Edwin M. Lee, San Francisco's first Asian-American mayor, died suddenly Dec. 12 of a suspected cardiac arrest. He was 65.
"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," read a statement released by the mayor's office.
Although city officials have not released an official cause of death, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said that Lee died after suffering a cardiac arrest, HuffPost reports.
London Breed, the board of supervisors president, will become acting mayor.
Lee was born in 1952 in Seattle to Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the 1930s, according to The New York Times. His mother was a seamstress and his father, a war veteran, died when Lee was in his teens.
In 1975, Lee moved to San Francisco to study law, attracted by the city's reputation for diversity and racial tolerance.
"California, particularly, San Francisco, has always been an opening, welcoming atmosphere. That’s kind of what drew me here," he said in a 2016 interview. "Being born and raised in Seattle, I wanted to get away from the rain and of course sunny California was attractive. But the main attraction was a kind of feeling that freedom of expression and maybe a person of a different ethnic background could be welcomed and succeed."
Lee became mayor in 2011 at a time when Asians constituted a third of the city's population. As an Asian-American himself, Lee worked tirelessly on behalf of minorities, trying to maintain San Francisco's reputation as an "international beacon."
"People come here to innovate, they want to have the ideas, they want to challenge themselves with different languages and different cultures and be successful at the same time," he said.
Lee defended San Francisco's position as a sanctuary city, affirming that he would limit his cooperation with the federal government's effort to enforce immigration law. He also tried to combat homelessness, investing in affordable housing and creating short-term housing options.
The former mayor witnessed an incredible shift in wealth driven by Silicon Valley's technological explosion. Rent in the city skyrocketed, making it largely unaffordable for many to actually live there. The median home price in San Francisco is $1.1 million and the median rent is $4,500.
“Lee lacks the dynamic and visionary leadership that it takes to manage the explosive growth that’s been rocking San Francisco in recent years," wrote David Talbot, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. "As a result, the city seems less affordable and more difficult to live in than ever."
Despite criticism, by the end of his career, Lee had added more than 140,000 jobs and 17,000 homes, according to Fortune.
Sources: HuffPost, The New York Times, Fortune / Featured Image: US Department of Labor via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Office of the Mayor via Wikimedia Commons, NetworkImages via Wikimedia Commons