SAN FRANCISCO – The mayor of San Francisco, a son of Chinese immigrants who was the first Asian-American to lead that Northern California city, died early Tuesday at a local hospital. He was 65.
Edwin Lee, who was born in Seattle, had served as San Francisco’s top official since being named interim mayor in 2011.
“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away on Tuesday, December 12, at 1:11 am at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Family, friends and colleagues were at his side,” his office said in a statement, which did not indicate the cause of death.
A civil rights attorney, Lee began working in the late 1970s as an advocate for affordable housing and immigrants’ rights as a member of the San Francisco Asian Law Caucus.
He later entered politics, working in several city departments under different mayors before eventually being named director of the city’s Department of Public Works in 2000.
In 2005, Lee was appointed city administrator by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, whom he later replaced in 2011 when the latter resigned to take office as lieutenant governor of California.
After serving out Newsom’s term, Lee was elected in November 2011 to serve a full term as mayor and then handily won re-election in 2015.
London Breed, the president of the board of supervisors, became the acting mayor following Lee’s death.
A Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Lee was known for his efforts to woo tech startups to the metropolis and away from Silicon Valley to the south, a policy that triggered criticism from those who said he was favoring the wealthy tech sector at the expense of middle-class people struggling to pay their bills.
He also was known for his progressive immigration stance and strong support for San Francisco’s long-standing sanctuary city law, under which local officials do not fully cooperate with federal enforcement actions, including deportations.
That policy is popular in San Francisco but highly controversial nationwide and is blamed by its opponents for the 2015 death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was killed after being hit by a shot fired by undocumented Mexican immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate.
Garcia Zarate was found not guilty on Nov. 30 of first- and second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter but convicted of illegal possession of a firearm.
Prosecutors said the defendant intentionally fired a shot in Steinle’s direction as she was walking with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14.
But defense attorneys successfully convinced jurors that the gun – which Garcia Zarate had found under a bench on the pier – accidentally fired while he was handling it, noting that the victim was struck after the bullet had ricocheted off the ground.