SAN FRANCISCO - In a solemn ceremony punctuated by humorous moments, about 500 people gathered Friday evening on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall to remember Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, two influential and sometimes controversial city officials who were gunned down 30 years ago but whose politics continue to shape the city today.
A fading light silhouetted the gilded dome of City Hall as the crowd lit small candles in preparation for the vigil in the Castro, the neighborhood up the hill that Milk represented on the board of supervisors in 1978.
There's been a similar celebration every year since Milk's death, but current political and cultural events - the recent release of the Hollywood film "Milk" and the defeat of gay marriage with the passage of Proposition 8 - brought new resonance to the gathering.
"I have to find a new way of bringing Harvey forward," said Michael Goldstein, who stood on the edge of the crowd, holding a large black and white photograph of Milk, in suit and tie. Over one corner of the photo, Goldstein, former president of the Harvey Milk Club, the Democratic club founded by the former supervisor, had pasted a decal remnant of a more recent political battle. It said, "Fight 8."
Thirty years ago Thursday, disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White, also a police officer, shot the mayor and Milk at their City Hall offices. Moscone had refused to reappoint White to a city seat from which he had resigned; Milk lobbied against his reappointment.
Former Mayor Willie Brown, then a state assemblyman, had just left a meeting with Moscone when White came in and shot the mayor. Then White walked down the hallway and shot Milk.
The assassinations plunged the city into grief and mourning that November day in 1978. Tens of thousands gathered at a candlelight vigil in the Castro.
Jonathan Moscone, the former mayor's son, said Friday that his father was "an agent of eternal change," for bringing the city's diverse population into city government.
Stuart Milk, a nephew from Florida who spoke at the vigil, quoted a letter written to his family by his uncle the year he was killed.
"My hope is to leave a world "... a place that embraces difference," Milk wrote in 1978, "not with hate, but with love." Stuart Milk acknowledged the Hollywood producer Dan Jinks, who stood in the crowd, for his new role in keeping his uncle's "message of hope and example of courage" alive in the recently released film starring Sean Penn as Milk.
Milk and Moscone, Brown said, "are two individuals who shaped the nature of politics and public policy in this city." Their legacy, he said, are today's gays and lesbians in politics, such as Supervisor Tom Ammiano.
In an aside that drew laughter, Ammiano began his remembrance with an imaginary meeting.
"I can just imagine Harvey Milk and Sarah Palin," he said, referring to the Republican vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska.
"Hate your politics," he said, continuing with the reverie, "Love your shoes!"
The assassination of Milk, Ammiano said more seriously, was an effort to silence a movement that his friend started with a simple call to gays and lesbians to come out and become part of community life.
"You can kill the messenger," he said, "but you can't kill the message."