On Thursday afternoon, under blue skies and Blue Angels, San Francisco celebrated the life and legacy of Senator Dianne Feinstein.
On the steps of the City Hall Feinstein walked as mayor, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Mayor London Breed accompanied Eileen Mariano, Feinstein’s granddaughter. Many members of congress made the six-hour flight from DC, alongside dozens of staffers of the late Senator. Pelosi acknowledged both groups in her remarks, the section of staffers laughing with each other when she referenced their infamous office t-shirts: “I survived Feinstein’s staff meeting.”
The Blue Angels, the controversial flying team that Feinstein brought to SF, makes a ‘D’ in her honor while interrupting her memorial.
The sweltering heat and direct sunlight resulted in about half the chairs allotted for the public remaining empty — there were more cops working at the memorial than there were people for them to monitor. Among the press, there were shared knowing glances and raised eyebrows at some things not mentioned about Feinstein’s career and impact on San Francisco. There was, of course, a silent understanding that critical analysis of a political legacy was not the objective of this event, but vague amusement lingered in its place, and in the rows of empty seats.
For a somber occasion, there was joy found everywhere. Many who attended chose to forego wearing black. Each of the brief speakers had a laugh or two — Schumer at himself when he had to chase his speech across the dais after a gust of wind picked it up, Breed at the sky when the jets overhead interrupted a speech for the seventh time (“I told the Blue Angels [they could fly over] twice!”) Pelosi when recounting how, after Feinstein’s ten years as mayor, local children were flabbergasted by the new nominees: “Can a man be mayor of San Francisco?”
Breed recalled being a young teenager in San Francisco during the years Feinstein served as mayor, and having the chance to play at her events with her school band. “She showed us a world where women lead, where we lift each other up, so that girls like me could follow in her footsteps,” she said of her predecessor, with palpable reverence. “Dianne Feinstein did it right. She was our mayor, our champion — she was the leader of our band.”
President Biden contributed pre-recorded remarks: “On this day of remembrance, we reflect on the many ways such a pioneer made history, and built a legacy that will benefit Americans for generations to come — and that’s not an exaggeration.”
Surely it’s not, as her accomplishments are listed and begin to pile up — the creation of Pier 39, standing by cable cars and conservation efforts of Lake Tahoe, establishing Death Valley and Joshua Tree as National Parks, efforts to ban torture and assault weapons, the AMBER alert system—even the Blue Angels roaring by disruptively, preparing for Fleet Week, are here because Feinstein brought them here.
Pelosi smiled up at the jets as they passed again and again. “This is just the beginning! All weekend, Fleet Week [is] dedicated to Dianne. Flyovers all weekend. She would like it like that.” After dedicating 2023’s Fleet Week to Feinstein, Pelosi announced the jets would be in “missing woman” formation to honor her memory. One Blue Angel broke away from the pack, skywriting a giant “D” over the memorial. Pelosi and Schumer grinned and whispered to each other.
Schumer remembered her as one-of-a-kind, professionally and personally. “Her integrity made her sparkle like a diamond in the senate,” he said with awe. “What a loving, caring friend she was. When my daughter moved to San Francisco out of college, I got a call from Dianne. She asked me, ‘does your daughter have anywhere to go for the high holy services?’ I said, no. So she said, ‘she’s going to services with me.’”
Harris could attest firsthand to walking the path Feinstein carved, making her own ascension from San Francisco politics to serving as California’s junior senator under Feinstein. She also warmly remembers a no-nonsense woman. “When I was sworn into the senate in 2017, it was Dianne who welcomed me. She invited me to her senate hideaway. There, with one hand, she presented me with a glass of California chardonnay; and with the other hand, a binder full of her draft bills.”
For all her colleagues’ remembrances of a fierce political force, Feinstein’s granddaughter remembers her family matriarch and mentor. “I would spend nights at my Grandmother’s house whenever she was home in San Francisco. She taught me to play chess, although she hated losing. We would pick flowers from her garden and draw them together, although only her drawings were worth making into prints. She would give me haircuts at home in the kitchen, much to my parents’ dismay, because my hair always turned out crooked. And she loved teaching me about San Francisco history.”
As a nation, when we gather to remember a monumental figure of politics, their track record is naturally scrutinized to quantify if the good outweighed the bad. Feinstein has been no exception, and she of all people would welcome the dialogue — though it seems the most incredible thing about her life and career was that she got to have both.
“At the end of the day,” said Mariano, “We would curl up close on the couch, and watch a movie or our favorite TV show. And when it was time to go to sleep, she would say goodnight, and she would always sing me the song, ‘You Are My Sunshine.’”