SAN FRANCISCO — Friends and associates are mourning the untimely passing of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who died suddenly on Tuesday morning at age 65.
While offering condolences to Lee’s wife, Anita, and daughters, Brianna and Tania, community leaders and elected officials in the Bay Area and beyond praised San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor as an effective and well-liked politician and an advocate for civil rights.
Lee, then the city’s administrator, was appointed mayor in 2011 when Mayor Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor. He was persuaded by his friends and supporters to run for the office and was elected in 2011. Re-elected in 2015, he was only halfway through his second term at the time of his death.
“Absolutely heartbroken by Mayor Lee’s passing,” said Newsom, now a candidate for governor. “SF has lost a selfless leader and dedicated public servant whose intellect, integrity, boundless optimism and contagious love elevated our city. Jen and I mourn the loss of a dear friend.”
State Treasurer John Chiang, who is also running for governor, said, “San Francisco and, indeed, the state of California has lost a tireless leader and respected son. When others sowed division, Ed saw a time for consensus. When public discourse turned sour and angry, Ed’s understated voice of reason and civility elevated us all. When others would say ‘no,’ Ed — like the civil rights trailblazers before him — always found a way to ‘yes.’ Mayor Ed Lee will be sorely missed.”
Fiona Ma, a member of the Board of Equalization, candidate for state treasurer, and former member of the State Assembly and San Francisco Board of Supervisors, posted, “Mayor Ed Lee left us too soon at age 65. He was a humble, hard-working man who dedicated his life to public service. He was a man of the people and was beloved by all. We will meet again. RIP.”
State Controller Betty Yee, who is from San Francisco, said, “A more dedicated public servant one would be hard-pressed to find. San Francisco lost a gem. Yes, many had differences with him, but his heart was and will rest with San Francisco always … Rest in peace, Ed.”
State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the first Asian American to represent the Sacramento region in the Senate, said, ““My deepest sympathies and condolences for the family and friends of Mayor Ed Lee and the people of San Francisco. Our AAPI community has suffered a blow with the loss of Mayor Lee. As San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor and through his steadfast service, Mayor Lee blazed a trail for the AAPI community. He will be remembered for his ability to bring people together and build consensus while facing some of the most challenging issues of our day. His leadership will be missed, as he passed too early in life, but his example will continue to inspire present and future leaders in our AAPI community.”
Rev. Norman Fong, executive director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, was among the friends who gathered around Lee at San Francisco General Hospital. Fong told NBC News, “He had some rough challenges, because working with a city like San Francisco is not easy. But he worked hard all the time. It’s a huge loss for not just the Chinese community but all of San Francisco — because he got some stuff done.”
Allen Okamoto, co-chair of the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, said, “I will always cherish my 25-year relationship with Mayor Ed Lee. He was a great leader and a true gentleman. San Francisco and the world has lost one of our heroes.”
Michael Yaki, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and former San Francisco supervisor, commented, “What started as a horrible day with the news that my friend Mayor Ed Lee had died is ameliorated somewhat by the unexpected and totally wonderful victory of Doug Jones in Alabama — a cross-country validation of the values championed by Ed throughout his life.”
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement, “A terrible hole has been created in the hearts of San Franciscans and any who had the pleasure of knowing Ed Lee as family or friend, as I did. While the sudden loss of Ed is painful, through his many achievements, he will be remembered. History will remember him as the first Asian American mayor of San Francisco. His constituents will remember him as a principled leader who, while overseeing a period of historic growth and prosperity, chose to champion the homeless and vulnerable while also making his city a global symbol of success. And I will remember him as a dear and wise friend.
“Growing up as the son of immigrants and one of six children in Seattle public housing, Ed faced both economic hardship and racial prejudice. As a lawyer, these experiences would continue to inspire his work, whether helping residents of a public housing project to organize or standing up for women and people of color in the workforce. His drive to succeed made him the first in his family to graduate college. Later, as mayor, his geniality made him a consensus-builder, which enabled him to lift up communities so none would feel excluded.”
Comments from other members of Congress included the following:
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento): “I’m deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Mayor Ed Lee. Throughout his life as an advocate and a leader, Mayor Lee was a steadfast defender of, and a tireless fighter for, his principles. He embodied the values that Californians hold dear. I’m sending my thoughts and prayers to his family during this difficult time.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough): “He was an uncommon mayor with a common touch, he was modest in a business that attracts boasters, he was gentle in a career that awards roughness, and he was a policy expert in everything local in a field where most of his colleagues are generalists. He led the city without histrionics or drama. Mayor Lee was a true American leader who should be emulated and exalted in his passing.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, who has shown so much grace as the first lady of the city, and his daughters Brianna and Tania. May we all surround them with love and comfort during this traumatic time.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont): “Mayor Ed Lee had an unequivocal impact on the city of San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. Born to immigrant parents, he was the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city and a lifelong public servant. Thank you, Mayor Lee, for your service.”
Debbie Mesloh, president of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, said: “Mayor Lee was a dedicated public servant and served our city for decades with commitment and determination. He was a champion for women, making gender equality and support a key priority of his administration.
