Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who had a long, celebrated career in California and Washington, D.C., died at 90 on Thursday night. Her death marks the end of more than a half-century in politics, during which she rose to become the first female mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate. She became known for her advocacy on an assortment of issues, including abortion, gun reform, and the environment.
But she had been dealing with assorted health problems the last couple of years, and her diminished appearance and seeming loss of memory alarmed colleagues and led to widespread calls for her resignation. She took an extended leave of absence from the chamber amid a bout of shingles — an absence Democrats felt keenly given their razor-thin majority — and seemed not to remember that she’d been gone at all. Although Feinstein was unwilling to relinquish her seat, she did not plan to run for reelection next year. She stayed in office until the end, casting her final vote just hours before her death. Now, California governor Gavin Newsom is likely to appoint a caretaker senator before a 2024 race for the seat that includes big names like Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee.
Newsom recently said he appoint a Black woman to fill the seat on an interim basis.
Feinstein was first elected to office in 1969 as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, rising to be president of the board before the 1978 assassination of Mayor George Moscone made her mayor. (Her fellow supervisor Harvey Milk was also killed.) After three terms, she was elected to the Senate in 1992. By the time Feinstein died, she had become the longest-serving female senator in history.
Tributes began pouring in soon after her death was confirmed: