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Congressman Milk

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  • This timeline is meant to be a scenario of what might have occurred if a pair of political killings that took place in San Francisco in 1978 failed to happen. Additions adhering to this idea are welcome.

See also:

Timeline

1978--On November 27, former San Francisco City Supervisor Daniel White was arrested by police at City Hall after entering the building illegally to prevent the revolver he was carrying from being detected. White was believed to hold a grudge against Mayor George Moscone and his allies after Moscone refused to reinstate White to his post on the Board of Supervisors, from which he had resigned earlier that month. After initially denying any bad intentions, White eventually confessed his plan to murder Moscone, Supervisors Harvey Milk and Carol Ruth Silver and State Assemblyman Willie Brown Jr. White was eventually sentenced to eight years in prison for attempted murder.

1979--Moscone is narrowly reelected to a second term as Mayor of San Francisco over his opponent, Supervisor Quentin Kopp. Moscone enjoyed wide support from liberals and minorities - Milk in particular campaigned enthusiastically for Moscone - while Kopp generally appealed to more pro-business interests. Among Kopp's supporters was the president of the Board of Supervisors, Dianne Feinstein, who had decided to retire rather than run for the Board again.

1980--A proposal to eliminate the new policy of district-based voting for the Board of Supervisors is defeated.

1981--Milk achieves a sound mandate in his reelection to the Board. He generally was considered a reliable ally of Moscone but impressed many outside the gay community with his willingness to work with potential opponents and his interest in representing all the people of his district rather than merely the gay community.

In 1981 an article was published in a New York gay newspaper detailing an epidemic that had recently begun to spread among the homosexual community in New York. By the end of this year 121 people had died from the unknown disease.

1982--The name AIDS is first given to the disease. In the coming years AIDS would devastate the gay community in San Francisco and elsewhere, leading to the inaccurate perception that homosexuality causes the disease. Milk would become a leader in the fight against AIDS.

Milk saw a triumph in 1982 with the passage of domestic partner legislation he introduced by the Board of Supervisors. The bill was signed by Mayor Moscone.

1983--Supervisor John Molinari is elected mayor. Incumbent Mayor George Moscone cannot run again due to term limits. He is perceived by most as having been a successful mayor, though he often irked conservatives and the business community. This year also saw the death of Congressman Phillip Burton, who represented much of San Francisco in the House of Representatives. His wife Sala replaces him.

1986--The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bowers v. Hardwick that the right to privacy did not apply to homosexual sex. Harvey Milk described this as "a step backward for equal rights for all Americans."

That winter, shortly after being reelected to the House, Sala Burton became ill with cancer and decided not to run for reelection in 1988. Advisors to Supervisor Milk, who had become quite popular among San Franciscans as well as being a political leader among the national gay community, raised the possibility of his running for the seat.

1987--In February, a month after being sworn in for a second full term, Congresswoman Sala Burton died. Before her death she had identified Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic activist and friend of her husband's, as her preferred successor. However, a month later, Milk declared his intention to challenge for the seat, rallying the liberal base behind him. The race soon attracted national attention, as Milk was seeking to become the first openly homosexual person elected to Congress.

On April 7, Milk narrowly defeated Pelosi in a primary election and went on to win handily in the special election on June 2, defeating Republican Harriet Ross. A week later, history was made as Milk was sworn into Congress. Soon afterwards Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) came out of the closet, citing Milk's election as an inspiration.

Later that year, disgraced former Supervisor Dan White committed suicide shortly after being released from prison. Previously White had expressed remorse for what he had attempted to do and relief that his plan had been thwarted.

In the San Francisco mayoral election Molinari was defeated in his bid for a second term by State Assemblyman Art Agnos. Despite having defeated Milk in his 1976 run for the Assembly, Agnos was seen as a liberal and friend to gay interests.

1988--Milk is elected to a full term. After 1988 there was little serious electoral opposition to Milk in San Francisco.

1989--On October 17 a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area, killing 63 people and causing major damage to buildings, roads and other infrastructure. Working alongside Mayor Agnos, Milk became a noted figure in the recovery effort and lobbied tirelessly in the House for funds to rebuild damaged infrastructure in San Francisco.

1990--Senator Pete Wilson (R-CA) is elected governor over former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.

Congressman Milk voted to reprimand Barney Frank for using his influence to cancel a friend's parking tickets, but he was a key defender of Frank in the fight to censure and expel him based on his alleged hosting of an escort service in his home. The failed effort against Frank was led by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), who Milk reportedly described as a closeted homosexual and "stinking hypocrite."

