Although she has the air of a woman who has led
a charmed and protected life, the reality was not
quite so simple. Despite her "establishment" credentials
of graduation from the Convent of the Sacred Heart
high school and Stanford University, her Jewish father
and Russian Orthodox mother both came from families
which had experienced extremely difficult struggles.
"My father's father came from Romania. He was
one of 11 children. They were very poor. My grandmother
worked in their shoe store. A couple of her children
were born in the back room. She was very proud that
she was able to deliver one child and then go back
and complete a sale. Each child was designated to
take care of the next youngest. The chain of responsibility
went right down the line."
Her mother was born in St. Petersburg, the daughter
of a Czarist Army officer who left Russia, taking
his family through Shanghai to Eureka, California,
where he died at 32, leaving his widow and four children
destitute. Later, Dianne's beautiful mother became
a model for one of San Francisco's most fashionable
"My mother's mother was so bitter about her
early experiences in this country that she never
spoke English, even to us. My mother grew up ill.
She had tuberculosis and came to San Francisco as
a small child. This is where my story becomes more
"It turned out that when she was very young,
she contracted a kind of flu - somewhat like encephalitis.
It later comes back in terms of brain atrophy. My
mother is now in a locked facility, her brain almost
totally deteriorated. She had some very disturbing
- and self-destructive - behavior patterns. It made
my life very difficult and it had a profound effect
on me and my two younger sisters. When we looked
for psychiatric help for her, we couldn't get it
because she had no insight. That portion of the brain
which controlled insight was gone."
They did not understand the reason behind her behavior
until the early '70s when the CAT scanner was developed.
"I don't know if my childhood experience explains
the reason I am able to take pressure," the
mayor said. "I FEEL all the time I'm taking
pressure, but it has been a part of my life. My mother
would do strange things. The night before I took
my college boards, I was kicked out of the house
and slept in the car in the garage. But you learn.
You do go on. You perform . I don't have any explanation
"Was your father a source of strength during
" My father,"she responded , drawing
out the phrase with loving pride, "was very
much a scholar. He didn't care at all about material
possessions. He'd get a hole in his shoe and put
cardboard in it. He was a wonderful, wonderful man,
a real teacher. When I was a child, he would take
me out on his rounds and I'd get sick to my stomach.I'd
sit out there on those wooden benches in the hallways
of the old hospital, waiting for him. I grew up hating
hospitals. Each time I'd go in, I'd have a physical
reaction. He wanted me to be a doctor. The only "D" I
ever got in my first year at Stanford was in biology.
I told him, 'See, I can't possibly be a doctor,'
but he said he got a 'D' too. I knew that wasn't
Her parents' conflict over religion was another
source of tension. Dr. Goldman wanted Dianne raised
as Jewish. The mother wanted her daughters to have
every advantage she had lacked - and a Catholic upbringing.
So while Dianne attended Jewish confirmation classes
at the impressively domed Temple Emanu-el, she also
had to go to lessons in doctrine at Sacred Heart.
"I raised a number of questions about doctrine
which were answered. I had a chance to develop a
great respect for the faith and understanding of
it. Catholicism at the time was very appealing to
me because of the warmth of the church, the amount
you took on faith. It was something I didn't have
to think about. But then I went to Spain while I
was at Stanford and I saw the problems where the
church controls the government so much. I was also
exploring Protestant religions because I was pinned
to a football player who planned to become a minister.
I asked our Spanish guide where we could find a Protestant
church and he wouldn't tell me. It was right around
the corner. "
At Stanford, she learned "that the question
of faith plays a role when you're making a life-long
decision." She began studying comparative religion
and the impact of religion on people. "I think
as the years went on, my identity as a Jew grew stronger.
Judaism is not as — how to say it? — it's a much
simpler religion. It doesn't have a lot of crutches
During college she finally gave up earlier romantic
dreams about becoming an actress and indulging what
she calls the "swashbuckling" side of her
personality that loved "The Scarlet Pimpernell" and
Horatio Hornblower adventures. She just didn't do
well in drama classes. What came naturally was her
incisive interest in political science and history.
