San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who steps in as acting mayor, confirmed Lee’s death.

“It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away,” a statement from the mayor’s office said. “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.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee chats with Eric Whittington, owner of Bird and Beckett bookstore in San Francisco, on Nov. 30, 2017. (Photo: Elizabeth Weise)

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed steps in as acting mayor. The city’s Board of Supervisors, the equivalent of a city council, will vote on a new mayor in the coming weeks. 

Lee was appointed in January 2011 to replace then-mayor Gavin Newsom, who won election as the state’s lieutenant governor. Lee won a full term that November and was re-elected in 2015.

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California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said Lee’s focus was always the people of his city.

“As a community organizer, civil rights lawyer and hard-working son of an immigrant family of modest means, Ed Lee understood that the strength of a community is measured by its success in meeting the needs of all of its people. He knew the rhythms and the workings of San Francisco at the most granular level, and dedicated decades to improving the lives of all San Franciscans,” she said in a statement.

Lee was a longtime advocate of low-income housing and also worked as a civil rights lawyer. 

Lee was born in Seattle to immigrant parents from China. His father was a cook and his mother was a seamstress and waitress. Lee and his five brothers and sisters lived in public housing. He went to Bowdoin College in Maine where he graduated summa cum laude and then went to the University of California Berkeley law school.

While in law school and as an intern he worked with the Asian Law Caucus and worked with residents of a San Francisco public housing complex who were holding a rent strike against the city over unsafe conditions. 

His wife, Anita, was originally from Hong Kong. The two met when Lee was studying there and she was his Mandarin tutor. 

Here are five key contributions and legacies Lee leaves behind:

• In a city that is 35% Asian-American, Lee was the first Asian-American to become mayor.

• Lee’s first job was fighting the city he later came to lead. While in law school at the University of California at Berkeley and then as an intern, Lee worked with the Asian Law Caucus, aiding residents of a public housing complex in San Francisco’s Chinatown who were conducting a rent strike for better conditions in their dilapidated and unsafe buildings. 

• Lee was known for pushing through San Francisco’s 2011 “Twitter tax.” This legislation cut payroll taxes for firms that set up shop in a gritty area near City Hall known as the mid-Market district. The aim was to keep tech firms in San Francisco from moving to Silicon Valley. Companies that initially took advantage of the temporary exemption on the city’s 1.5% payroll tax included Twitter and Zendesk. The area is now home to a growing collection of tech companies.

• Before he died, Lee had been working on an initiative that would have made San Francisco one of the first large cities in the United States to divest its pension fund of fossil fuel stocks. He published a piece on the online site Medium about the effort the day before his untimely death.

• Lee fought to bring the Golden State Warriors basketball team back to San Francisco from Oakland. Before he died, the $1 billion Chase Center in the city’s Mission Bay district was 25% complete. It is scheduled to be finished by October 2019.

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