Willie Mays is a Bay Area hero widely revered for his stellar 21-year career with the Giants. But he was traded at 41 to the New York Mets, where he played his last two seasons as a second-stringer, batting just .211 in his final year, 90 points below his career average.
Another San Francisco legend faces a similar situation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has served with distinction in the U.S. Senate for 25 years, must decide soon if she will run for re-election next year when she will be 85. Will she, like Mays, choose to persist when her skills have diminished?
I have known the senior senator throughout her career. As a White House staffer, I helped coordinate the Clinton administration’s support for her re-election in 1994 and had frequent meetings with her in various government affairs positions ever since.
I respect her tenacity, effectiveness, and civility. She has a long list of accomplishments, including the Assault Weapons Ban, Desert Protection Act, and securing federal funds for California. She helped enact fuel efficiency standards, campaign funding restrictions, and nuclear weapons limits. She has been a forceful voice against the use of torture.
But it’s time for Feinstein to retire and give other talented Democrats the opportunity to compete for her seat.
Already the oldest senator, Feinstein would be 91 if she completed another term. Ironically, in 1986, Feinstein said California Sen. Alan Cranston was too old to run for re-election, when he was 72. He ran and won another six-year term.
A recent poll revealed that California voters have serious concerns about Feinstein’s age. By a 62-38 margin, Californians who were informed about her age believe it would be a “bad thing” for her to run again.
The environment has changed drastically since Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992. The centrist, compromise-oriented approach she represents is out of favor. Democrats demand more progressive and aggressive advocacy.
While Feinstein has supported Democratic priorities most of the time, she has deviated. In two of the most consequential votes of her career, the 2001 Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War authorization, she sided with Republicans, policies that led to greater income inequality and budget deficits, and chaos in the Middle East.
More recently, in Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearings, she missed opportunities to focus on Donald Trump’s erratic and suspicious behavior.
When questioning former FBI Director James Comey, she curiously noted that he is “big” and “strong,” and seemed to blame Comey for not confronting the president when he pressured the FBI director to impede the investigation.
Later in a media interview, she echoed a Republican talking point by calling for an inquiry into what former Attorney General Loretta Lynch said to Comey about the Clinton email investigation, and later signed a letter launching that investigation.
In a different hearing, she failed to extract responsive answers from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in sharp contrast to pointed inquiries by California’s other senator, Kamala Harris.
If she declines to run for re-election, Feinstein could still accomplish much for California. She could focus exclusively on her critical responsibilities on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees without the distraction of raising money and campaigning.
Like her recently retired colleague Barbara Boxer, Feinstein could write a book about her extraordinary career to inspire others to public service, and curate her collection of official papers in collaboration with a university.
As one with high regard for both Sen. Feinstein and Willie Mays, I hope she learns from his example and chooses to retire while she’s near the top of her game.
Editor’s note: An earlier version misstated Alan Cranston’s age at the time of his final campaign for U.S. Senate, and the year of his death. It was 2000.
Tom Epstein has been involved in California politics for more than 40 years as a senior staffer for Democratic officeholders, a campaign manager, and a government affairs executive. firstname.lastname@example.org.