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S.F. Mayor Ed Lee Dies Suddenly at 63

Mayor Ed Lee and his wife Anita.

SAN FRANCISCO — Ed Lee, San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor, died at 1:11 a.m. on Tuesday at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. He was 65.

According to KRON4, the mayor arrived at the hospital in critical condition shortly after 10 p.m. Monday and doctors tried lifesaving measures for hours.

Family, friends and colleagues were at his side when he passed, and the medical examiner will determine the cause of death.

CBS SF Bay Area quoted former Mayor Willie Brown, a close friend of Lee, as saying that the mayor was shopping at the Safeway in Diamond Heights when he apparently suffered a heart attack and was taken away by ambulance.

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement, “It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, his two daughters, Brianna and Tania, and his family.”

Brianna is an associate editor at Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) in Pasadena.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed was immediately named acting mayor. The board will vote later on an interim mayor.

At a morning news conference, Breed said of Lee, “He was from the dawn of his career an advocate for the powerless, a voice for overlooked. Someone who fought for those in need before himself. That commitment to others defined the mayor’s three decades of public service.”

She ordered flags to be a half-staff for the next 30 days.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed, pictured with other city officials at a City Hall Press conference on Tuesday, has been named acting mayor. (ABC7 News)

Lee was appointed as mayor by the Board of Supervisors in January 2011 after Mayor Gavin Newsom resigned to become lieutenant governor. Although he initially said he would only serve in an interim capacity, he was persuaded by his friends and supporters, including Brown and the late Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, to run for the office and was elected that November, then re-elected in 2015. His term was to expire in 2019.

The son of Chinese immigrants and a native of Seattle, Lee was the first in his family to attend college. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1974 and from Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley in 1978. Prior to becoming a civil servant, he worked as a housing activist and civil right attorney with the Asian Law Caucus.

He joined city government in 1989 as an investigator under the whistleblower ordinance, then served as deputy of human relations, director of public works, city administrator, and a member of the Board of Supervisors. His election as mayor was a milestone for Asian Americans, who make up one-third of the city’s population.

He is credited with overseeing a technology-driven economic boom but was criticized for the sky-high housing prices that resulted.

Lee was dedicated to reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, lowering rents and evictions, ending chronic veterans’ homelessness, stopping laws that discriminate against the LGBT community, and investing in infrastructure, parks and schools.

In his inaugural address in 2016, Lee said, “Today, after 26 years in city government, and five years as your mayor, I wish to thank and honor the people of San Francisco. I still believe now what I believed at the beginning of my personal journey – back in those tumultuous 1970s – that every person deserves equal opportunity and basic dignity, no matter the color of their skin, who they love, what language they speak, how much education they have, or how much money they earn. Friends, I still believe that no place on Earth better represents that ideal than our very own San Francisco.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former mayor of San Francisco, said in a statement, “Early this morning I learned of Ed Lee’s death. It’s a very sad day for San Francisco and all of us who knew Ed. My thoughts turn to all of Ed’s family, especially Anita, Brianna and Tania. I know what this is like and wish I could give Anita a hug and express my sorrow.

“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. My heart and thoughts are with Ed’s family and friends and the city I love.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, 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.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a Facebook post, “Just came back from SFGH. Very sad to learn of the untimely passing of Mayor Ed Lee … Life is truly fleeting and uncertain.”

San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu said, “I am very saddened by the passing of Mayor Edwin M. Lee. He was a friend and a mentor, someone who cared deeply about people, someone who was about substance, not flash, someone who mastered the art of corny jokes. He dedicated his life to public service and to advancing civil rights and dignity for our fellow human beings. He treated everyone with respect. I will miss him.”

The Japanese American Citizens League said in a statement, “JACL is saddened and shocked by the passing of Mayor Ed Lee. As mayor of San Francisco, Lee was always a friend to JACL and the San Francisco Japanese American community. He was a great civil rights advocate and for that he will always be remembered. We send our deepest condolences to his family.”

Many other colleagues and associates issued statements.

Gov. Jerry Brown: “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. Ed was a true champion for working people and epitomized the California spirit. He’ll truly be missed.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco: “Heartbroken to hear of the passing of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a dear friend to many and a tireless champion for the people.”

State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco), former San Francisco supervisor: “I am floored. I can’t believe he’s gone. I just held a press conference with Mayor Lee yesterday … He was his normal friendly and jovial self.”

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus: “Mayor Ed Lee was a down-to-earth, kind, and thoughtful person who — despite his grueling and hectic schedule and whatever rough political winds were swirling around him — always had time to check in with you, inquire about your family, share a kind word, and ask how he can help you. I always appreciated his friendly, welcoming smile and kind demeanor. Before anything else, Mayor Lee was a good person with a big, warm heart. He was also a champion and unrelenting advocate for the Filipino American community, something I deeply appreciated. Mayor Lee will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.”

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), former San Francisco supervisor: “This morning, I was absolutely stunned and deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Mayor Ed Lee. Years before he was mayor, I knew him as a devoted public servant who just got things done with a deep love for our city.”

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), former San Francisco assessor-recorder: “Shocked and saddened about passing of Mayor Edwin M. Lee. Fellow Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus alum … Thank you for your service to our city.”

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President David Cortese: “All board members and many administrators have had the pleasure of working with Mayor Lee, most recently on our shared lawsuits against the federal executive orders that threatened the rights of immigrants in our communities. We also shared the goal to provide shelter and housing for the growing numbers of homeless individuals and families in both our communities, among other human rights and civil rights issues. Mayor Lee will be missed not only in San Francisco but throughout the Bay Area, the state and the nation, especially in defending the rights of those who depended on him.”

Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus: “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Mayor Ed Lee. A former Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus workers’ rights attorney, he worked tirelessly to serve those most in need before continuing to advocate for the civil rights of San Francisco residents as the city’s first Asian American mayor. His passion and his dedication to the immigrant community inspired countless people.”

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