A trailblazer who survived beatings from her alcoholic mother to become a giant for women in politics: Dianne Feinstein – from single mom at 26 to San Francisco’s first female mayor and three decades in Congress
Dianne Feinstein, the country’s oldest senator and a longtime liberal powerhouse, died Thursday evening at the age of 90 after more than thirty decades in the Senate.
She voted Thursday morning but missed the afternoon vote before passing at her home in Washington, D.C. Her final vote was a procedural motion to advance FAA reauthorization.
The California Democrat turned 90 in June — a birthday that made her one of only five senators to ever serve as a non-age member in the Senate.
Born in 1933, Feinstein held her Senate seat for nearly 31 years, despite battling a series of ailments that prevented her from doing her job.
The former mayor of San Francisco has long been a bastion of Democratic politics. He previously chaired the high-profile Senate Rules and Intelligence Committees and authored the 1994 assault weapons ban.
But her reputation began to deteriorate when the ailing senator remained in power despite habitual cognitive decline and a two-and-a-half month absence from work, leading to a backlog in the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation of judges.
With the death of Alaska Representative Don Young, Feinstein became the oldest member of the US Congress in March 2021. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is just a few months behind: he will turn 90 on September 17.
Dianne Feinstein, the nation’s oldest senator and a longtime liberal powerhouse, died Friday morning at the age of 90 after more than thirty decades in the Senate.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein turned 90 today on an anniversary that made her one of only five senators to ever serve as a non-age member in the Senate
According to a 1985 Los Angeles Times report, Feinstein described her childhood as “very cruel” and said her alcoholic mother regularly beat her and her sister.
Nevertheless, she became San Francisco’s first female and Jewish mayor in 1978 at the age of 45, after the city’s former mayor, George Moscone, was assassinated along with city supervisor Harvey Milk.
As chair of the then-county Board of Supervisors, she was at City Hall at the time of the murders and was the one who found Milk dead in his office. Feinstein then announced their deaths at a news conference in words that reverberated across the country.
She held the mayor’s seat for 10 years before launching a campaign for governor.
Feinstein married her first husband Jack Berman in 1956, leaving a single mother to daughter Katherine three years later at the age of 26. In 1962, she married Bertram Feinstein, who died of colon cancer in 1978. Two years later she married the San Francisco investment banker. Richard Blum.
Billionaire Blum was Feinstein’s third husband, and she never seemed to fully recover from his death in 2022.
Blum and Feinstein married while she was still mayor of San Francisco and became a power couple in the city. Both were wealthy: Feinstein had family money and Blum a self-made banker.
After her unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1990, she was appointed to the Senate in 1992.
Feinstein, D-Calif., left, and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., are seen after a group photo to mark National Seersucker Day in the Ohio Clock Corridor of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, June 8, 2023
Senator Strom Thurmond at the Judiciary Committee hearing on Billy Carter’s dealings with Libya, Washington DC, July 1980. Thurmond was the oldest senator ever, retiring at the age of 100.
Grassley is the second-oldest member of the Senate
Feinstein is the fifth oldest to ever serve in the Senate. Strom Thurmond, the segregationist Democrat turned Republican, was the oldest and longest-serving senator ever: He was 100 when he retired in January 2003 after 48 years in office.
And in addition to a slew of health problems in the final chapter of her life, Feinstein faced a messy family legal battle.
She accused the administrators of her late husband’s estate of financial elder abuse, asked for them to be removed from their positions and accused them of improperly financially enriching Richard Blum’s three daughters.
The lawsuit was filed by Feinstein’s daughter Katherine, who had power of attorney for her. The three daughters from Richard Blum’s previous marriage wondered why Feinstein could serve in the Senate but not file her own lawsuit.
Feinstein, meanwhile, claims Blum’s daughters were improperly appointed and refused to pay the senator’s disbursements or reimburse her medical bills.
In the latest filing, trustees estimate Feinstein’s net worth at $50 million and say she has more than $1 million in income per year from her late husband’s trust and her salary.
A poll conducted last summer by the University of California at Berkeley found that about two-thirds of California voters did not consider the senator fit for office.
The senator caused confusion when she returned to the Senate after her extended absence earlier this year and seemed to forget she was gone.
‘No, I’ve been here. I voted,” the then 89-year-old told reporters on May 16 when they asked how she felt and what her colleagues thought of her return. ‘Please. You either know it or you don’t,” she added.
She had been away due to a battle with shingles that led to vision and balance disorders, as well as facial paralysis, known as Ramsay Hunt syndrome, in addition to encephalitis, a brain infection.
Her office confirmed the diagnosis after the senator herself curiously told reporters that she had the flu. ‘It was a very bad flu. I’m doing better, thank you,” Feinstein initially said of her condition.
Still, the senator’s work from her heyday drew praise from both sides of the aisle.
“Sen Feinstein has done an excellent job representing the people of California. I worked closely with her as a member of the drug caucus and the judiciary. During the time I was chairman and she was Democratic, we had a great working relationship. She is a real public servant. I will miss her,” Grassley, who served with Feinstein in the Senate for her entire career, wrote on X.
Feinstein had planned to retire in 2024 — three House Democrats have already lined up to replace her: Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. Businessman Eric Early chooses the Republican side.
Feinstein holds a copy of a billboard to be placed at twenty locations around the city on January 20, 1983
Mayor Feinstein, who ran for governor in 1990, speaks on the phone
Feinstein uses a weight machine at her home in 1990
In May, it also came to light that Nancy Corinne Prowda, the eldest daughter of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, had acted as a kind of caretaker for Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate.
Asked whether the settlement would help Schiff’s campaign, Pelosi spokesman Aaron Bennett responded with a curt “no.”
Sources suggested this Politics that the arrangement was to ensure that Feinstein, whose state of confusion and misremembering was clearly visible in the Senate, would remain in office until the end of her term.
Feinstein speaks on the phone in a private box during NFL game between San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks; looking at assistant
Diane Feinstein’s swearing-in in the Senate in 1992
Feinstein jogging looks much livelier than in recent years
The 58-year-old marketing executive has appeared with the outgoing senator following the departure of several trusted aides.
Pelosi has endorsed Schiff in the primaries, and sources told Politico they believed the arrangement could be to prevent Governor Gavin Newsom from appointing Lee to fill the seat.
Newsom has pledged to appoint a Black woman to the Senate, though he has suggested he won’t appoint anyone currently in the race for the 2024 seat.
A spokesperson for Feinstein said Prowda did not receive a salary for her role.
“Nancy Corinne and Senator Feinstein have been friends for decades. Nancy Corinne has supported her in her shingles recovery,” Pelosi spokesman Aaron Bennett explained in a statement to DailyMail.com.
“Speaker Emerita Pelosi and Senator Feinstein have been friends long before their service in Congress – and their friendship is personal, not political. Anyone who knows Senator Feinstein knows that her service in the Senate is entirely her own decision, and Speaker Emerita Pelosi would never suggest otherwise.”