DOUBLE PLAY: The San Francisco City Hall Killings by Mike Weiss
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DOUBLE PLAY: The San Francisco City Hall Killings

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When former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White turned himself in, to the police with whom he'd once served, he explained why he shot liberal mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk, a gay community leader: ""I'm tryin' to do a good job an' I saw this city as it's goin' kinda downhill and. . . I just couldn't take it anymore and that's it."" Clearly there was something here ""deeper and more resonant than mere criminality""--and Weiss, who covered White's trial for Rolling Stone, provides as clear an explanation of the tragedy's background as we are likely to find. The three men in politics could hardly be more different. A ""flatlander"" from the city's blue-collar southern outskirts, White was an Irish Catholic who'd served as both a cop and a fireman; his election to the supervisor seat represented a victory for a segment of the population threatened by the city's changing economic and social environment, particularly its highly visible ""sexual integration crisis."" Moscone, though of working-class origins himself, had little in common with White; the mayor was politically far more liberal, and his personal moral code (including, Weiss alleges, cocaine use and relationships with black hookers) was considerably looser. Milk--a ""berserk composite of the kinds of people moving to San Francisco,"" but a natural and effective politician--symbolized to White everything that had gone wrong, Once elected, White found he couldn't get anything done and no one took him seriously: he had no real program (his first campaign manager quit because she suspected he ""didn't believe in anything but himself""); he refused to make the simple accommodations that would have helped him out politically, and fell into a ""deep, self-accusatory gloom."" So he quit as supervisor (""I can't deal with those goddamn people""), then tried to retract his resignation and felt Moscone double-crossed him by not reappointing him. The facts of what happened thereafter are clear enough, but interpretations differ. Defense psychiatrists said that White experienced a ""unipolar depressive reaction"" and was moved to an ""unaccustomed state of passion,"" a diminished-capacity defense which a jury of White's peers (literally--no gays or liberals, lots of Catholics) accepted in rendering a manslaughter verdict. The prosecution, whose ""ponderous ineptitude"" Weiss documents well, never emphasized the revenge motive that might have been the basis for a first-degree murder conviction. Solid reporting, if thin on Milk (Randy Shilts' The Mayor of Castro Street fills this gap)--and well timed, in view of White's protested release from prison.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Addison-Wesley