Chinatown community and city leaders joined at Portsmouth Square Plaza on Monday to remember and honor the late mayor Ed Lee, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last Dec. 12.

Many community members spoke about Lee’s commitment to fighting for those who could not fight for themselves, and his willingness to sit and listen to those with whom he may have disagreed policy-wise.

Lee’s work goes back to the 1970s as a law clerk with the Asian Law Caucus where he and Bill Tamayo sued The City’s Housing Authority because of the unsafe and horrible conditions of the housing project known as Ping Yuen in Chinatown.

Tamayo, who also worked with Lee at the Asian Law Caucus and now is the director of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in The City, said:

“Ed went and worked with the tenants to change the conditions there so that there would be housing, lighting, the elevators would operate, so that people’s safety would not be at risk at Ping Yuen.”

There is has been talk about The City renaming buildings, the San Francisco International Airport, Ping Yuen, and even Portsmouth Square after Lee.

Tamayo said the best way to honor Lee is through community work:

“If we really want to honor Ed, it’s through the community service that he has always focused on, that we serve the working-class communities, low-wage workers, immigrants and tenants. If we can do that, help these people who are part of our community, change the kind of policies that we need so that they can be served, that would be ultimate legacy for Ed.”

Mayor London Breed said The City will not forget Lee’s kind words, his warm heart, and his commitment to public service in The City:

“He continued to bridge gaps. He continued to glad this city with grace, with style, with class and yes, on occasion with a bad joke or two.”

Ching Wong/SFBay

San Francisco Mayor London Breed attends a community commemoration of Mayor Ed Lee who passed away a year ago at Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, December 10, 2018.

Breed became acting mayor of The City after Lee died, and eventually became mayor after winning the June 2018 election. Breed said she will continue the important work of Lee:

“I am so honored to follow in his footsteps to continue the great work he started. To make sure no San Franciscan is left behind.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who last saw Lee earlier in the day on Dec. 12, announcing a piece of legislation about recycling at a press conference, recalled how Lee was that day:

“He was his normal self. Jovial, joking. Making of fun of my height. Making fun of his own height.”

He said every mayor is unique in their own way:

“There will never be another Ed Lee.”

Wiener was joined by other elected leaders, including Assemblymember David Chiu, supervisors Jane Kim, Malia Cohen and Aaron Peskin, who all paid tribute to the mayor at the event.

The City and other community events are planned for the rest of the week to honor Lee.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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