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Dan White's Motive More About Betrayal Than Homophobia 

Wednesday, Jan 30 2008
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But White had begun to exhibit signs of depression. He rarely showed up at his City Hall office, and avoided his constituents. Then, without consulting anyone, White gave Mayor Moscone his resignation letter. By the time White arrived home that afternoon, upset constituents, friends, and police and fire union members were calling, and they were pissed.

White told them all that he had to quit because of financial worries, and that he was through with being a supervisor.

In Black's script for Milk, White holds a mysterious meeting with sheriffs and cops in a City Hall basement room and emerges wanting his job back.

But Sloan says he talked White into asking for his job back. "I told him he wasn't going to duck his responsibility, and I talked to him like he was a team captain," he says. "I believe he absolutely recognized he had mental health problems, but finally he wasn't going to avoid his responsibilities."

White asked Moscone for his job back, and at first the mayor was understanding. On November 14, he even gave White back his resignation letter. But there were legal questions, many raised by Milk, who was lobbying heavily against White's reappointment. Moscone decided to wait.

On the morning of November 27, White learned Moscone was not going to reappoint him. He went into his basement office, loaded his police-issue .38, put 10 extra hollow-point shells in his front pants pocket, and left for City Hall.

In 1985, just under two years after his release from prison, White went into the garage of his Excelsior District home and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe of the family car to the inside. He died clutching family photos and listening to a loop tape of the Irish ballad "Fields of Athenry." He never publicly expressed regret for killing Moscone and Milk. (Mary Ann White, who still lives in the modest house, did not respond to a request for an interview.)

Film producer Dan Jinks says that Black has worked for years on the script to ensure its accuracy, and the public should withhold judgment about White's depiction in Milk until it is shown in theaters.

Perhaps accuracy really doesn't matter. Supervisor Ammiano says people will have their own take on that chapter in the city's history. "Everybody sees things through different lenses," he says. "But the outpouring of grief over Milk's murder, which continues to this day, shows beyond a doubt how deep feelings were at that time."

Brian Basinger, president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, says homophobia, racism, and sexism inform an individual's actions in society, but calling White a homophobe might be wrapping things up a little too neatly. "At least for me, I see him more now as a sad, tragic, and pathetic person," he says. "Maybe that's because I've become stronger, and seeing him as a homophobe would taint me as a victim. And that would give him power."

Sloan's life changed dramatically immediately after the killings. Mo Bernstein called and told him to leave town for good. Because of the public outrage against White, Sloan went into hiding for a time, and then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for the John Anderson presidential campaign in 1980. But two high-ranking staffers flew to Washington to notify Anderson's campaign management that Sloan was a potential liability because of his association with White.

"That's when I understood how badly my career had been damaged," Sloan says. "It was always going to follow me."

DeSilva says Sloan was deeply affected by the killings and drank heavily for about a year afterward. Sloan scoffs at that, saying he was drinking pretty heavily before. He continues to work as a political consultant, though he has never fulfilled the promise he showed in 1977. Still, he says he has done well for himself. Some of his current clients, however, say he lives a nomadic life and can disappear for weeks at a time without explanation.

Sloan says he will withhold judgment on Milk, though he remains skeptical of how Dan White will be depicted.

"I don't go to many movies," he says. "I don't have the patience. But I'll see this one."

Dennis DeSilva was Dan White's official photographer during his 1977 campaign and his 11 months as a supervisor. Shortly after White murdered Moscone and Milk, DeSilva put hundreds of undeveloped negatives he had taken of White in a portable home safe. Over the years, DeSilva forgot the combination and the negatives were locked away until the SF Weekly paid to have the safe opened. Many of the photos that accompany this story have never been seen before.

About The Author

John Geluardi

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