“Under his leadership, San Francisco became the first city in the country to approve fully paid parental leave, and he was stalwart for the prevention of violence against women. He prioritized funding for the Violence Against Women Prevention and Intervention Grants program, which supports 39 community-based programs throughout the city, and continued this commitment year after year. During his tenure, San Francisco eliminated domestic violence homicides for almost four years. He also invested millions in subsidized child care for our low-income families and called for implicit bias training for all city staff.
“In 2016, Mayor Lee convened the 2016 Bay Area Women’s Summit to encourage public and private sector initiatives that would improve economic and social opportunities for women in San Francisco and the region, and a myriad of tangible improvements came a result of this convening. During Women’s History month in March of this year, he called for a second convening in 2018.
“On behalf of the Commission on the Status of Women, we will miss this champion of women’s rights, our mayor and our friend.”
Dr. Emily Murase, director of the San Francisco Department on the Status of Women and a member of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, said, “We have lost a giant in the women’s human rights movement. Mayor Edwin M. Lee launched the Cities for CEDAW campaign during Women’s History Month in March 2014 to encourage other mayors to adopt the principles of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, an international bill of rights for women.
“In the short time since then, over 60 cities and counties from across the country have joined the campaign. In honor of the late Mayor Edwin M. Lee, we will redouble our efforts to promote women’s human rights, end violence against women, and advance gender equity in the workplace throughout San Francisco and beyond.”
Floyd Mori, president and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, posted a photo on Facebook of himself with Lee on a golf course with this caption: “This is what Mayor Ed Lee enjoyed, golfing at Harding Park. My last outing with him was this photo in August of this year. I am sure he is sizing up the great courses where he is now and looking forward to his next round. I know he is keeping busy helping others and having an occasional round of golf.”
In an official statement, Mori said, “Ed Lee was a champion for AAPI civil rights and a great friend and supporter of APAICS. His legacy will continue to serve as an inspiration to the work of APAICS and beyond.”
Lee’s fellow mayors eulogized him, including the following:
Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles): “Ed Lee’s unfaltering belief in justice, fairness, and equality for all not only served San Francisco, it touched people throughout California and the world. His life and leadership were rooted in a powerful sense of human decency that inspired me. He was a true progressive, a fighter, and believed in the ability of government to help people. While I grieve today with Mayor Lee’s loved ones and all San Franciscans, I will always be grateful for the honor of calling him a brother, friend, and colleague.”
Libby Schaaf (Oakland): “Oakland sends its condolences to Anita, her daughters, and all San Franciscans today. Mayor Ed Lee served his community with passion and humility, broke historic barriers, led with a compassionate heart, and was a valued friend and colleague. He will be missed dearly.”
Sam Liccardo, San Jose: “My dear friend and colleague Mayor Ed Lee has passed away, leaving us too early. Ed was a good and incredibly gracious man, at a time when goodness, graciousness, and civility are not sufficiently appreciated in public life.”
The four Asian American members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors shared their thoughts:
Jane Kim: “Mayor Ed Lee, 43rd mayor of San Francisco, dedicated his career to public service and our city. Our hearts and prayers are with his family … A truly decent human being who loved a good joke, he stepped up to lead. He will be greatly missed.”
Sandra Lee Fewer: “I am heartbroken that Mayor Ed Lee, San Francisco’s first Chinese American mayor, passed away early this morning. Mayor Lee was a tireless public servant, dedicating himself fully to leading San Francisco, and it has been an honor to work with him during my first year in office. He will be greatly missed …”
Katy Tang: “San Francisco has been lucky to have such a down-to-earth mayor who genuinely cares about our people and the city. His passing comes too soon. I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to serve this incredible city. Thank you, Mayor Lee. We’ll all miss your corny jokes. Although we often had to be serious, my memories with him are often filled with laughter.”
Norman Yee: “Our hearts are heavy today with the sudden passing of Mayor Ed Lee, a tireless public servant and civil rights champion who devoted his life to the people of San Francisco. I’m deeply saddened for this great loss in our community.”
Former Supervisor Eric Mar posted, “I met him some 30 years ago when I was a law clerk at the Asian Law Caucus. I am so sad for Anita, our ‘first lady’ of SF, and his daughters and family; and for the people of San Francisco. I will miss his down-to-earth leadership style, his many bad jokes and warm laugh and smile. What a sad day for our city.”
Bay Area professional sports teams also thanked Lee for his support:
San Francisco Giants: “We were deeply saddened and shocked to learn of the sudden passing of Mayor Ed Lee. He was a true San Franciscan who devoted his life to serving our great city and to supporting those most in need. He was the Giants’ number one fan and we are blessed to have shared so many wonderful memories together. He will be dearly missed by everyone in our organization.”
York family (owners of the San Francisco 49ers): “The citizens of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area have lost a wonderful man and a tremendous leader with the passing of Mayor Lee … Ed was a friend that we came to admire deeply for his compassion for others and his tireless work to effect positive change in both his city and throughout society.”
Golden State Warriors: “We are stunned and saddened by the news of Mayor Ed Lee’s sudden death this morning. The lasting impact he leaves on the City of San Francisco is a timeless tribute to his incredible leadership and vision. His love and passion for sports, including the Warriors, defined him as much as his witty humor and engaging personality. We will be eternally grateful for his commitment to the building of Chase Center — once termed his ‘legacy project’ as mayor — and his dedication to making San Francisco one of the greatest cities in the world … He will be deeply missed.”