George R. Moscone Scholarship
The George R. Moscone Scholarship was established in honor of the Hastings alumnus and former Mayor of San Francisco to promote his ideals of public service.
San Francisco of the 1960’s and 70’s was a very different place from San Francisco of 2018. Communities of color, the LGBTQ community, women and neighborhood activists were flat out disenfranchised. None really had a voice, most were downright oppressed and decisions about their communities did not involve them. With the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s that began to change. But it took leadership and advocacy by public officials to drive through legislation and make the diverse appointments that ultimately opened the door for these groups to assert leadership themselves. First among them was Supervisor, State Senator and Mayor George Moscone. As a Supervisor in the 60’s fighting the Panhandle Freeway that would have violated Golden Gate Park, he identified neighborhood leaders whom he later, as Mayor, appointed to City Commissions. One, Susan Bierman, was later elected to the Board of Supervisors. In the early 70’s in Sacramento he drove through legislation that decriminalized various sexual acts between consenting adults. Later, as Mayor, he appointed openly gay people to City Commissions. One, Harvey Milk, was elected to the Board of Supervisors. Moscone opened up government. More importantly he created pathways for participation and true self-governance.
Early Life and Education
George R. Moscone was born in the Italian-American enclave of San Francisco’s Marina District, California. His father was George Joseph Moscone, a prison guard at nearby San Quentin, and his mother, Lena, was a homemaker.
Moscone attended St. Brigid’s, and then St. Ignatius College Preparatory, where he was an all-city basketball star. He then attended College of the Pacific on a basketball scholarship and played basketball for the Tigers.
Moscone then studied at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where he received his law degree. He married Gina Bondanza, who he had known since she was in grade school, in 1954. The Moscones would go on to have four children. After serving in the United States Navy, Moscone started private practice in 1956.
As a young man playing basketball and as a young lawyer, Moscone became close friends with John L. Burton, who would later become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. John Burton’s older brother, Phillip, a member of the California State Assembly, recruited Moscone to run for an Assembly seat in 1960 as a Democrat. Though he lost that race, Moscone would go on to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1963. On the Board, Moscone was known for his defense of the poor, racial minorities and small business owners, as well as supporting the first successful fight in San Francisco to block construction of a proposed freeway that would have cut through Golden Gate Park and several neighborhoods.
California State Senator
In 1966 Moscone ran for and won a seat in the California State Senate, representing the 10th District in San Francisco County. Moscone was quickly rising through the ranks of the California Democratic Party and became closely associated with a loose alliance of progressive politicians in San Francisco led by the Burton brothers. This alliance was known as the Burton Machine and included John Burton, Phillip Burton, and Assemblyman Willie Brown. Soon after his election to the State Senate, Moscone was elected by his party to serve as Majority Leader. He was reelected to the 10th District seat in 1970 and to the newly redistricted 6th District seat, representing parts of San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, in 1974. He successfully sponsored legislation to institute a school lunch program for California students, as well as a bill legalizing abortion that was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. In 1974 Moscone briefly considered a run for governor of California, but dropped out after a short time in favor of California Secretary of State Jerry Brown.
Moscone was considered ahead of his time as an early proponent of gay rights. In conjunction with his friend and ally in the Assembly, Willie Brown, Moscone managed to pass a bill repealing California’s sodomy law. The repeal was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown.
Mayor of San Francisco
On December 19, 1974, Moscone announced he would run for Mayor of San Francisco in the 1975 race. In a close race in November of 1975, Moscone placed first with conservative city supervisor John Barbagelata second and supervisor Dianne Feinstein coming in third. Moscone and Barbagelata thus both advanced to the mandated runoff election in December where Moscone narrowly defeated the conservative supervisor by fewer than 5,000 votes. Liberals also won the city’s other top executive offices that year as Joseph Freitas was elected District attorney and Richard Hongisto was re-elected to his office of Sheriff.
Members of the People’s Temple leftist religious cult saturated San Francisco neighborhoods, distributing slate cards for Moscone, Joseph Freitas and Hongisto. For the rest of his life, Barbagelata maintained that the People’s Temple had committed massive election fraud on behalf of Moscone by bussing people in from out of town to vote multiple times under the names of deceased San Francisco residents.
The Peoples Temple also worked to get out the vote in precincts where Moscone received a 12 to 1 vote margin over Barbagelata. After Peoples Temple’s work and votes by Temple members were instrumental in delivering a close victory for Moscone, Moscone appointed Temple leader Jim Jones as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Commission.
Moscone’s first year as Mayor was spent preventing the San Francisco Giants professional baseball team from moving to Toronto and advocating a citywide ballot initiative in favor of district election to the Board of Supervisors. Moscone was the first mayor to appoint large numbers of women, gays and lesbians and racial minorities to city commissions and advisory boards. In 1977, he appointed Del Martin, the first openly gay woman and Kathleen Hardiman Arnold, now Kathleen Rand Reed, the first Black woman, as Commissioners on the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women (SFCOSW). Moscone also appointed liberal Oakland Police Chief Charles Gain to head the San Francisco Police Department. Gain (and by extension Moscone) became highly unpopular among rank and file San Francisco police officers for proposing a settlement to a lawsuit brought by minorities claiming discriminatory recruiting practices by the police force.
