Under the gilded dome of San Francisco City Hall, Bay Area residents paid their respects Wednesday to Dianne Feinstein, the longest-tenured female U.S. Senator and a towering figure in the city’s politics, having served as mayor through one of its most turbulent decades.
Feinstein, who died last week at the age of 90, lay in state as hundreds of mourners lined up throughout the day to view the closed casket draped in an American flag. A public funeral service is set for Thursday at City Hall and is expected to be attended by Feinstein’s close friend and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.
At Wednesday’s viewing, longtime San Francisco resident Florence Bryant remembered Feinstein as a steadying presence as San Francisco’s first female mayor. She credited Feinstein with helping the city heal after fellow Supervisor and gay rights icon Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down at City Hall almost 45 years ago.
“She was tough,” Bryant said. “In those days, there weren’t many women in office.”
Bryant said she also admired the San Francisco native, credited with guiding the city through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, for championing LGBTQ causes.
“When you would see her on TV, she always seemed genuine,” Bryant said. “And I’ve always liked what she stood for.”
During her time as senator representing California, Feinstein continued to push for LGBTQ rights, including casting one of the few votes against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“She represented a very smart, powerful example of leadership in the United States government,” said Cooper Dawson, 32. “And especially for me, I’m married, and she’s one of the reasons why I can be married to my husband now.”
A visitor takes a photograph at the casket of Senator Dianne Feinstein inside City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in San Francisco, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
On Wednesday, officials, including Pelosi and State Sen. Scott Weiner, also came to pay their respects. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who worked closely with Feinstein during the AIDS crisis, made a brief appearance accompanied by Mayor London Breed, as the sound of solemn classical music filled the hall.
San Francisco resident Shu Lee Ong made the trip with her 23-year-old daughter Olivia, together writing down their memories of Feinstein in a funeral guest book adorned with bouquets of lilies and red roses.
“I was moving, and I came across the country to San Francisco to visit a friend,” Ong said. “It was two weeks after Harvey Milk and George Moscone had been killed, and the city was just in mourning and shock, and she just stepped forward. I’ve now lived here for 30 years, and just to see how much she has contributed and what she gave — she was unshakable. I just love her to pieces.”
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Ong said she was hopeful that Feinstein’s replacement, Laphonza Butler, the nation’s third Black female senator, whom Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed this week, might be able to add a modicum of stability to Congress, which has been mired in political infighting in recent days over a deal to keep the federal government funded. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from Speaker after a handful of Republican lawmakers revolted over the deal.
Ong’s daughter, meanwhile, said that while she doesn’t follow politics all that closely, she greatly admired Feinstein’s career of public service.
“Her position as a woman is very inspirational for any young woman or girl growing up and wanting to pursue anything in politics,” she said, “and not to be afraid to take on a role that’s predominantly male-oriented.”
Thursday’s public funeral service is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. on the steps of City Hall.
Harris, Schumer and Pelosi are scheduled to speak, and President Joe Biden plans to deliver a recorded message. Newsom and Butler, along with fellow California Sen. Alex Padilla, are also expected to attend.