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Vice President Harris among scheduled speakers at memorial for Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco

By JANIE HAR, Associated Press
Published: October 5, 2023, 8:40am

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be among those delivering remarks at Thursday’s memorial for the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, where she served as the city’s first female mayor.

The service will mark the end of two days of events in the city that launched Feinstein’s political career. On Wednesday, mourners streamed into City Hall to pay their respects, honoring Feinstein as fearless, smart and the glue who kept the city together after two shocking political assassinations.

“She wasn’t afraid to do a man’s job. She wasn’t afraid to be a senator. She wasn’t afraid to go after what she wanted,” said Lawanda Carter, 48, of San Francisco. “And that’s encouragement for us women now to have courage.”

Carter was among the scores of everyday San Franciscans and political leaders alike who brought flowers, bowed their heads or clasped their hands in prayer as they stood before Feinstein’s casket, which was draped in an American flag and on display behind velvet ropes. Many said they had never met Feinstein, but wanted to honor an indefatigable public servant who fought to level the playing field for women, members of the LGBTQ community and racial minorities.

Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also of San Francisco, and Mayor London Breed were among the officials who paid their respects.

Feinstein died early Friday in her Washington, D.C., home of natural causes, said Adam Russell, a spokesperson for her office. She was 90.

A recorded message from President Joe Biden will be played at Thursday’s memorial, where Pelosi and Feinstein’s granddaughter, Eileen Mariano, are also scheduled to speak. Gov. Gavin Newsom, himself a former San Francisco mayor, and former California Gov. Jerry Brown are also expected to be in attendance. A livestream is planned of the service, which will be closed to the public.

Feinstein was one of California’s first two women U.S. senators, a job she first won alongside Barbara Boxer in 1992, dubbed the “ Year of the Woman.”

Feinstein spent much of her career in the U.S. Senate but will be known as the forever mayor of San Francisco, a role she inherited in tragedy. She was president of the Board of Supervisors in November 1978 when a former supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay supervisor, at City Hall.

Feinstein, who found Milk’s body, became acting mayor and won election twice to serve as mayor until 1988.

Georgia Otterson, 76, a health care administrator, said Feinstein wasn’t as politically liberal as she would have liked, but the late mayor earned her respect with how she kept the heartbroken city together.

“We were all mourning together, holding candles. If memory serves me, Joan Baez sang,” Otterson said of an impromptu march that night from the historically gay Castro District to City Hall. “And she held us up.”

As a centrist Democrat, Feinstein was criticized by people on the left, including for her support for the death penalty, and in her later years, for working with Republicans. But the straight, white woman largely earned the gratitude of a city that celebrates its racial and sexual diversity.

She steered San Francisco through the HIV and AIDS crisis, bringing attention to an epidemic ignored by President Ronald Reagan. She also secured federal and private funding to save the city’s iconic cable cars from death by deterioration.

Feinstein led the city as it played host to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. Another San Francisco tradition — “Fleet Week” — was started by Feinstein in 1981, and this year’s annual celebration of air shows, naval ships and military bands is dedicated to her.

While Feinstein’s career sent her to Washington, she remained deeply involved in the affairs of San Francisco, the city where she was born and raised. She often called her successors — including Newsom — to complain about potholes or trash and to offer advice and encouragement.

Breed recalled looking up to Feinstein when she was a Black kid growing up in public housing and playing the French horn in a middle school band that performed regularly at mayoral events.

“She was so proud of us and she said so, and she took the time to talk to us, express how amazing we were and to remind us that we were her band,” Breed said at a news conference the day after Feinstein’s death.

Mourners Wednesday expressed their pride in Feinstein.

“She kept moving on up. I was proud of her, very proud of her,” said Dorothy Hudson, 81, a retired federal government employee. “She was very kind, very smart. She opened doors up to let people know, ‘You can do it.’”

San Francisco native Cari Donovan placed a bouquet of red and pink lilies and daisies on the floor before the casket. She lingered, crying quietly over a woman she never knew but who was so important to her life.

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“She championed and fought for the rights of so many people,” Donovan said. “I’m so grateful. And I really just wanted her family to know how much she meant to me.”

The social worker said she talked to her 28-year-old daughter about the battles Feinstein fought so that younger generations of women could dream bigger. “She was a lioness.”