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Former Mayor Edwin M. Lee Memorialized with Official Photo and Opening of New Exhibit in his Honor

City Hall exhibit to pay tribute to 43rd Mayor of San Francisco, who passed away last year

Former Mayor Edwin M. Lee was honored today at City Hall with the unveiling of his official photo and the opening of a new exhibit cataloging his long career in public service.

The 43rd Mayor in San Francisco history, Mayor Lee passed away unexpectedly on December 12, 2017. Today would have marked his 66th birthday.

“Mayor Lee embodied all that we cherish about this City—he was a man of dignity, truth and compassion,” said Mayor Farrell. “Everything he set out to achieve was in service to the people of San Francisco—a City that he loved deeply. San Francisco is an immeasurably better place because of Mayor Lee, and this tribute is a fitting way to celebrate the legacy he leaves behind.”

As part of today’s event, Mayor Lee’s official photo was hung in the Hall of Mayors in Room 200. In addition, an exhibit was unveiled in the South Light Court, chronicling his lengthy tenure as an advocate, civic leader and elected official. The exhibit, which will open to the public on Monday, features photos of Mayor Lee and other items related to his life. Part of a collaborative effort with the Chinese Historical Society of America, the exhibit will be on display through the end of this year.

"Being able to see dad’s portrait unveiled in City Hall, a place where he dedicated so much of his energy and passion for public service, is an incredibly profound experience for our family,” said Brianna and Tania Lee. “We are comforted, moved and honored by the fact that there is a visual reminder of his spirit here in a place that symbolizes so much about the city he loved."

The first Chinese American Mayor in San Francisco history, Mayor Lee was first appointed to the position on an interim basis in 2011, replacing Mayor Gavin Newsom, who left to become Lieutenant Governor of California. Mayor Lee was subsequently elected by voters in November 2011, and reelected in 2015.

“Mayor Lee was a great leader, mentor and friend,” said City Administrator Naomi Kelly. “He guided San Francisco through a time of unprecedented economic growth and provided prudent fiscal stewardship over our City’s finances, creating a blueprint for a responsible budget process. His investments in long-overdue infrastructure projects have ensured that San Francisco remains a safe, stable City for generations to come. History will be kind to the lasting positive impacts he imparted on this City.”

When Mayor Lee assumed office, the country was in the grips of the great recession and the unemployment rate was nearing double digits in San Francisco. He helped oversee the greatest economic recovery in the history of San Francisco, with the City adding more than 160,000 jobs during his tenure and unemployment dropping below three percent.

“Today is bittersweet - we honor the great Mayor Ed Lee, but he's not here to celebrate with us,” said California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “His impact on the City is enduring. His steady leadership as San Francisco emerged from the Great Recession ensured the City would continue to thrive economically, culturally, and socially. He led with his values, and he always kept his community close to his heart. San Francisco was lucky to have him, and today's tribute is but one small way we will keep his memory alive.”

Mayor Lee created more housing than any other Mayor in City history, while advocating for landmark affordability protections. In 2012, he helped create the $1.3 billion Housing Trust Fund, and he advocated for the $310 million affordable housing bond that was approved by voters in 2015.

“Mayor Ed Lee served the people of San Francisco with exceptional dignity and great effectiveness,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Mayor Lee fundamentally understood that the strength of a community is measured by its success in meeting the needs of all its people.  He was a champion for improving the lives and conditions of low-income families living in public housing, and he worked tirelessly to build vibrant, dynamic communities by expanding affordable housing and ensuring equal opportunity for all. He leaves an enduring and inspiring legacy that will benefit generations of San Franciscans, and everyone who sees this portrait will know the esteem in which he was held.”

While Mayor Lee was leading the creation of thousands of homes, he was also improving living conditions for existing tenants. The City’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, an initiative Mayor Lee championed, is set to rebuild and rehabilitate more than 3,480 rental units in San Francisco.

Despite the unprecedented growth occurring under his watch, Mayor Lee continued to pursue sustainable and innovative environmental policies. As Mayor, the City’s greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 28 percent at the same time that San Francisco’s population increased 19 percent and the economy grew 78 percent.

Mayor Lee maintained a prudent fiscal stewardship of the City’s finances, leading to years of balanced budgets and record reserve levels. He also led the efforts to create a 10-year Capital Plan, ensuring that the City maintained its long-term services and infrastructure.

Mayor Lee created the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, an agency with a singular focus of ending homelessness for every person it encounters. Mayor Lee launched the City’s innovative Navigation Center program, a resource-heavy shelter model that has been adopted by cities across the nation. Permanent supportive housing units for residents experiencing homelessness increased by 50 percent under Mayor Lee, and now San Francisco has more such units per capita than any other city in the country. 

The Mayor also challenged partners in the private sector to aid the City in its efforts to end homelessness. As a result, private donors helped contribute $30 million to combat family homelessness, and the nonprofit organization Tipping Point pledged $100 million to reduce chronic homelessness in San Francisco.

“Mayor Lee governed our great City by consensus,” said Steve Kawa, Mayor Lee’s former Chief of Staff. “He was determined to ensure that San Francisco was safe, solvent and successful for all. He is so dearly missed.”

Mayor Lee was a champion of civil rights policies, helping to create Mayors Against Discrimination, a national group of City leaders who used economic pressure to prevent the passage of discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ communities. He created a senior advisor role on transgender initiatives, making San Francisco the first City in the nation with such a position.

He consistently affirmed San Francisco’s status as a Sanctuary City and he increased funding support for immigrant communities following the 2016 Presidential election. He also requested that the United States Department of Justice undertake a thorough assessment on the San Francisco Police Department, a process that has led to breakthrough reforms at the department. 

“Throughout the time I knew Mayor Lee, a few things never changed,” said San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu. “His values and how he carried himself. He was a son of immigrants, started from humble roots and he understood the role government played in protecting our vulnerable communities and in creating opportunities. As unexpected as it may seem for a Mayor, Ed never sought the spotlight. He believed in people and in doing so he inspired and empowered those around him to step up and share in the responsibility and successes of leading this City. We will miss his laughter and his light.”

Prior to being appointed, Mayor Lee held numerous roles in City government, including positions as the City Administrator, the Director of Public Works and the Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission. Before his long career in public service, Mayor Lee worked as a Managing Attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, advocating on the behalf of clients facing discrimination and unlawful evictions.

“Mayor Lee always remembered his roots and cared deeply about serving immigrants, seniors and tenants,” said Kitman Chan, President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. “As a son of Chinese immigrants, he cared deeply about Chinatown and the Chinese American community. Mayor Lee championed for small and minority-owned businesses, economic growth, civil rights and language access for Chinatown and communities of color. He will be truly missed as a son of the Chinese community.”




To view a video of Mayor Lee’s photo unveiling, click here.

To view images of Mayor Lee’s photo unveiling, click here.