Remembering San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

When I woke up the Tuesday morning of December 12th, I was shocked to see on Facebook that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack (now since confirmed). I was saddened that Mayor Lee had died so young, at age 65, and so unexpectedly.

I didn’t grow up in San Francisco and personally didn’t really know Ed Lee until he was appointed Mayor of San Francisco after then Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected Lt. Governor of California and vacated his office. I liked the fact that Lee had pledged NOT to run for mayor as a condition of being appointed mayor, and was very disappointed when he did run, since I was for an up-and-comer like then San Francisco Board of Supervisor David Chiu.

Mayor Ed Lee Welcoming Congressman Mark Tanako

But I was certainly proud of the fact that San Francisco had finally had its first Asian American/Chinese American mayor, given the fact that San Francisco is over 30% Asian. I had attended many different political and other city-related events and had seen Mayor Ed Lee many times. He was always civil, friendly and most importantly, accessible and looking out for the best interests of San Francisco and San Franciscans. For most of his time working for the City of San Francisco, he was a quiet, behind-the-scenes “bureaucrat” (in a good way) working for the good of the city.

From Mayor Lee’s Wikipedia entry, a summary of Lee’s professional accomplishments prior to being appointed mayor and then elected twice as mayor:

“After Lee completed law school and received his Juris Doctor degree from UC Berkeley School of Law, he worked as managing attorney for the San Francisco Asian Law Caucus, where he was an advocate for affordable housing and the rights of immigrants and renters.[6] In 1989, Mayor Art Agnos appointed Lee to be the city’s first investigator under the city’s whistleblower ordinance. Agnos later appointed him deputy director of human relations. In 1991, he was hired as executive director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, serving in that capacity under Mayors Agnos, Frank Jordan, and Willie Brown. Brown appointed him director of city purchasing, where, among other responsibilities, he ran the city’s first Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise program.[1]

In 2000, he was appointed director of public works for the city, and in 2005 was appointed by Mayor Newsom to a five-year term as city administrator, to which he was reappointed in 2010. As city administrator, Lee oversaw the reduction of city government and implemented the city’s first ever ten-year capital plan.[1]

Mayor Ed Lee at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina

I think Ed Lee was most disliked for the passing of a “Twitter tax break” and seemingly favoring business over the working class, which appeared to contradict his entire upbringing. But personally, after reading more about the issue of the tax break – it made no sense to me that San Francisco included stock options as part of its payroll tax calculations if all the other cities in the greater San Francisco Bay Area/Silicon Valley were not.

Mayor Ed Lee at a Golden State Warriors press conference/game

The biggest issue Lee had to contend with, in my opinion, during his tenure was the cost of living in San Francisco, specifically housing and the consequences of it (homelessness). If you want a backgrounder on the housing crisis, you should read this TechCrunch article. Basically, the past 5 to 10 years, job growth has really surpassed housing construction and mass transit sucks in the Bay Area. But it’s definitely complicated.

Mayor Ed Lee speaking at a Vincent Chin related event

Unfortunately, over that weekend when Lee’s memorial occurred, I already had plans out-of-town and could not pay my respects in person.

However, I had a chance to watch about 30 minutes of Mayor Ed Lee’s memorial service, and was touched by the words his daughters spoke, as well as others including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Lt. Governor Newsom. My thoughts are with Lee’s wife and daughters and extended family.

I hope that Mayor Ed Lee’s service to the city of San Francisco serves as a role model and encourages Asian Americans to consider a life in public service.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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