Dianne Feinstein may be honored with San Francisco post office named for her

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After a barrier-breaking career over more than a half-century that took her from being the first woman mayor of San Francisco to the longest-serving female Senator in U.S. history, California’s late Sen. Dianne Feinstein may be honored with a post office named for her.

Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, who, along with California’s junior senator, this week proposed naming a San Francisco post office after Feinstein, said it is just “a first step” in commemorating her.

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“I think it’s going to take a number of honors to live up to the legacy of Senator Feinstein. So there’s other types in the works,” Padilla said in an interview.

Still, some quickly saw the proposal as a commemoration that falls short of Feinstein’s gravitas.

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“It is kind of a consolation prize rather than a signal honor,” said Ross Baker, emeritus political science professor at Rutgers University. “Naming a post office is kind of an inside joke in Congress… It’s very, very easy to do.”

The late senator died at the age of 90 in September. During more than 30 years as a U.S. senator, Feinstein played pivotal roles in creating multiple national parks, sponsored the 1990s assault weapons ban and led Democrats on both the Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees. She launched into the history books in 1978 when, as president of the San Francisco board of supervisors, she took over as the city’s leader after the mayor was assassinated. In 1992, she became the first woman to represent California in the Senate.

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Recognizing someone with a post office is a fairly common occurrence on Capitol Hill. In both the House and Senate, a state’s entire delegation has to agree to the name change before the bill will be considered. So far this Congress, 150 bills have been filed to rename post offices, many in honor of members of the military who died in combat. In the last Congress, California post offices were named for an Oxnard civil rights activist, the “Pasta King” of Sonoma County, a Compton Medal of Honor recipient who died during the Vietman War and former San Diego Rep. Susan Davis, among others.

No money is included as part of a post office renaming bill. The signage outside the post office does not change to reflect the new name. Friends, family or civic organizations are left with the responsibility to pay for a sign to put up noting the commemoration.

“All that’s done typically is a little plaque that’s put inside the post office. And so it’s more trivial than trivial,” said Arizona State University politics professor Steven Smith. “It’s a weird form of commemoration.”

Instead, many prominent members of Congress are memorialized in more obvious, lasting ways, such as renaming courthouses, federal parks, or federal buildings. There is the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Miss., for instance, and the Richard Shelby Federal Building and Courthouse in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Former Rep. Edward Roybal, who represented Southern California for 30 years and co-founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, was recognized with the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles and the Edward Roybal Campus of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

The San Francisco post office Padilla and Sen. Laphonza Butler proposed naming for Feinstein is near the Embarcadero with a view overlooking the Bay Bridge. It’s on the ground level of the Rincon Center, which Feinstein oversaw redevelopment of as mayor in the 1980s.

Padilla would not describe any other efforts underway to recognize Feinstein, beyond saying they might be related to her desert conservation work.

“We’re not at that level of detail yet, but something else,” he said.

California Reps. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), filed legislation to rename the main trail in Headwaters Forest Reserve after Feinstein last year. She helped broker the 1999 deal that bought the land for the reserve from Pacific Lumber, protecting the redwoods it contained. Five months later, the bill has not been considered by the House Natural Resources Committee.

In January, the San Francisco Airport Commission voted unanimously to name its international terminal in honor of Feinstein.

In 2006, Dianne Feinstein Elementary School opened in San Francisco. At the time she told the San Francisco Chronicle that her connection to the campus would help students “look at government in a much more personal way than they otherwise would have.”

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