Ed Lee, First Asian American Mayor of San Francisco and Former Civil Rights Lawyer, Dies at 65

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee passed away unexpectedly early Tuesday morning. According to the city’s former Mayor Willie Brown, the cause of death was cardiac arrest.

“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that I confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away on Tuesday, December 12 at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed, in a televised statement. “Family, friends and colleagues were at his side. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, his two daughters, Brianna and Tania, and his family.”

Breed announced that, in accordance with San Francisco’s city charter, she would be assuming the role of mayor immediately.

Lee was elected mayor in 2011. As a man of Chinese descent, his victory in becoming the first Asian-American mayor to lead San Francisco was culturally significant for a city where the presence and influence of Chinese immigrants has shaped the its landscape for centuries. According data from the 2016 census, roughly 35% of San Francisco’s population are of Asian descent.

Lee was the son of immigrants — his mother a seamstress and father a war veteran. Originally from Seattle, he moved to the Bay Area to study law in his early twenties, where he quickly began a career fighting for affordable public housing, usually focusing his energy on defending immigrants. Thanks to his ability to communicate in Cantonese and Taishanese, gaining the trust of many in the city’s immigrant populations came with ease.

Lee was re-elected in 2015; he was expected to serve until 2020.

Image: KTVU