San Francisco mayor, city's first Asian-American leader, dies

San Francisco (AFP) –


Ed Lee, the first Asian-American mayor of San Francisco who presided over the city's growth as a high-tech juggernaut, died early Tuesday, his office said in a statement.

While no cause of death was given, former mayor Willie Brown told San Francisco media that the 65-year-old Democrat suffered a heart attack while shopping for groceries late Monday.

"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 (0911 GMT) at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Family, friends and colleagues were at his side," Lee's office said in a statement.

Lee, born in Seattle in 1952, was one of six children of Chinese immigrants who had come to the country in the 1930s.

His rise to mayor in 2011 marked a historic step for the large Chinese-American community in famously liberal San Francisco.

Chinese immigrants first came to California during the mid-19th century gold rush and railroad building spree, and suffered decades of discrimination.

Lee's knowledge of Cantonese and Taishanese helped in his early work as a civil rights lawyer serving the city's Chinese-American community.

Lee joined the San Francisco bureaucracy in 1989, eventually working in five departments for four mayors. He was appointed mayor in 2011 to replace Gavin Newsom, an up-and-coming Democrat with national political ambitions.

Lee was subsequently elected and re-elected as San Francisco mayor.

During his time in office San Francisco matured as the world capital of high tech. However this also lead to skyrocketing property and rental prices, forcing many moderate and low income residents out of the city.

"Ed was an excellent mayor of a great but sometimes challenging city," wrote US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, herself a former mayor of San Francisco.

"His equanimity and quiet management style was effective and allowed him to solve problems as they occurred," she said in a statement.

Lee "was a fierce advocate for civil rights and worked tirelessly for workers' rights and his leadership will be missed," Senator Kamala Harris, also of California, wrote on Twitter.

Lee's replacement is Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who becomes San Francisco's first female African-American mayor.