Why California’s Greatest Historian Couldn’t Get Elected in San Francisco

Kevin Starr's Failed Candidacy Exposed the Fault Lines in a Shifting City

Kevin Starr is widely regarded as California’s pre-eminent historian—a prolific author and public intellectual for nearly 50 years—and his death earlier this year generated much writing about his life and scholarship. But one episode in his life was not widely known or much remembered: his race for San Francisco Supervisor in 1984.

I was a volunteer in that campaign, and got to see firsthand how the campaign, and its aftermath, would influence Starr’s career—and by extension Californians’ understanding of themselves.

Starr came to the 1984 race with a decade-long involvement in …

Historian Kevin Starr Was an Affectionate Connoisseur of California’s Contradictions

The Longtime State Librarian Told the Golden State's Story with a Novelist's Touch

California has had many chroniclers—some critics, some boosters, some cheerleaders, some dour polemicists. It’s only natural that a vast state defined by its extremes—political, geological, economic, and otherwise—would rarely be …