She was elected vice-president of her class, the
top spot that a woman could hope for then. Soon after
graduation, she became a fellow in the Coro Foundation,
an organization that inables young people to get
intensive practical education in government by placing
them as trainees in public agencies.
As a Coro intern, she visited most of the penal
institutions in northern California to do a study
on the adminstration of criminal justice. While observing
the San Francisco District Attorney's office, she
met and eloped with a brash young assistant district
attorney, Jack Berman, who at 18 had been president
of the California Young Democrats. They had one daughter
, but the marriage ended in bitterness four years
At the same time, she became active in her first
political campaign: working for Adlai Stevenson.
Years later she admired the Kennedys as the "bright
hope for America" and worked hard in Bobby's
Her Democratic activities didn't make life any easier
for daughter Kathy, "practically" the only
Democratic child at the exclusive Sarah Dix Hamlin
school. Kathy survived the snobbery with uncommonly
good common sense and a solid appreciatiion for the
Now a student at the University of California in
Berkeley, on the eve of her marriage to an amiable
young contractor, she feels out of Momma's shadow
for the first time. Kathy allows that she is the
only person with the nerve to speak up frankly to
her mother. However, when Kathy - who is interested
in writing - assisted her on a newspaper article
and frankly suggested that the by-line read, "By
Frick and Frack Feinstein," it didn't cut any
ice with Mom. She was not amused.
For five of Kathy's early years, Dianne worked as
Governor Edmund 'Pat' Brown's appointee on the California
Women's Board of Terms and Parole. She lost 25 pounds
that first year in a job that called for 10 working
days a month involving sentencing and parole programs.
It gave her an insight into less fortunate lives
that she is not about to forget now. When she married
Dr. Feinstein in 1962, they actually honeymooned
adjacent to the women's prison at Corona. "I
had to go to work and hear cases the rest of the
week," she recalled. Their second honeymoon
the following year wasn't so different. She visited
13 prisons in Hong Kong and Japan.
"Bert was delighted that I had this kind of
interest. He didn't marry me to be a housewife. His
neurosurgery was very taxing. His practice was largely
people who were total catastrophes - that others
would not help. People with cerebral palsy, very
bad epilepsies. The tragedy of his death was that
he was making some real breakthroughs in the surgical
treatment of uncontrollable epileptics by implanting
electrodes deep in the brain."
Dr. Feinstein was as interested in her prison and
political work, as she was in his practice. Two instances
came to her mind immediately. He sat in on one of
her first cases involving a woman sentenced for traumatic
injury to a child. The child who had become hydro-cephalic
as a product of the beating had been brought by the
grandmother to Dr. Feinstein for treatment.
"It was an incredible happenstance. Bert got
very interested because of the terrible things done
to the infant by the mother and the lack of insight
that mother had into reasons for her actions."
Mrs. Feinstein began reading his medical books in
order to understand his specialty. 'I became interested
in aneurisms for some reason," she said, laughing
and looking very young. " One night he had to
operate on an aneurism and there were two ways of
handling it. An aneurism is a weak spot in the wall
of a blood vessel. If it pops, it can be fatal. If
it stabilizes for 10 to 15 days, the surgeon may
put a clip at the base of the aneurism or tie the
blood vessel before it gets to the aneurism. I asked
which procedure he was going to follow and he told
me. I said, 'I think you should do it this way.'
We were debating and suddenly he looked at me and
said, 'My God, what's wrong with me? I'm listening
to you!'" The reader may feel free to assume
he beat a hasty retreat to the sanctuary of his surgery.
Her kind of inquiring intelligence combined with
a demand for the same perfectionism in others has
driven some of her staff up the wall. Aides used
to complain that she doesn't have to know everything,
do everything, dot the I's, lick the stamps or insist
on a proper green salad at a campaign luncheon in
an Irish saloon where the main dish is Irish stew
and it's exotic enough to see 'Feinstein' inscribed
on the green banners.
On the other hand, people on her staff are awed
by the gutsy dame who rushed out of a city car to
apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a man who had
collapsed in the street. When he vomited, she gamely
spit it out and continued trying to save his life.