1991--After being elected governor of California, Senator Pete Wilson resigns. Wilson appoints John Seymour to the seat with a special election set for 1992.

On January 12 Milk made one of the more controversial moves of his career by voting to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. He defended his vote by citing Iraq's aggression and history of human rights violations. Liberal critics pointed to funds given to his campaign by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. Milk's approval ratings briefly tanked, though by the 1992 election they would stabilize.

Agnos does not run for a second term. Liberal Frank Jordan is elected mayor.

1992--Milk refrains from endorsing a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries. He campaigns for party nominee Bill Clinton in the general election while publicly encouraging him to focus on gay rights issues if elected.

On election night, Clinton wins a plurality of votes and the presidency. A more personal triumph for Milk also occurred as his old friend and colleague George Moscone defeated Seymour in his race for the U.S. Senate.

1993--Milk and other gay advocates rapidly become disillusioned with Clinton's leadership as he compromises on one of his campaign promises--to repeal the ban on homosexuals in the military--by instituting the policy of "don't ask, don't tell." Milk said he was "deeply disappointed" in the result.

1995--Mayor Frank Jordan loses reelection to former Assemblyman Willie Brown.

1996--Senator Bob Barr (R-GA) introduced the Defense of Marriage Bill on May 7. Harvey Milk vehemently opposes the legislation and begins fiercely lobbying members of Congress to vote against the bill. Despite Milk's best efforts, the House passed the bill in July.

During the summer, as a result of lobbying by Milk and Senator Moscone, a group of liberal senators who had previously expressed support for DOMB publicly declared they would fight it. Outspoken liberal Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) was quoted as saying that "while I had started out believing that DOMB was best for the country, I now see that it is nothing short of a government declaration that same-sex couples are inferior to straight couples. I cannot support this legislation." Despite the opposition of Wellstone and other liberals, the Republican-controlled Senate narrowly passed the bill.

The opposition stirred by Milk and Moscone convinced President Clinton to surprise the political world by vetoing the bill. While declaring he did not support gay marriage, Clinton said that the bill in its current form could be used to deny homosexuals equality under the law and that defining marriage was not the place of the federal government. Milk's stature among liberals increased as he was given credit for undermining DOMB. Efforts by Congressional Republicans to override Clinton's veto failed.

1998--President Clinton is impeached for obstruction of justice in the wake of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Milk voted against the impeachment. He drew laughs during an interview during which he stated that he was unable to finish the Starr Report because he was bored by the graphic depictions of straight sex. Clinton would be acquitted by the Senate.

As Milk's national stature grows, some of his advisors urge him to seek higher office and raise his national profile. Milk began to eye the upcoming 2000 election, noting liberal dissatisfaction with Vice President Al Gore, the heavy favorite for the Democratic nomination. A grassroots Draft Harvey Milk movement begins to take shape.

In October Milk announces the formation of his presidential exploratory committee. Over the next few months potential opponents including Senators Bill Bradley and Paul Wellstone say they will not run. Both would eventually endorse Milk.

Wisconsin State Assemblywoman Tammy Baldwin was elected to the House in 1998, the second openly gay non-incumbent to be elected and the first lesbian.

1999--Early in the year Harvey Milk officially kicks off his campaign for the presidency with a speech in front of San Francisco's City Hall. In addition to gay rights, Milk's platform includes universal health care, gun control and antipoverty initiatives. Besides Bradley and Wellstone, Milk would gain the endorsements of Senators George Moscone and Bob Kerrey and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, among other luminaries. Despite this, few analysts give Milk a chance, pointing to his lack of exposure and funds compared to Gore as well as his homosexuality--over one-third of poll respondents said they would not vote for Milk because he was gay. Milk was the first openly gay serious candidate for president in American history.

At an October campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a deranged man later revealed to be an extreme homophobe threw a bomb at the platform from which Milk was speaking. Though Milk suffered only minor injuries, the bomb killed one of his bodyguards as well as Cleve Jones, Milk's senior adviser and longtime confidant. The assassination attempt served to draw attention to Milk's campaign.

After taking two weeks off to recover and attend the funerals of the two men who died in Iowa, Milk restarted his campaign with a celebrity fundraiser in Los Angeles headlined by actor Sean Penn. Referring to a supposed resemblance between the two men, Milk jokingly promised Penn the lead role in any future film adaptation of Milk's career.

