San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee dies suddenly at 65

AP
Mayor Ed Lee, who oversaw a technology-driven economic boom in San Francisco that brought with it sky-high housing prices, died suddenly early Tuesday at age 65.
AP

Mayor Ed Lee, who oversaw a technology-driven economic boom in San Francisco that brought with it sky-high housing prices despite his commitment to economic equality, died suddenly early Tuesday at age 65.

A statement from Lee’s office said the city’s first Asian-American mayor died at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away,” the statement said. Lee was surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. No cause of death was reported.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed became acting mayor and planned a late morning news conference.

Supervisors and other public officials were stunned and saddened by his sudden death. They praised the low-key mustachioed mayor who was better known as a former civil rights lawyer and longtime city bureaucrat than a flashy politician.

“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,” state Sen. Scott Wiener told KTVU-TV. “He wasn’t the flashiest guy in the world, but he worked hard and it was an honor to work with him.”

Former Mayor Willie Brown and the late political power broker Rose Pak talked Lee into filling out the rest of Gavin Newsom’s term when he was elected California’s lieutenant governor in 2010. He was appointed interim mayor by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 after professing no interest in taking on the job permanently.

“We won based on our political shenanigans and our political skill sets. He got elevated to our mayor-ship under our charter and got re-elected twice,” Brown said.

Brown said Lee will be known as the man who “stepped up and made it possible for Silicon Valley to almost relocate to our city.”

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who lives in San Francisco, said Lee’s background as a community organizer and civil rights lawyer served the city well.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Lee changed his mind about taking the job permanently and won a four-year term in 2011. He was re-elected in 2015. Lee was an advocate for the needy, but in 2015, he ran against a slate of little-known candidates who criticized him as doing more for tech leaders than for poor people.

Detractors claimed he catered too much to Silicon Valley, citing his brokering of a tax break in 2011 to benefit Twitter as part of a remake of the city’s downtown. Meanwhile, housing prices have surged in San Francisco with modest homes now topping $1.5 million.

Lee, who is survived by his wife Anita and daughters Brianna and Tania, was a civil rights lawyer who became the San Francisco city administrator before taking over as mayor.

He was a staunch supporter of San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy toward immigrants, a stance he reiterated last month when a Mexican man who had been repeatedly deported was acquitted of murder in the 2015 killing of Kate Steinle.

The case became a flashpoint in the nation’s immigration debate, with then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly referencing it as an example of the need for stricter immigration policies and a wall along the Mexican border.

Flags were lowered at City Hall early Tuesday. The last mayor to die in office was George Moscone, who was murdered by a disgruntled former Board of Supervisors member in 1978, leading to the ascension of then-Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein to mayor. Feinstein is now California’s senior U.S. senator.

Lee’s death now will likely upend the race to replace him, which had been scheduled for 2019. Former state Sen. Mark Leno, a onetime member of the Board of Supervisors and longtime political figure, has already announced his candidacy.


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