San Francisco was saddened and shocked to learn of Mayor Ed Lee’s unexpected passing on Dec. 12. He was San Francisco’s first Chinese-American mayor and helped lead San Francisco through years of change and growth. Putting personal politics aside, I believe everyone can agree that Mayor Lee was a dedicated public servant who truly cared about helping our residents and businesses. I will miss my friend dearly.
REBUILDING OUR ECONOMY
Given San Francisco’s current strong and growing local economy, it is hard to remember the city’s pains during the aftermath of the Great Recession. When Mayor Lee took office, San Francisco was facing severe budget deficits and double-digit unemployment rates among local residents.
Correctly, his focus as mayor and during his first campaign was “jobs, jobs, jobs.” He delivered. Just like he did for a number of crucial issues. Mayor Lee and I helped to lead the effort to reform our city’s outdated payroll tax and transition to a more business-friendly gross receipts tax. This reform, coupled with the successful Mid-Market tax exemption, continues to encourage and realize the revitalization of Mid-Market.
Mayor Lee knew that our workers needed to be supported on every level. That is why he worked with the board of supervisors on an effort to push through one of the highest minimum-wage rates in the country to support working families.
While Mayor Lee was leading the efforts to breathe new life into our economy, he remained a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. During his tenure, he consistently built up the city’s general fund reserves, ensuring that San Francisco would be protected in the event of the next financial downturn. Like me, Mayor Lee cared deeply about the health and well-being of our residents, and he was an important advocate for Proposition A, which we worked on together in 2012. That voter-approved measure helped eliminate the city’s $4.6 billion unfunded health care and retiree liability, which drastically improved our city’s financial health and standing.
He carried out his duties in a collaborative, collegial manner. You could see that in the four budgets we worked on together when I served as budget chair, which received unanimous support by the Board of Supervisors every year. That’s no small task given the city’s politics.
THE ‘HOUSING MAJOR’
When our economy began to recover and unemployment levels started to drop, Mayor Lee had the foresight to realize our city needs more homes. A lot more homes. And ones that our families could afford.
He became known as the “housing mayor” for good reason. Every time I spoke with Mayor Lee, he would inevitably bring up the need to build more housing. He cared deeply about ensuring that everyone could enjoy the prosperity of this city.
In 2012, he and I worked closely on Proposition C, a $1.3 billion affordable housing trust fund that provided financing to build homes for families. Mayor Lee tirelessly championed Hope SF, our rebuild of the city’s run-down public housing sites, and he fought to keep longtime residents within their communities.
During my four years as budget chair and recently as land use chair, I repeatedly partnered with the mayor on supportive housing plans, and I was a strong proponent of his effort to create 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes by 2020. One of his last acts as mayor — an executive directive to bring 5,000 new housing units each year to San Francisco — indicated he was committed to this plan for the long haul.
Mayor Lee also understood that providing homes for residents went beyond traditional measures. He pioneered the use of navigation centers, a nationally recognized model to move residents off the streets and into stable living situations. I was proud to co-sponsor an ordinance that allowed private funds to pay for the expansion of these crucial resource centers. Navigation centers will play a critical role in our ongoing efforts to address San Francisco’s homelessness crisis.
MISSING MY FRIEND
Mayor Lee was a tremendous public servant and fearless advocate for this city, but above all, he was a nice, kind man with a good heart.
He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tell his “dad jokes” — these corny bits of humor that became his calling card. We would always roll our eyes at these jokes and he would always crack himself up. He loved watching the Giants, talking about sports, and stopping at his local diner to grab a bite to eat. And he could never pass up a bowl of ice cream.
What I remember most about Mayor Lee was the kindness he showed my family. He always asked about their well-being, and every time he saw my children, his face would light up with a big smile. My last memory of us together was at the city’s official tree-lighting ceremony in Golden Gate Park. My son, Kane, was so excited at the prospect of turning on the lights for the tree, but he understood this was a job for the mayor. At the last second, when the whole crowd was counting down to the big moment, Mayor Lee motioned for my son to come over, and together, they turned on the lights.
Mayor Lee leaves behind a legacy that every San Franciscan should be proud of. He showed tremendous leadership during a time of exciting change and always stood side-by-side with the residents and businesses of this city. I am humbled by the opportunity to follow in his footsteps — and am honored to serve as the mayor and continue and build upon the work that he started.