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was reelected in 1999. Earlier Brown had endorsed Milk for the presidency.

2000--The election kicks off with the Iowa caucuses on January 24. Milk won a mere 32% of the vote against Al Gore in the caucuses, a perceived sign of rural voters' discomfort with an outspoken gay candidate. However, Milk nearly eked out a surprise victory in New Hampshire, winning 47% of the vote to Gore's 49% and nearly as many delegates.

While the New Hampshire result energized Milk's base, it gradually became clear that this would not be enough. Despite Milk's hopes to turn the tide on Super Tuesday (March 7), Milk's sole victory came in Vermont, though he did win 40% of the vote in his home state of California. Two days later, after only one primary victory and 19 defeats, Milk withdrew from the race and urged his supporters to campaign for Gore. Despite his loss, Milk's grassroots campaign was seen as positive for the gay community (Milk's homosexuality was not a significant issue in the race) as well as introducing Milk to a wider national audience.

On July 1, Vermont became the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

Vice President Gore went on to lose the 2000 race to Republican nominee George W. Bush after a ruling by the Supreme Court on the Florida recount went in Bush's favor. Milk called this a "total miscarriage of justice."

2001--The Netherlands becomes the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Milk praised the move as "a splendid example of what we in America must strive for."

On September 11, hijackers crash four American passenger jets, destroying New York's World Trade Center, damaging the Pentagon and killing nearly 3,000 civilians. A week later, Congress authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan, with only Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) dissenting.

Milk's career took a turn in 2001 when he was elected House Minority Whip, second-in-command to Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO). This amounted to recognition of his importance in the Democratic Party, which stemmed in part from the grassroots network he built up during his presidential bid.

2002--Congressman Milk draws criticism from the center and praise from the left for speaking out against the Bush Administration's planned use of force against Iraq. He publicly attacked Bush's "crazed rush to war" in a joint appearance with Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), an opponent of Milk's who nevertheless agreed with him on the Iraq issue. Despite Milk's vote, the Iraq War Resolution passed, leading to a U.S. invasion the following March.

Despite this setback, Milk won a personal victory in 2002 as he was elected leader of the House Democrats. He replaced Dick Gephardt, who was resigning his post to run for president in 2004. Milk was a controversial choice because of his age (he was 72) as well as his highly liberal views (particularly on gay rights) as well as the elephant in the room: his homosexuality. Nevertheless, Milk was a respected and well-liked figure who Democrats believed would be an effective fighter for their interests. Though he attempted to rally his party against the Iraq War Resolution, he lost face when it narrowly passed.

Having gained national stature, Milk spent time in the run-up to the midterm elections campaigning for fellow Democrats, and it was during this effort that the third attempt upon Milk's life took place. The attack occurred in September at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where Milk was stumping for Senator Paul Wellstone. As Milk was working the crowd, a man walked up to him and shot him at point-blank range. Fortunately for Milk, the bullet intended for his heart lodged in his leg instead, and though the attack left him shaken he made a speedy recovery, reportedly saying that it would take "more than that to bring this queen down." The assailant, a 23-year-old Libyan national, was believed to have targeted Milk because he was a "wicked sodomite"; President Bush later called the attack an "act of Islamic terrorism."

Sadly, Milk's next visit to the state would be to attend Wellstone's funeral in Minneapolis a month later after the senator died in a plane crash. The Democrats ultimately lost the seat.

2003--Milk became a target of derision in 2003 after the successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, as the insurgency in Iraq dragged on and the war declined in popularity, Milk began to appear more and more prescient.

Milk praised the "long overdue" decision of the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that laws against sodomy violated the right to privacy. Homosexual sex was now legal throughout the United States.

In California, a successful recall attempt threw out Democratic Governor Gray Davis in favor of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Milk had done his best to distance himself from the unpopular administration in Sacramento.

On November 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts. Since no federal law defines marriage, same-sex couples in the state receive federal recognition of their marriages with full rights under federal law.

With Milk's encouragement, Milk chief of staff Tom Ammiano resigned to run for mayor of San Francisco. Ammiano's main opponents were Matt Gonzalez, President of the Board of Supervisors and a Green Party member, and Supervisor Gavin Newsom, who was seen as more business-friendly and moderate. Though Ammiano was initially a long shot, he gained a following among Milk loyalists.

Though Newsom received the most votes on November 4, he failed to gain a majority and a runoff was scheduled between Newsom and Ammiano; many Gonzalez supporters decided to support Ammiano. On December 7, Ammiano narrowly defeated Newsom to become mayor, making San Francisco the largest city in the country to elect an openly gay mayor.


