SF’s first Asian American mayor, Ed Lee, passes at 65

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PRAISED as a trailblazer and voice for civil rights, Ed Lee, mayor of San Francisco and friend of the city’s Filipino-American community, passed away on Tuesday, December 12, at the age of 65.

Lee passed away at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg General Hospital from a heart attack while grocery shopping at a Safeway supermarket with his wife, not too far away from their Glen Park home, according to a report by the San Francisco Gate.

“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away,” read a statement from the mayor’s office.  “Family, friends and colleagues were at his side.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, his two daughters, Brianna and Tania, and his family.”

City Hall flags were brought to half-mast on Tuesday as condolences poured in for the city’s 43rd and first-ever Asian American mayor, who was the son of immigrant parents from the Chinese province of Guangdong.

“On behalf of all Californians, Anne and I extend our deepest condolences to Mayor Lee’s family, his many friends and the entire City of San Francisco,” tweeted California Governor Jerry Brown. “Ed was a true champion for working people and epitomized the California spirit.  He’ll truly be missed.”

After serving as City Administrator of San Francisco, Lee was appointed Mayor of San Francisco in January 2011 to serve out the remaining term of former Mayor Gavin Newsom.  Lee then won the election in November 2011, and was re-elected in 2015.

Prior to being a civil servant, the Seattle native became the first in his family to attend college and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1974, and the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley in 1978.  He then went on to work as a housing activist and civil rights attorney.

In a 2011 interview with Northwest Asian Weekly, Lee recalled watching his parents work to provide for him and his five other siblings, and feeling compelled to pitch in. Lee’s father passed away from a heart attack when Lee was just 15, prompting Lee to work in restaurants to help his family.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) who served as San Francisco’s mayor from 1978-1988 said, “Ed was an excellent mayor of a great but sometimes challenging city.  His equanimity and quiet management style was effective and allowed him to solve problems as they occurred.”

Over 140,000 jobs were said to have been added during Lee’s tenure, creating the city’s most successful economic expansion in its history.

Many homes were also said to have been added to the housing market under Lee than at any other time in San Francisco’s history, resulting in a decrease in eviction rates and average rental and home prices.

Greenhouse gas emissions, too, dropped 28-percent under his leadership.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes San Francisco, said, “Mayor Lee’s first priority was always the people.  As a community organizer, civil rights lawyer and hardworking son of an immigrant family of modest means, Ed Lee understood that the strength of a community is measured by its success in meeting the needs of all of its people.  He knew the rhythms and the workings of San Francisco at the most granular level, and dedicated decades to improving the lives of all San Franciscans.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) also took to Twitter and said, “I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.  He was a fierce advocate for civil rights and worked tirelessly for workers’ rights and his leadership will be missed.  Keeping the mayor’s family in my prayers during this difficult time.”

Having been a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors where he served as chair of the Technology and Innovation Task Force, Lee was known to have a close relationship with the tech world.

TechCrunch described Lee as an “advocate to attract and keep tech companies in the city, luring them away from Silicon Valley in the South and also choosing San Francisco as their starting point.”

The tech news site recalled Lee once telling them he visited a different tech company each week.

Leaders from the Asian American community also sent their condolences, reflecting on their experiences with Lee.

Assessor Carmen Chu who also is a Chinese American child of immigrants said, “I remember how proud I was to support and see San Francisco elect its first Asian American Mayor.  He is at the same time a friend and mentor and I will miss him.”

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim shared how when she first met him in 2001 when he was the Director of Public Works, Lee would personally deliver cleaning supplies every Saturday morning to youth leaders.

“He was always friendly, humble and a dedicated public servant committed to getting things done,” said Kim.

California Asian Pacific Islander Caucus (APILC) Chair and Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) called Lee a “stalwart leader for civil rights.”

“His leadership will leave a lasting legacy for Californians for generations to come.  But before anything else, Mayor Lee was a good person with a big, warm heart,” said Bonta.

Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) who serves as APILC’s parliamentarian described Lee as an “incredible leader, mentor, trailblazer, advocate, and most importantly, a wonderful friend”, while Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) described Lee as a “devoted public servant who just got things done with a deep love for our city.”

“Mayor Lee worked tirelessly to improve the lives of every San Franciscan during time of both great prosperity and extreme hardship, and his legacy will persist in the years to come,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco).

Friend of SF Fil-Am community

“The Filipino community has a long and storied history in the city of San Francisco,” said Lee in a June statement when he earmarked $150,000 for the Filipino Cultural Heritage District in San Francisco called SOMA Pilipinas.

“These investments signify our commitment to preserving the neighborhood as the cultural, economic and social core Filipinos in the city and the families and seniors who call it home,” Lee added.

These remarks for the Filipino community were common during his term, as Lee often tweeted photos of himself participating in community events.

Just last month, Lee praised the monthly Filipino Night Market in San Francisco, calling it “the best party that has ever happened at the old mint” as reported by Balitang America.

“I think it’s incredible, but to give it that energy with the Filipino culture, the family of the modern artists, with some of the traditional things they want to present, performances… I think this is a really great use of an old building but also a special thing for San Francisco, of our Filipino community coming out.”

Lee is survived by his wife Anita, and his two daughters Brianna and Tania.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed has stepped in as acting mayor.  A vote on who will assume mayorship will come in the following weeks. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)

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