On the morning of Monday, Nov. 27, 1978, Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein walked into the shabby, cramped press room of San Francisco City Hall to check in with beat reporters from the daily papers.
Recently widowed, Feinstein had returned to work that morning after a rejuvenating vacation, so she dropped in to schmooze and catch up on the latest political gossip. The talk was mostly about the Rev. Jim Jones, a former city housing commissioner, who had gone mad and led his flock in a mass suicide in Guyana days before.
One of three reporters in the room was K. Connie Kang, staff writer for the Examiner who later moved to the L.A. Times, and who asked Feinstein if she planned to make a third run for mayor, in the upcoming 1979 election. Feinstein, who had lost two mayoral bids and privately decided to get out politics, replied, “No, not this time.”
A little more than an hour later, she became the acting mayor of San Francisco, as she announced to the world that former supervisor Dan White had just assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. No one knew it at the time but, amid the horror and tragedy of that day, Feinstein’s political career had been resurrected, as she spent the next three decades climbing the ladder to the national prominence she’s reached today.
Since that day, Feinstein has often described herself as “fatalistic” about politics, with its uncertainties and unpredictability. Her attitude is summed in a maxim — “You never say never” — which she’s repeated countless times since in discussing her future in politics.
Amid yet another new round of speculation about Dianne-for-Governor 2010 scenarios, peddled on scant evidence by Beltway political writers and longtime ally Willie Brown, the mantra helps explain why she consistently refuses to rule out the possibility once and for all. That she also enjoys the spotlight of being viewed as a potential savior for the party and the state makes her not much different than any other politician.
We made the case of why it makes no sense for Feinstein to run for governor on the day Calbuzz launched eight months ago, and we’ve seen and heard nothing in the meantime to change our minds.
The Senior Senator from California, whose demand for staffing detail over any big decision is the stuff of legend -– she once demanded proof when an aide said in a memo that Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence -– and there’s been no sign of the endless conference calls and exhaustive should-I-or-shouldn’t-I meetings that would inevitably surface if she were seriously considering a run.
Back in May, veteran Chronicle Washington reporter and longtime Dianne watcher Carolyn Lochhead cornered the Senator about the governor’s race and got the most definitive comment from her to date on the subject:
Feinstein, 75, said she is tired of being asked everywhere she goes whether she will run. She has not ruled it out, but when asked if it is fair to say a bid is ‘very unlikely,’ she said, ‘Correct.’
(For the record, since that interview, Difi celebrated another birthday, keeping her five years ahead of Jerry Brown in the age department).
The latest round of over-heated bloviating about Feinstein-for-governor got started last Thursday, when an enterprising Murky News reporter wrote a piece under the headline “Feinstein Still Pondering Calif. Gubernatorial Bid.” It included a couple quotes picked up from an AP version, and got widespread pickup with its headline use of “pondering,” a word that did not appear in the text of the article. The piece itself tortured two dull quotes into the framework of a yarn suggesting a run is under active consideration, however:
“What does affect (a decision about running) is watching to see what precise programs are put forward by various candidates to handle what is a very serious structural budget deficit in this state,” Feinstein said. “It’s of major consequence and California is in considerable distress, and there have to be reforms…
Feinstein has a prestigious assignment as chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. When asked if she had the patience to deal with a state Legislature that has often been described as dysfunctional, she replied: “That’s a very good question. It shall be unanswered for the moment.”
From there it was off to the races.
On Friday Politico recycled the AP quotes with an item headlined “Governor Di-Fi?” while Chris Cillizza, the Washpost’s resident political junkie, the same day used the comments in his blog, “The Fix,” to report that Feinstein is “still mulling a run.” He revisited the subject Monday, citing a bum L.A.Times poll question (see our analysis) about whether Democrats are satisfied with a Jerry Brown-only primary field (it’s worth noting that the estimable Cathleen Decker did NOT mention the ginned-up finding in her overall poll story on Sunday) to buttress the possibility.
By then Willie Brown had added fuel to the fire with his Sunday column, again without advancing the ball beyond the AP’s quotes. That newbie journalist Brown is leading the charge is not a big surprise –- he’s been a reliable ally of Feinstein’s since he was the only elected official to back her very first race in 1969 (with the notable exception of 1975, when he backed even closer ally George Moscone for mayor against her); coincidentally a Feinstein governorship would return Willie Brown to the limelight, the only place he likes better than the Brioni section of Wilkes Bashford’s clothing store.
Calbuzz meanwhile stands pat in the 2010 sweepstakes with our launch piece thesis. If anyone feels strongly to the contrary, and is eager to part with some cash, we know a couple guys who are taking bets.