2004--One of Mayor Tom Ammiano's first acts was to order the city clerk of San Francisco to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, a first for California. However, these marriages were annulled in August by the California Supreme Court.

Milk did not endorse a primary candidate but campaigned for nominee Senator John Kerry in the general election of 2004. As a senior Democratic leader Milk gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, but surprisingly his and everyone else's speeches were overshadowed by the keynote speaker, a formerly obscure Illinois state senator named Barack Obama.

In an attempt to undermine Americans' confidence in the Democratic Party, an independent organization (later linked to conservative interests) began spreading a false story (and alleged proof) about Minority Leader Milk; it was hoped that this would hurt Kerry by association. The nation was shocked by this story, which alleged that Milk had for several years been engaged in a romantic affair with fellow Congressman (and gay man) Barney Frank.

Several Republican figures immediately called on Milk and Frank to resign, but Milk dismissed the idea, claiming that the story was "possibly the craziest bunch of lies I ever heard." "There is not one iota of proof that anything of that sort is going on," Milk said. Events proved Milk right, as the New York Post, which originally broke the story, was unable to follow up and eventually was forced to apologize and admit that their allegations could not be proven. This damaged the newspaper's credibility and failed to harm Milk, who was now seen by many as a martyr.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, any anti-Republican backlash was not enough as President Bush was reelected.

On November 15, Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey resigned after coming out of the closet. The married governor admitted to adultery with a male lover, who he had appointed as an adviser. Milk was quoted as calling the resignation "best for the people of his state."

2005--Congressman Milk led the fight against the Bush plan for social security reform, which was successfully defeated in Congress. Milk was one of Bush's harshest critics in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, calling the slow government response a "national disgrace." Approval of Bush steadily dropped beginning in 2005.

2006--In February of 2006, 76-year-old Senator George Moscone announced that he had developed potentially fatal esophageal cancer and would therefore not be running for reelection in 2006. His prognosis was rumored to be poor. Harvey Milk and others lauded Moscone on the floor of Congress.

Congressional Democrats swept back into power in November, and Milk made history by being chosen Speaker of the House. Democratic State Controller Steve Westly won the election to replace Moscone in the Senate.

2007--Despite widespread support for impeachment of President Bush in his home district, Speaker Harvey Milk firmly refused to pursue impeachment.

Milk emerged as leader of the House's opposition to Bush's policies. Among his positions was a strong opposition to Bush's plan for a troop "surge" in Iraq in 2007. Milk backed a nonbinding resolution which expressed dissatisfaction with the course of events in Iraq.

In autumn 2007 it is revealed that Senator Larry Craig was arrested in June for attempting to solicit sex from an undercover police officer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Milk, who had long suspected Craig of being a closeted homosexual, said he was "angered" by the senator's history of opposition to gay rights but that "our community will still welcome him should he choose to accept who he is." Craig was reportedly angered by this statement and has continually denied being gay; however, he did not run for reelection following the incident.

Mayor Tom Ammiano of San Francisco was reelected in a landslide over former Supervisor Fiona Ma.

2008--This was an extremely active year for Milk. As Speaker of the House he once again stayed out of the fray during the presidential primary campaign. However, accounts published later would suggest that he may have leaned toward Barack Obama and perhaps influenced him to seek the presidency. Milk wholeheartedly backed him during the general election, campaigning extensively. Milk called Obama's eventual victory a "new beginning." However, an issue close to his heart had distracted him during much of the race.

On May 15 the Supreme Court of California ruled that "defense of marriage" was unconstitutional, and same-sex marriage was thus legalized. However, opponents of gay marriage placed a ballot measure, Proposition 8, on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution to outlaw gay marriage. Milk campaigned extensively against Proposition 8, and his influence throughout the state had an impact on views of gay marriage.

Arguably Milk's greatest coup was recruiting both Barack Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger to the campaign. Though both men professed to oppose gay marriage, Milk persuaded both that allowing the ruling to be overturned by popular vote was dangerous and that amending the constitution would be divisive. Schwarzenegger and Obama both appeared in campaign advertising, and the campaign culminated with a joint appearance by both men together with Milk at a massive No on 8 rally in Anaheim. Polls showed that the lead the proposition had enjoyed had collapsed.

