SAN FRANCISCO — Leaders of San Francisco’s Japanese American community paid tribute to Mayor Ed Lee, who died suddenly on Dec. 12 at the age of 65.
The San Francisco JACL said in a statement: “The JACL expresses its deepest condolences to his family – his wife, Anita, and his two daughters, Brianna and Tania.
“Mayor Ed Lee was a dedicated and compassionate public servant for over 40 years, caring for his beloved City of San Francisco. A social justice advocate, his early years were spent as a civil rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, fighting for low-cost housing, tenants’ rights and other social justice issues. He would later head various city departments, among which were director of the Human Rights Commission, director of Public Works and then as city administrator from 2005.
“He was tapped in 2011 to become the mayor upon the departure of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected the state’s lieutenant governor. Later that same year, Ed Lee was elected to a full term as the 43rd mayor of San Francisco, becoming the city’s first elected Asian American to hold that position. The citizens of San Francisco re-elected him in 2015.”
“The San Francisco JACL greatly admired Mayor Lee for the integrity and values by which he lived his life and guided the City of San Francisco,” said SF JACL President Judy Hamaguchi. “Despite the huge and endless responsibilities and challenges he bore in carrying forth a vision for the city and the stature he commanded, he never forgot his roots, the everyday people, the powerless. He was very humble and approachable, yet was wise, determined and resolute in leading our city.”
The son of Chinese immigrants, Lee will be remembered for his advocacy on numerous issues, including affordable housing, climate change and immigrant rights. Very early on, he declared San Francisco a sanctuary city to protect immigrants, and stated, “San Francisco is and always will be a sanctuary city. We want everybody to feel safe and utilize the services they deserve, including education and health care … It is my obligation to keep our city united, keep it strong … crime doesn’t know documentation. Disease doesn’t know documentation.”
He was a champion of diversity, saying, “Everybody knows they can belong here in San Francisco.”
“We are heartbroken,” stated Hamaguchi. “Mayor Lee has been a supporter and a presence in our community. He nurtured relationships and furthered many important projects to preserve and enhance Japantown. We owe him much gratitude, and his life shall inspire us to carry on his vision of a better society for all.”
The San Francisco Japantown Task Force said in a statement, “Mayor Lee has been a strong advocate/loyal supporter of Japantown — as the head of the Department of Public Works, as the chief administrative officer, and as our mayor.
“In his first term, he designated Japantown as one of the first 25 San Francisco neighborhoods as part of his Invest in Neighborhoods program. His sensitivity to the importance of the cultural and economic development aspects of Japantown was exemplified by his support for the many nonprofit organizations, the churches, the festivals, the merchants, and the property owners.
“His last appearance in Japantown was at the Peace Plaza on Sept. 27, 2017 when he and District 5 Supervisor London Breed honored our late executive director, Bob hamaguchi, and celebrated the formation of the newest Community Benefit District in San Francisco, the Japantown Community Benefit District.
“Mayor Lee will be remembered for his warm smile, his humbleness, his love for the people of San Francisco, and his collaborative spirit. Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for your leadership. Rest in peace.”
Breed, whose district includes Japantown, has been named acting mayor.
Serving on the Japantown Task Force’s board are Sandy Mori (president), Glynis Nakahara (vice president), Mark Moriguchi (treasurer), Judy Hamaguchi (secretary), Seiko Fujimoto, Richard Hashimoto, Alice Kawahatsu, Benh Nakajo, Jon Osaki, Beau Simon, Neal Tanicuchi, Clint Taura and Rosalyn Tonai.
The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival said via Facebook, “Mayor Lee supported many aspects of our annual festival and honored us with his presence at the Opening Ceremonies and Grand Parade for many years. We appreciate his hard work advocating for the Asian communities in San Francisco, especially our Japantown community. We join all other San Franciscans in sending our thoughts and prayers to his wife Anita Lee and his family. We will truly miss him.”