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Ed Lee leaves legacy as lawyer, activist, mayor

San Francisco politicians and officials mourned the death of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Tuesday morning at City Hall.

Lee, 65, died Tuesday morning at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital after arriving by ambulance after late Monday night in critical condition, said Dr. Susan Ehrlich, chief executive officer of the hospital. ABC7 reported Lee suffered cardiac arrest while shopping at Safeway on Monterey Boulevard.

Lee was born in Seattle to parents of immigrants, his father a veteran and his mother a seamstress. His father died when Lee was just a teenager. He was one of six siblings.

Acting Mayor London Breed said Lee led a life of service cut short far too soon.

Lee graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1974 before moving on to Boalt Hall school of law at the University of California, Berkeley.

After earning his law degree, Lee joined the Asian Law Caucus, which fought for improved housing conditions for immigrants in The City, including residents living Chinatown’s public housing project Ping Yuen in. Tenants in the public housing project refused to pay rent for six months until The City made improvements on the housing project. Lee was their attorney.

Breed said:

“He was from the dawn of his career, an advocate for the powerless, a voice for the overlooked, someone who fought for those in need before himself.”

Lee first worked for The City leading the San Francisco Human Rights Commission as its director in 1991 to 1996. He later led City Purchasing and then Public Works. In 2005, Lee was appointed as the city administrator by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and was reappointed by Newsom in 2010.

In January 2011, Lee was appointed as the interim mayor by the Board of Supervisors for The City as Newsom left the office as voters elected Newsom as lieutenant governor of California. Lee was to serve out Newsom’s term as the nation’s first Chinese-American mayor.

Lee initially said he would not for a full-term, though he decided to run and won the Nov. 8, 2011 election. He was re-elected in 2015 by San Francisco voters.

During his time in office, Lee saw unemployment in The City drop from 9.5 percent during the Great Recession to 2.9 percent as of September 2017, according to his office. Since 2011, 143,000 jobs were created under Lee.

Lee oversaw the construction of San Francisco’s first subway expansion in decades with the Central Subway project, and under Lee’s time in office, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency purchased hundreds of new Muni buses and trains. Lee attended an event for the debut of Muni’s newest trains last month.

Lee also convened the Transportation Task Force 2045 to identify funding gaps for transportation needs and to look for potential funding resources. One of those funding resources was a $500 million bond measure passed by voters in 2014.

Lee had also committed to provide more affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents by pledging in 2014 to build 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes throughout The City by 2020.

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

His last appearance was at a press conference Monday morning with state Sen. Scott Wiener to announce plans to expand ways city residents and small businesses can redeem recyclables.

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