San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee died early Tuesday morning, his office confirmed. He was 65.
The mayor died at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Former Mayor Willie Brown said Lee was shopping at his neighborhood Safeway at 625 Monterey Blvd. when he suffered a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“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 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. Family, friends and colleagues were at his side,” his office said in a statement.
Board of Supervisors President London Breed became acting mayor of San Francisco following Lee’s death, in accordance with city charter.
“Our thoughts are prayers are with his wife Anita, his daughters Tania and Brianna, and his entire family,” Breed said at a news conference outside the hospital early Tuesday.
Breed delivered her first public remarks as mayor surrounded by city officials including City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Police Chief Bill Scott, and supervisors Aaron Peskin, Jane Kim, Ahsha Safai and Norman Yee, among others.
Breed will remain serving as acting mayor until the board votes on a successor mayor, which could be Breed or another person. San Francisco voters would be asked in June 2018 to decide who should serve out the remainder of Lee’s term.
Lee was San Francisco’s 43rd mayor.
He served largely as a behind-the-scenes city bureaucrat — holding positions as the executive director of the Human Rights Commission, director of Department of Public Works and City Administrator — until he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in January 2011 to serve as an interim mayor to serve out the remainder of a term vacated by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected to serve as California’s lieutenant governor.
Lee went on to win election later that year and was re-elected in 2015 to his final four-year term office, which concludes at the end of 2019.
Lee and his six siblings grew up in Seattle’s public housing. He went on to graduate from Bowdoin College in 1974 and later earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
In office, Lee helped turned around San Francisco’s local economy, which was struggling like other cities from the Great Recession. Lee ushered in a tech-friendly business climate, such as by enacting a tax break for Twitter in the Mid-Market area. His focus on jobs paid off as unemployment rates dropped to record lows.
Amid his successes, Lee faced criticism from San Francisco’s more-left leaning politicians and advocates for not doing more to alleviate the adverse impacts of a booming economy, the soaring rents, increased evictions and displacement of long-time residents.
More recently the mayor established a new city department focused on homeless residents, which appears to have success. He had also remained committed to his goal established in 2014 to create 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes available by 2020, of which a third would be set at below-market rate rents.
State Sen. Scott Wiener called the mayor “a great leader” Tuesday morning in a statement.
“Ed served as mayor during a period of unprecedented growth in our city and an unprecedented housing shortage,” Wiener said. “Ed never got the credit he deserved as arguably the most pro-housing mayor in the history of San Francisco, with a huge amount of affordable housing created or approved under his administration.”
Other city leaders expressed shock and sadness at the news of the mayor’s passing early Tuesday.
“He was a real good man,” Brown said. “To die the way he died, it’s just totally, completely, shocking.”
Brown, who urged Lee to run for mayor in 2011 after he was appointed to the role earlier that year, said he saw in Lee a “person who could unite The City.”
He continued, “He had no enemies, and he didn’t represent a threat to anybody, as many politicians occasionally do. He was the right person for The City.”
Brown said he met Lee in the early 1980s when Lee was working for the Asian Law Caucus and was “suing The City on behalf of all those people living in public housing,” Brown recalled fondly.
David Ho, a community organizer, said he is “stunned” and “shocked” at the loss of The City’s first Chinese American mayor.
“At the end of the day, Ed was a consummate community leader, father, mentor,” Ho said. “He cared for the people of this city.”
City Hall flags were being flown at half-staff Tuesday morning.
Among the mayor’s last public appearances was a news conference late Monday morning to announce a mobile recycling pilot in San Francisco at Ted’s Market in the South of Market neighborhood. He described the shop as one of his favorite delis.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.