After two days of counting, it was determined that Proposition 8 had failed to pass by a razor-thin margin, preserving marriage equality in California. Despite the lack of a mandate, equality advocates celebrated the victory as the first-ever popular endorsement of same-sex marriage in America. Appearing with Mayor Ammiano at a San Francisco victory rally, Milk tearfully proclaimed that "we've just moved a step closer to guaranteeing that all men and women really are created equal."

Previously, on October 10, Connecticut had become the third state to legalize same-sex marriage.

In 2008 Milk briefly appeared threatened by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who moved to San Francisco to run against him due to his failure to impeach President Bush. However, Milk handily defeated Sheehan.

2009--On April 3, Iowa became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. It was followed by Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York in 2009. Analysts credited Milk with increasing mainstream acceptance of homosexuality and energizing equality advocates. A ballot initiative similar to California Proposition 8 failed in Maine in November.

Speaker Milk spent 2009 attempting to put the Democratic agenda into action with the aid of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). He was instrumental in the passage of Obama's stimulus plan and in bailing out the U.S. auto industry. Milk was a staunch supporter of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who was eventually confirmed.

Milk pressured Obama to make good on his campaign promise to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy set by President Clinton. He backed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which legalized open homosexuality in the armed forces. The bill passed in August and was signed by Obama.

The White House announced that meaningful health care reform legislation would be an immediate goal, and the Democratic supermajority in the Senate (attained in July upon the swearing-in of Senator Al Franken (D-MN)) appeared to give the Democrats room to craft a sweeping bill. However, Obama's attempts to execute health care reform were bogged down in negotiation with moderate and conservative Democrats. On November 7 the House passed a health reform bill, which included a provision preventing federal funding from being used for abortions. Despite his opposition to this amendment, Milk ultimately supported the bill, describing it as good legislation despite its flaws.

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) died August 25 after 46 years in the Senate. A special election for his replacement was set for January of 2010.

Obama's approval rating declined steadily in his first year, and the approval rating of Milk and the Congressional Democrats declined further.

2010--In a statement which shocked the political world, Congressman Harvey Milk announced January 2 that he intends to retire from politics at the end of his current term in the House. He will retain his position as Speaker of the House for the remainder of the current Congress.

In a January 19 special election in Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown took the Senate seat formerly held by Kennedy. This will end the Senate supermajority, and it remains to be seen how the health plan will be affected.

In his retirement speech Milk cited his advanced age (he will turn 80 in 2010) and concerns about his health as his reasons for leaving. "Though I've fought long and hard for San Francisco and the American people," Milk said, "the time has come when I must prepare to turn my sword over to a younger and more vigorous successor." While some pundits pointed to the retirement as a sign of weakness on the part of the Democrats, others say it was simply Milk's time to leave politics. Milk himself denied that any political considerations were involved, saying that "it was all about my ability to serve you."
Washington analysts have pointed to current Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) as a possible successor as Democratic leader, though other names are expected to surface.

Democratic former Supervisor Gavin Newsom has declared that he will run for Milk's seat, as has former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, who also announced he is returning to the Green Party in order to run for its nomination. Surprisingly, early polling shows Gonzales with a slight lead; he would be the first Green elected to Congress. Publisher and nightclub owner Larry Flynt has also expressed interest in running for the seat as an independent. Milk has pledged not to take sides in the race. It is rumored that Mayor Tom Ammiano, who has had a cool relationship with Newsom in the past, may endorse Gonzalez despite being a Democrat. A movement to draft San Francisco businesswoman and early Milk opponent Nancy Pelosi has developed, but she has denied interest in running as polls show her considerably behind Newsom.

Four days after Milk's announcement, former Senator George Moscone succumbed to cancer after a long struggle. San Franciscans mourned their loss. At the memorial service on January 9, Harvey Milk gave a moving eulogy in which he described Moscone as "the greatest friend, the most trusted partner, the most loyal ally anyone could ask for." Senator Steve Westly called Moscone "one of the brightest stars in California political history."

The early months of Milk's last year in the House were dominated by the battle for health care reform. The debate was characterized by fierce rhetoric and featured the liberal use of anti-gay slurs by "tea party" activists. In an appearance on Glenn Beck in March, conservative firebrand Ann Coulter called Milk a "faggot" on air; Coulter refused to apologize and Beck did not comment on the event. On March 30, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 passed the House narrowly with no Republican support and subsequently became law. However, polls showed a divided reaction to the event and dissatisfaction with Harvey Milk in particular.

On April 4 a brick was thrown through a window of Milk's San Francisco office, which was subsequently given police protection.

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