Mrs. Feinstein (she has been married several times, and held many different titles, so for simplicity’s sake, “Mrs. Feinstein” will be used throughout this piece) first dipped her toes into politics innocuously enough by way of student government when she was at Stanford. After graduating in 1955, she immediately returned to her native San Francisco and married Jack Berman in 1956. Mr. Berman was a young Jewish lawyer with quite a few political ties throughout the city, and no doubt was instrumental in getting his wife her first official political position — an appointment by Pat Brown to the Women’s Board of Parole of California. Mr. Berman would go on to earn quite the reputation: a civil rights activist, even going to the South to fight Jim Crow, and an obsessive gambler who frequented Las Vegas. The marriage did not pass the five-year mark.
While the Berman marriage was crumbling, a young Black lawyer named Willie Brown from Texas was making a name for himself by defending pimps, prostitutes, and other street criminals. Then in 1961, his career pivoted and he began a campaign of agitation to abolish “housing discrimination” throughout San Francisco. This garnered the attention and support of the young Mrs. Feinstein.
While Mr. Brown and Mrs. Feinstein were both working to defend criminals, crime across the nation was increasing exponentially, and both began their rise to greater and greater prominence. In 1964 Mr. Brown became a state assemblyman, and in 1968 Mrs. Feinstein joined the San Francisco Committee on Crime. The next year she was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and soon became its president.
Simultaneously, San Francisco was changing. Haight Ashbury became notorious for its drug-fueled hippie scene and became the destination for runaways, junkies, and vagrants across the nation. Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” headed to San Francisco as well. Harvey Milk and the “gay rights” agitators of Castro Street were beginning to get organized and achieve political and cultural clout. By the 1970s, the city had a well-deserved reputation for incredibly high crime, immortalized by the Dirty Harry films, the first of which was released in 1971.