Aside from family and close friends, few people have a longer history with Dianne Feinstein or understand California’s ailing US senator better than Jerry Roberts.
The former political writer and newspaper editor — now host of Santa Barbara’s singular broadcast “Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts” — first covered Feinstein nearly 50 years ago.
She is on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Roberts is a reporter for the city’s alternative newspaper, the Bay Guardian.
In 1994, he published the biography “Dianne Feinstein: Never Let Them See You Cry.” It remains a must-read for students of the 89-year-old lawmaker who face stress. pressure to give up amid doubts about her mental and physical health and the ability to do his job in the Senate.
Our conversation about Feinstein, past and present, has been edited for length and clarity.
Start with a few words to describe the senator.
Difficult. Independence. Persist. Brave. promote.
She has had a remarkable career. But her life was not always easy or happy, starting with a terrible childhood.
Her father was a very famous surgeon at UC San Francisco. They were well off and, on the surface, a perfect family. But her mother was abusive, both mentally and physically. She is an alcoholic. She was on prescription medication. And Dianne, as the oldest, is put in the role of her protector. two younger sister.
There were many incidents her sisters described to me, one of which involved her mother trying to drown her youngest child in a bathtub when she was about 5 years old. In the walls of the house there is a lot of trouble. But it’s a secret no one is allowed to hear about.
Feinstein’s first marriage at a young age ended in divorce. The second made her a widow in her 40s.
Her second marriage was to a well-known surgeon, Bert Feinstein, to whom she kept the name all her life. It was a very happy marriage, but he died of colon cancer in 1978. I think, he was really the only love of her life, so it was difficult for her. .
That same year, Feinstein was ready to give up politics after two unsuccessful runs for mayor. She was then thrust into the job, as chair of the board, when Mayor George Moscone was assassinated. How do you think all the tragedies and tragedies have shaped Feinstein?
I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think it definitely tempered her as well as giving her some kind of armor. That’s why I call the book “Never Let Them See You Cry”. That’s actually a suggestion she made in an article for a women’s magazine on how to be successful in the workplace.
She always shows a very brave, professional and very polished image in public, even when she is going through many private feelings and pains.
How do you think the background notices this particular moment?
Independence is perhaps Feinstein’s most prominent personality trait. But also a self-belief to the point of being stubborn, no one can tell her what she can or can’t do. She has tremendous faith and confidence in her own strength and abilities. And in fact, the best way to get her to do something is to tell her she can’t.
That really dates back to her first election to the Board of Supervisors in 1969, when everyone told her – including her father, whom she idolized – a woman couldn’t fight. win. I think that really got her to dig in to prove everyone wrong. She was never what you would call a movement feminist, but she was a feminist in that she always wanted an equal opportunity to do things. And she wants to be treated equally.
Do you think this pressure would make Feinstein even more resistant give up?
She has always been an independent political force. She is never been a regular party, accompanying person. So for people to say, “Wow, the Democrats want her to do this” – silly. I mean, it doesn’t matter what the Democrats want or don’t want than what Dianne has decided she will do.
Is there anyone in this world who can push her away, or even try?
Not that I know. I think another thing that contributed to this whole situation that isn’t talked about much is the death of Richard Blum.
She third husband, whom Feinstein married five years 1980, passed away in February 2022.
It was not an easy time. He was sick for a long time. She flew back and forth across the country to be with him.
She listened to his advice, both politically and personally. They are very much a team. But other than that, I don’t see anyone else I know who would seek advice on the matter. She is 89 years old. She went to many funerals. So many advisors, so many advisors, so many allies are no longer here.
You talked about Feinstein as a feminist. Do you believe sexism is behind the attempts to push her aside?
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has certainly made that point, and I find it hard not to agree with it. Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy was absent for months after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and I don’t remember anyone saying, “Oh, Ted Kennedy should resign.” And there are many more examples. So I think there’s an element of that.
I think there are an element of thought. The Democratic Left tried to remove Feinstein in 2018, when she ran for re-election and they confirmed Kevin de Leon. So when you see people like Congressmen Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walking out there and calling for her to step down, that’s part of that.
Will this sad ending tarnish Feinstein’s legacy? Should it?
I don’t think it should. Look at all the the things she accomplished politically as well as culturally. Look at the generations of female politicians coming out of the Bay Area – vice president of the United States; former speaker of the House of Representatives; Senator Barbara; female members of Congress. They all followed in Dianne’s footsteps.
Her work in the Senate – protecting the desert, exposing the government’s use of torture to fight terrorism, a 10-year assault weapons ban – speaks for itself. Her role in the complexities of California: water, immigration, many things.
There is a recent bias towards this. People are seeing what is happening today and a lot of times don’t really know everything she has achieved. It will be a few lines in her obituary. But that’s it.
Pelosi’s eldest daughter, Nancy Corinne Prowda, is already a constant next to Feinstein. Some see politics in the workplace, because Pelosi is support Congressman Adam b. Schiff to succeed Feinstein. But you don’t buy it.
It starts with Pelosi and Feinstein living opposite each other for 30 years. Nancy and Dianne had a personal relationship before their political relationship. Dianne knows all her kids.
It was the two of them who really brought the Democratic National Convention to San Francisco in 1984. When Representative Sala Burton died in 1987, Dianne briefly thought about running for Congress, but postponed it. when Nancy decided to run for office.
If Feinstein arrived give up, have speculation that thing Governor Gavin Newsom will appoint Representative Barbara Lee, a rival of Schiff, as his successor, giving Lee an advantage. in the 2024 election for the Senate seat.
I don’t see any politics. It’s trying to be too smart, connecting the dots. The idea that this is purely a conspiracy to elect Adam Schiff seems like the dumbest kind of speculation.