Silicon Valley leaders and politicos are mourning the death of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein—the longest serving female senator in history. She was 90.
Feinstein was a historic fixture in California politics and won election to the U.S. Senate in 1992 after a political career in San Francisco. After a series of health struggles and an absence from the Senate, the trailblazing lawmaker announced this year she would not seek reelection.
San Jose Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the California Democratic Congressional Delegation, said Friday she and other Democratic lawmakers are reflecting on Feinstein’s legacy.
“Our country, state, and the Bay Area have lost a dedicated public servant with the passing of Senator Dianne Feinstein,” Lofgren said. “Each of us in the delegation values the moments we spent with her and worked with her. We treasured her grace, dignity, intelligence, vision, courage, and leadership. The California Democratic Congressional Delegation is mourning the passing of our senator, and we salute her incredible life of service.”
Feinstein’s death comes as federal lawmakers race toward a deadline to approve a budget or face a government shutdown.
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said he’ll remember Feinstein for her “common sense” in championing civil rights and acknowledging the risks of wildfire and drought.
“She changed people’s lives,” Mahan said. “She was there for San Francisco in one of the city’s most harrowing moments. She increased our rights, and she protected our freedoms. She was a mother, a grandmother and a mentor to so many people. She will be missed across our country — from D.C. to California and beyond.”
For Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Ahmad Thomas, the loss is a “deeply personal” one. He worked as a senior aide for Feinstein in Washington, D.C., serving as the lead policy advisor on finance and economic policy.
“She was my first real boss and a longtime mentor. She was one of the most kind and generous people I have ever met,” Thomas said. “Behind the tough exterior, she was someone quick to smile with a wry sense of humor. She always was willing to share her wisdom. She was caring and warm with my wife Reena and my two sons. I would not have had all the opportunities that I have been afforded in my career without her, and I remain forever grateful.”
Thomas praised Feinstein for groundbreaking accomplishments such as authoring the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, enacting the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, writing the Torture Report, standing up for reproductive freedoms. Feinstein passed legislation that strengthened Silicon Valley’s business competitiveness, he said, and solved problems across the state and country.
“She came to Silicon Valley so many times where she had the opportunity to speak to our members,” he added. “In every conversation, she would lay out the unvarnished facts about issues large and small that mattered to the Silicon Valley community and our region’s economy.”
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna highlighted Feinstein’s courage in spearheading legislation on a slew of critical issues.
“Senator Feinstein was a national icon for women’s rights, gun safety legislation, and environmental causes,” Khanna told San José Spotlight. “I admire all she contributed to our state and nation, and her family and loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers. We lost a giant in public service.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said Feinstein was not just “the strongest woman in every room she entered” — she was the strongest person period.
Chavez pointed to Feinstein authoring the most significant federal gun control legislation of the past 30 years and exposed the CIA’s use of torture in 2014. She fought to protect the natural environment and negotiated a deal that led to the restoration of more than 16,000 acres of wetlands along San Francisco Bay. She also ensured that BART was extended to San Jose by securing critical federal funds.
“She was a role model who inspired generations of California women, a working mother who raised a daughter who became a superior court judge,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “I was honored to know her, to work with her, and to have her endorse me when I ran for mayor in 2006. She touched my life in the best way – I met my husband Mike working on her 1990 gubernatorial campaign.”
Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg lauded her legacy on women’s issues and LGBTQ rights.
“Senator Diane Feinstein was a force of passion for public service,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight. “Her dedication to our country was unmatched and her legacy of work will live on in the book of history. A trailblazer, Feinstein threw open the doors for women, myself included, and was a fierce ally for the LGBTQ+ community. May her memory be for a blessing.”
Assemblymember Evan Low first met Feinstein when he was a high-schooler — and she helped pave the way for his groundbreaking career in politics.
“I first met Dianne Feinstein during the Presidential Classroom program where high school students would spend a week in Washington, D.C. to learn about government,” he posted on social media. “That meeting certainly sparked an interest for me in public service.”
Former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon, Sr. got his start in government around the same time as Feinstein. He recalled how she was catapulted into the national spotlight after the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. She helped build transit systems and the high speed rail project, he added.
“She fought the good fight to the very end and, by her example, helps us all battle on,” said Diridon, who co-chairs the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition.
Former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales connected with Feinstein when she became San Francisco’s first female mayor.
“I first met Senator Feinstein when she was thrust into the job as mayor of San Francisco,” Gonzales told San José Spotlight. “I stayed a friend and admirer of her since then. She was always a role model public servant who was always focused on doing the right thing.”
Rich Robinson, political consultant and San José Spotlight columnist, worked with Feinstein on her 1990 campaign for governor and her successful run for senate in 1992. He said she was “a tough lady,” on her staff and on herself, and that her staffers were notably loyal to her because of her values as a senator.
One of her biggest achievements to Robinson came in the mid 1980s during her time as mayor, when she pushed for Candlestick Park to be renovated, including a seismic safety retrofit. He said her decision likely saved thousands of lives in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck during the World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s. Robinson was at the game.
“Candlestick park was rarely full for a Giants game but it was the Bay Bridge Series, between the A’s and the Giants, and that would have been the worst time,” Robinson told San José Spotlight. “(On) the biggest stage in the world, candlestick park would have crumbled had it not been for Dianne Feinstein.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom will be tasked with appointing Feinstein’s replacement to finish her term through early January 2025.
Feinstein’s office released a statement confirming her death at her Washington, D.C. home yesterday.
“Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right. At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation,” the statement said. “There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state.”
Newsom said Feinstein was a “political giant” who broke barriers and glass ceilings. Newsom, who also got his start in San Francisco politics, called her a lifelong mentor.
“Dianne Feinstein was many things—a powerful, trailblazing U.S. Senator; an early voice for gun control; a leader in times of tragedy and chaos. But to me, she was a dear friend, a lifelong mentor, and a role model not only for me, but to my wife and daughters for what a powerful, effective leader looks like,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Ahmad Thomas serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.