SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Mourners bearing bouquets and cards paid their respects Wednesday to the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco City Hall, where she launched her groundbreaking political career and spent a decade as the city’s first female mayor.
Musicians played the violin and other string instruments as a steady line of people snaked into the City Hall rotunda, where her casket was on display behind velvet ropes. People brought flowers that were later whisked away by staff, stood for a few seconds in contemplation or squeezed back tears before moving on to a side room to sign condolence books.
Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also of San Francisco, was among the officials in attendance. Feinstein died Thursday at her Washington, D.C., home after a series of illnesses.
Jose Romero Cooper, 61, and 73-year-old Mark Cooper were among the first to say goodbye, waiting in line before doors were open to the public. The married couple said they had followed Feinstein’s career with pride as she went from mayor of the politically liberal city to the U.S. Senate.
“What I’m gonna say is: ‘Thank you for everything, for being strong,’” said Jose Romero Cooper, a scarf of the American flag draped around his neck.
He stood before the casket, genuflected and crossed himself, then walked away with tears streaming down his face.
Feinstein was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and was board president in November 1978 when a former supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay supervisor, at City Hall. Feinstein became acting mayor, and she went on to serve as mayor until 1988.
San Francisco would not be San Francisco without her. She steered the city through the HIV and AIDS crisis, bringing attention to an epidemic ignored by President Ronald Reagan. She also secured federal and private funding to save the city’s iconic cable cars from death by deterioration.
Feinstein led the city as it played host to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. Another San Francisco tradition — “Fleet Week” — was started by Feinstein in 1981, and this year’s annual celebration of air shows, naval ships and military bands is dedicated to her.
Beyond serving as San Francisco’s first female mayor, she joined Barbara Boxer as the first women to represent California in the U.S. Senate. They both won election in 1992, dubbed the “ Year of the Woman. ”
Feinstein inspired countless girls and women, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is the first Black woman and only the second woman to lead the city. Breed recalled looking up to Feinstein when Feinstein was mayor and Breed played the French horn in the middle school band that played regularly at mayoral events.
“She was so proud of us and she said so, and she took the time to talk to us, express how amazing we were and to remind us that we were her band,” Breed said at a news conference the day after the senator’s death.
Cari Donovan placed a bouquet of lilies and daisies in red and pink before the casket.
“I’m a San Francisco native. And I remember her being such a big public figure on my life. She championed and fought for the rights of so many people,” Donovan said, adding that she talked to her 28-year-old daughter about the battles Feinstein fought so that younger generations of women could dream bigger.
“She was a powerhouse,” she said. “She was a lioness.”
While Feinstein’s career sent her to Washington, she remained deeply involved in the affairs of San Francisco, the city where she was born and raised. She often called her successors — including Gov. Gavin Newsom — to complain about potholes or trash and to offer advice and encouragement.
John Konstin Sr., owner of John’s Grill, a favorite downtown tourist destination and watering hole for city politicians, recalled Feinstein ordering potholes filled, trees trimmed and ugly scaffolding brought down before San Francisco hosted the 1984 Democratic convention.
“She asked, ‘How long has this scaffolding been up?’ And my dad said maybe 10 years, and the next day it came down,” said Konstin, 59. “It was half a block of scaffolding.”
Feinstein’s favorite dish was the Petrale sole, he said. The restaurant, which was celebrating its 115th anniversary Wednesday with a free lunch and appearances by Breed and other politicians, will have flowers by Feinstein’s portrait.
Mourners can pay their respects at City Hall until 7 p.m.
A memorial service will be held Thursday outside City Hall. Speakers will include Pelosi, Breed, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. President Joe Biden will deliver remarks by recorded video.
Associated Press journalist Haven Daley in San Francisco and researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.