San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, a former civil rights attorney who once sued the city he would go on to lead as its first mayor of Chinese descent, died early on Tuesday, officials said. Lee, 65, died of a heart attack, the San Francisco Examiner said. He passed away before dawn at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, surrounded by family and friends.
“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, his two daughters, Brianna and Tania, and his family.” Lee was elected in 2011 as the 43rd mayor of San Francisco and the first elected mayor of Chinese descent in a city steeped in Chinese American history. He was appointed by the board of supervisors, won his first full term later that year, and was re-elected in 2015.
U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes San Francisco, said in a statement that Lee had served with exceptional dignity and great effectiveness.
“His values-based, pragmatic leadership was invaluable in leading the city into strong economic expansion and continuing San Francisco’s role as a model for the nation,” Pelosi said. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Lee’s “unfaltering” belief in justice, fairness, and equality had touched people throughout California and around the world.
“He was a true progressive, a fighter, and believed in the ability of government to help people,” Garcetti said.
Lee was born on May 5, 1952 in Seattle to immigrant parents from China. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1974 and from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1978. Lee was the fourth of six children and grew up in housing projects, according to reports from the San Francisco Chronicle. He became head of the city’s Human Rights Committee in 1991 after a career as a civil rights attorney, during which he often filed litigation against San Francisco.
As a law student, Lee represented residents of a public housing complex who sued San Francisco over unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the first tenants’ rent strike against the city’s housing authority, according to the Chronicle report. With Lee’s passing, Board of Supervisors President London Breed becomes the acting mayor of the city of more than 850,000 people, according to the mayor’s office.