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Despite being a political neophyte, White scored an early victory before the swearing-in ceremony. Sloan figured a way to maneuver veteran Supervisor Quentin Kopp out of the race for board president alongside Supervisors Dianne Feinstein and Gordon Lau. Evaluating how the votes would play out, Sloan determined that White, who voted last, would have the deciding vote between Feinstein and Kopp.
The deal was that if Kopp dropped out, he could save face and be guaranteed appointment to the influential budget committee. White pitched the deal to Kopp, a lawyer and shrewd politician.
In a recent interview, Kopp says he was planning a run for mayor at the same time as Feinstein, so the political stakes were high. When White pitched the deal, Kopp was in the hospital recovering from appendicitis.
"Feinstein was already maneuvering for some kind of deal," says Kopp, who is now a superior court judge. "She really wanted to be president and kept asking to come and see me in the hospital, but I didn't want her there with all that schoolgirl seriousness. So this Dan White comes over and tells me that I had to make a deal. It was peculiar: Here's this rookie telling me what to do."
Kopp cut a separate deal with Feinstein in which she agreed not to oppose him in the next mayoral race if he didn't run against her for board president. (Kopp says she went back on the deal after Moscone's death, and became the next elected mayor.) "White was no kingmaker, but he played an important role in Feinstein becoming board president," Kopp says.
DeSilva says Sloan's role in Feinstein's election as president established his reputation among city power brokers.
White had scored valuable political capital, and local politicos were calling Sloan the "it kid" for being the architect. Sloan recalls that Feinstein supporter Mo Bernstein, a wealthy fund-raiser and power broker, came up to him and said, "You're a Jew, aren't you? I know you're Jewish." Sloan describes himself as a "dumb Methodist from Walnut Creek," but he knew what Bernstein meant.
"I had impressed San Francisco's political power structure," Sloan says. "I was a big thing. I was smarter than some very powerful people in the city, and that was a big deal for a 26-year-old kid. I was convinced I had a very bright future in this city."
White used his political capital to help Harvey Milk. He persuaded Feinstein to appoint Milk chairman of the Streets and Transportation Committee, something Milk wanted. Feinstein was reluctant, Sloan says, but finally she told White she would do it "so you'll know who your friends are." (Feinstein did not respond to an interview request by SF Weekly.)
Despite White's loose association with the board's six-member conservative faction, he supported gay-friendly issues. He voted with Milk to save the Pride Center, which served as a meeting place for gay veterans and seniors. He voted for a resolution honoring a lesbian couple on the occasion of their 25th anniversary and, at committee level, he voted for the Gay Rights Ordinance, Milk's premier legislation, which would protect San Franciscans from losing their jobs simply for being gay or lesbian.
White was such a reliable supporter of gay issues that Milk aide Dick Pabich was quoted as praising him in a gay newspaper. Weiss reprinted the quote in Double Play: "A really neat thing is how supportive some people around here have been, Dan White in particular. He's supported us on every position, and he goes out of his way to find out what gay people think about things."
Sloan says White got flak from some of the board's conservative members, but the simple fact was that White admired Milk. "Dan had more in common with Harvey than he did with anyone else on the board," Sloan says. "They were both proud of their military service, they both hated big money interests, and they both represented people on the political margins. And neither was afraid of a fight."
White was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic grammar school, but that didn't stop him from taking on the Church over a proposed facility for juvenile offenders who had committed serious crimes like murder, arson, and rape. The Catholic Church wanted to build the facility, Youth Campus, on convent property in the Portola neighborhood, but needed to change a zoning ordinance to do so. The Portola was largely Catholic, and Sloan says the Church had bullied some parishioners by saying they would go to hell if they didn't support the facility.
Sloan saw White's "Irish toughness" one afternoon when they met with Father Howard Rasmussen, who was overseeing the project: "Rasmussen was treating Dan like an obedient little Catholic boy, and Dan finally told him, 'You cross me on this and I'll fuck you, Rasmussen!' He sat there dumbstruck in all his Catholic vestments. I was shaking, too, but I knew I was around someone who had an innate sense of how power worked. He had let Rasmussen know he was the supervisor."
But Milk's gay-rights battles were more immediate and far more popular. He was taking on a cultural Goliath, and White respected that, Sloan says: "Dan really adored Harvey for standing up the way he did for his values. But the shit would hit the fan in April."