Agnos, Art: Milk's political transformation


Art Agnos: Well, the race with Harvey Milk was a very interesting one. I was the candidate of the political left establishment. Mayor Moscone and Speaker Leo McCarthy, Willie Brown, Congressman Burton, both Congressman Burton, they were all supporting me which meant I was gonna get elected. Nevertheless, Harvey was a very competitive guy. Ironically, he was the conservative, and I was the liberal in that race. Harvey had come a few years before, I think in 72, we’re now in 75 or 76. He had come earlier when he had been outed as a stockbroker in New York where he was a Goldwater republican. Not a lot of people knew that. It was here that he found his liberation. As I said, people come to San Francisco to be liberated from whatever hampers them and sort of closets them. Whether it’s social, cultural, economic, whatever it is. Harvey came to be free as a gay man because he was deeply in the closet in New York, he was outed. He was a conservative guy; as I said a Goldwater republican. Came out here and found freedom, grew his ponytail and started to move to the left. But nevertheless, in 1975 as a candidate against me his favorite speech, and in the movie about him there’s a scene that depicts this, that he insisted that we needed to government run like a business. Where have you heard that before? And that “we didn’t need anymore social workers like Agnos to be developing these social programs”, and he went on from there. When you’re a candidate you get to know the other candidates rap if there were few of them. So I could give Harvey’s rap; he probably could give mine. And at that scene that you see in the movie. I liked him, I liked Harvey. He was a charming and appealing guy, and I could see he might go some place so I took him after he gave his speech at the University of California Law School debate between the two of us, again repeating his what we called “Throw the Bums Out” speech. I took him aside afterwards on the steps, put my arm around him and said “You know, Harvey, I know you want to go some place in politics in this city, but you’re not get too far with your ‘Throw the Bums Out’ conservative speech. You gotta give people hope.” Just like that. And he looked at me, and he said “What do you mean?” I said “You gotta give people hope for the future, and talk to them about the positive things that you can help them achieve together. The next week, he had his give ‘em hope speech. It was stunning to see him turn around and sound like a liberal! He did a good job! I must say, I congratulated him. I still won, but the next year he was a full-blown progressive. And in a district election that encompassed the Castro, won against a very crowded field. I didn’t support him. I supported Rick Stokes, who was an early freedom fighter for gay rights, but nevertheless Harvey with his “Give ‘em Hope” speech, which he NAILED. He was good at it. He won a resounding victory and went on to become the supervisor. We became friends. And by this time I had helped, not in a big way, but I had been a supporter of George Moscone when he ran for mayor against Barbagelata and Feinstein and all the others, and because he was a progressive and all the reasons that we talked about in this segment. So we would all see each other a lot. Mayor Moscone would have me over for some political event, and I’d talk to Harvey and so on. So there was a growing personal relationship to go on with the political alliances.


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The Moscone oral history interviews are part of the George Moscone Collection, MSS 328.

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