In April 1977 Moscone stood up to officials in Washington by supporting 25-day occupation of San Francisco’s Federal Building by a group of over 100 people with disabilities demanding their civil rights in what would become known as the 504 Sit-In. While federal officials hoped to starve out the protesters, the mayor visited them and arranged to have portable showers and towels brought in. Thanks in part to Moscone’s support, the occupation was successful, and helped pave the way for passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) thirteen years later.
In 1977 Moscone, Freitas and Hongisto all easily survived a recall election pushed by defeated Moscone opponent John Barbagelata and business interests. That year also marked the passage of the district election system by San Francisco voters. The city’s first district elections for Board of Supervisors took place in November 1977. Among those elected were the city’s first openly gay Supervisor, Harvey Milk, single mother and attorney Carol Ruth Silver, Chinese-American Gordon Lau and fireman and police officer Dan White. Milk, Silver, and Lau along with John Molinari and Robert Gonzales made up Moscone’s allies on the Board, while Dan White, Dianne Feinstein, Quentin Kopp, Ella Hill Hutch, Lee Dolson, and Ron Pelosi formed a loosely organized coalition to oppose Moscone and his initiatives. Feinstein was elected President of the Board of Supervisors on a 6–5 vote, with Moscone’s supporters backing Lau. It was generally believed that Feinstein, having twice lost election to the office of mayor, would support Kopp against Moscone in the 1979 election and retire rather than run for the Board again.
Late in 1978, Dan White resigned from the Board of Supervisors. His resignation was an indication that Moscone would choose White’s successor, and thus could tip the Board’s balance of power in Moscone’s favor. Recognizing this matter as such, those who supported a more conservative agenda talked White into changing his mind. White then requested that Moscone appoint him to his former seat.
Moscone originally indicated a willingness to reconsider, but more liberal city leaders, including Harvey Milk, lobbied him against the idea, and Moscone ultimately decided not to appoint White. On November 27, 1978, three days after Moscone’s 49th birthday, White went to San Francisco City Hall to meet with Moscone and make a final plea for appointment. When Moscone refused to reconsider his decision, White pulled a gun out of his suit jacket and shot and killed Moscone. White then went to Milk’s office and shot Milk, killing him as well.
Dianne Feinstein, President of the Board of Supervisors, was sworn in as the city’s new mayor and in the following years would emerge as one of California’s most prominent politicians.
White later turned himself in at the police station where he was formerly an officer. The term “Twinkie defense” has its origins in the murder trial that followed, in which Dan White was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter. White was released from prison and then shortly afterward committed suicide in 1985.
Moscone is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California alongside his mother Lena.
Moscone Center, San Francisco’s largest convention center and exhibition hall, and Moscone Recreation Center are named in his honor. Moscone and Milk also have schools named after them: George Moscone Elementary, Harvey Milk Elementary and Harvey Milk High School.
In 1980, sculptor Robert Arneson was commissioned to create a monument to Moscone to be installed in the new Moscone Convention Center. The bust portraying Moscone was done in Arneson’s expressionisticstyle and was accepted by San Francisco’s Art Commission. Arneson included as part of the decoration on the pedestal the likeness of a pistol that gained public disapproval. At issue were references to Harvey Milk, the assassinations, the “Twinkie Defense”, the White Night riots, and Dianne Feinstein’s mayoral succession. Arneson refused to make alterations to the work, the commission was returned to him, and it was later resold. In a critique of the event, Frederic Stout wrote that “Arneson’s mistake was in presenting the city mothers/fathers with something honest, engaging and provoking, that is to say, a work of art. What they wanted, of course, was not a work of art at all. They wanted an object of ritual magic: the smiling head of a dead politician.” In 1994 a new bust by San Francisco artist Spero Anargyros was unveiled, depicting Moscone holding a pen, below which are words from Moscone: “San Francisco is an extraordinary city, because its people have learned to live together with one another, to respect each other, and to work with each other for the future of their community. That’s the strength and beauty of this city – it’s the reason why the citizens who live here are the luckiest people in the world.”
Moscone was portrayed by Victor Garber in Gus Van Sant’s Harvey Milk biopic, Milk. Their murders were also the subject of the Dead Kennedys’ version of the Sonny Curtis song “I Fought the Law”. Moscone’s then-14-year-old son Jonathan later co-wrote the play “Ghost Light” with Tony Taccone about the effects the assassination had on him. It premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2011.
This scholarship is awarded to a second or third year student demonstrating financial need and academic achievement.
A resume, autobiographical statement and typewritten essay must be submitted.
Essay topic: A discussion of your philosophy and commitment to public service, individual rights and civil liberties. The Essay must be related to the subject, Mayor Moscone, and his ideals of public service. Please watch the video documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRvEE7LeXDo&feature=youtu.be
More information can be found about Mayor Moscone here:
LA Times article
Length of essay: Approximately 2,000 typewritten words.
Number of finalists: Up to six.