(The incident occurred three months after her husband
Liberals who admired her for marching against the
Vietnam war, working for civil rights and supporting
school integration felt she had become too "law
and order" oriented in her demands to drive
the smut-peddlers and sleazy movie operators out
of the high-crime, inner-city "Tenderloin." Not
many of her opponents would do what she has done:
don a frowsy blonde wig and stand alone in the dark
to study conditions and determine if parolees she
knew were back on the streets, strung out on drugs
again. She made it clear in the first days of her
new office that a high priority was to accomplish
a police clean-up of the "Tenderloin" to
make it safe for the elderly poor.
That concern with law and order may have displeased
liberals, but then Feinstein, like all politicians,
is not beloved by all factions. Feminists have occasionally
attacked her for not adopting some of their favorite
positions, although she fought for the ERA, Head
Start programs, child care and maternity leave. She
also has the support of the gay community - the nation's
largest homosexual voting bloc. And while she fought
for an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against
homosexuals, she says: "The right of an individual
to live as he or she chooses can become offensive.
The gay community is going to have to face this.
It's fine for us to live here respecting each other's
lifestyles, but that doesn't mean imposing them on
others. I don't want San Francisco to set up a backlash."
Above all else, she wants to bring the city she
loves together in a spirit of unity and reconciliation.
San Francisco has never been out of her mind for
very long. When she returned from her Himalayan vacation
that "traumatic Guyana Saturday, " before
she heard the deadly news, she was reflecting on
the beauty of the skyline and her own happiness in
being in government service.
"I kept thinking about how much we do to help
people as compared to Nepal, and India where you
have 600 million people and a caste system and very
old ideas. They have incredible problems and a very
low quality of life. We also visited the Dalai Lama
and saw what was happening with the Tibetan refugees."
The Tibetans had become an interest of Blum's when
he studied Eastern religions for a year at the University
of Vienna. He became attached to the non-materialistic
philosophy of Buddhism, even though he was studying
business administration at UC. During six trips to
the Himalayas, he has observed the progress of the
Dalai Lama's followers, and also founded a Sherpa
scholarship fund. These Eastern interests are combined
with volunteer work aimed at restoring jobs and communities
in urban inner cities.
Blum and Dianne had decided not to visit Calcutta
and Bombay, Mrs. Feinstein said, "because those
are very heavy experiences in terms of human suffering.
I had enough of it in New Delhi. It was the first
time I had ever seen lepers in large numbers. One
woman came up with a normal six-month old child in
her arms - and as you know, leprosy is contageous
over long periods. That kind of thing would never
happen here. People so severely afflicted would receive
help from the government. In Nepal, there was nothing.
People were leaving hospitals which couldn't help
them and literally coming to this place to die."
The new mayor has had enough of bloody headline-making
deaths and the deeper private pains. "Personally
, I knew I had to make a new life for myself or I
was going to drown in grief. I might not be able
to forget the past, but I couldn't live in it.
"Dick Blum has been super. He's interested
in government, a good thinker and dedicated. He's
been a good friend through some very hard times for
me. He understands what I am going through. I think
there are very few men who wouldn't be threatened
because he knows how much I cared for Bert and still
do. I think it's hard for women to be totally alone
without a form of emotional support in this political
process. Bert always gave me that support and I depended
on it. I feel very good to have someone I can depend
The suffering, grief and loneliness had been terrible,
she noted, "but you have to chart a course that's
right for you. Finally, I feel better able to give
to people in a much warmer way. I think I'm a better
person for the tragedy I've gone through than I was
before. I think it's made a marked change in my personality.
I used to be much more categorical. I'm not so fast
to condemn. It's easier for me to relate to people
now, to speak more directly in a human sense than
ever before. After all the learning and academia
that's been poured into you, you need the other qualities
too because people don't respond necessarily on the
basis of clear reason, but because you have appealed
to them one on one."
A black pharmacist who has admired her work in the
black community for years watched her at a Christmas
party for the elderly poor and said, "Thank
God, we have people like Mrs. Feinstein to step in
A cynical woman voter put it more cautiously: "It
would be nice to have someone to admire again."
The Ladies Home Journal March 1979