Almost four decades after the Nov. 27, 1978, assassination of George Moscone, a trove of records shedding new light on the late San Francisco mayor’s life and work will be released to the public.
The papers were lost for years, but the Moscone family rediscovered them in a storage unit about 18 months ago. “My mom had -- for so many decades -- these storage rooms in South San Francisco,” explained son Chris Moscone, a founding partner at a San Francisco law firm. “Finally, we had someone check ’em out.”
Concealed there was a gold mine for San Francisco history buffs. “There were 90 boxes, all covered up,” the late mayor's son explained. The boxes contained newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, photographs, correspondence and other kinds of documentation.
After entertaining proposals from three entities that wished to make use of the archives, the Moscone family ultimately decided to donate them to the University of the Pacific, the late mayor’s alma mater. They'll be made available to scholars and housed at Pacific's Holt-Atherton Special Collections in the university library in Stockton.
The San Francisco Public Library sought to present an argument that it was entitled to the Moscone archive under a city law pertaining to the records of public officials, Chris Moscone told KQED. But he said he received personal assurances from San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera that this bid wouldn’t go forward.
“Dennis -- he’s a dear friend -- he’s like, 'There’s not a chance I’m doing this,' ” Moscone said. “There’s no way.”
The newly unearthed archive “can give us real insight into what Moscone was thinking, and what he was dealing with as mayor,” said Keith Smith, associate professor of political science at the University of the Pacific.
Moscone was elected to the California Senate in 1966, where he served nine years prior to taking office as San Francisco mayor in 1976. As a senator, he supported legislation to decriminalize gay sex in California.
As mayor of San Francisco, he helped transform local politics by helping to establish district elections, a system that made it easier for marginalized candidates such as Harvey Milk to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Moscone appointed Milk to a powerful city commission before the famous gay legislator -- assassinated the same day as Moscone -- was elected to the board.
“My dad did a lot of great work over many, many years,” said Chris Moscone, noting that he’d also pushed to decriminalize possession of marijuana at amounts weighing less than an ounce. “It’s not like my dad smoked pot or anything,” he added. “He didn’t advocate it at home, that’s for sure.”
A second gift to the University of the Pacific, contributed by the George Moscone Center for Public Service, includes nearly 100 hours of recorded oral histories. The interviews were conducted with Moscone's contemporaries as part of a documentary film project spearheaded by that organization.
At an event tonight at the university’s San Francisco campus, political heavyweights Willie Brown and John Burton will reflect on their years of working with Mayor Moscone. Also joining that panel will be son Jonathan Moscone, artistic director for the California Shakespeare Theater.
Larry Simi, board chair of the George Moscone Center for Public Service, served on Moscone's staff during his time as mayor.
“He was a vanguard of San Francisco values,” Simi said, adding that Moscone had helped to make the Democratic Party more inclusive and racially diverse. “What he put together,” Simi said, “was really the prototype of the Democratic Party today.”