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The assassinations that forged Dianne Feinstein’s political path

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(NewsNation) — Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who broke gender barriers throughout her more than 30-year career in local and national politics, has died at the age of 90.

Before her election to the Senate in 1992, Feinstein was elected the first female mayor of San Francisco. She became mayor following the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk, the first gay elected official in California.

Moscone’s killing and its aftermath helped propel Feinstein’s political career.

At the time, Feinstein was the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and confidante of Dan White, a former supervisor who quit his seat but later wanted it back. Moscone planned to appoint someone else and notified Feinstein on the morning of Nov. 27, 1978.

Later that day, Feinstein was at her desk at City Hall and tried to explain the decision to White as he walked by, but she didn’t know he had just shot and killed the mayor.

“I saw him come in. I said, ‘Dan, can I talk to you?’ And he went by, and I heard the door close,” Feinstein recalled in a later interview. “And I heard the shots and smelled the cordite, and I came out of my office. Dan went right by me. Nobody was around, every door was closed.”

Feinstein found Milk’s body and searched for a pulse. “My finger went into a bullet hole in his wrist,” she recalled in a later interview with the Los Angeles Times.

She was the first to announce the murders to the press.

On that day in 1978, Feinstein had returned to City Hall after a three-week absence. She had run for mayor of San Francisco twice.

Due to the city’s succession law, Feinstein was appointed mayor a week later. She held office for nine years before losing a bid for California governor in 1990.

Feinstein’s trailblazing political career continued to be marked by a series of historic firsts.

She was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and became its first female president in 1978. In the Senate, she was one of California’s first two female senators, the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to serve as the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat.

One of Feinstein’s most significant legislative accomplishments was early in her career, when the Senate approved her amendment to ban manufacturing and sales of certain types of assault weapons as part of a crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994. Though the assault weapons ban expired 10 years later and was never renewed or replaced, it was a poignant win after her career had been significantly shaped by gun violence.

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will appoint her interim successor, released a statement on Feinstein’s passing. In it, the governor boasts about Feinstein’s leadership and effectiveness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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