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San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Dies At 65


San Francisco lost its mayor early this morning. Ed Lee died after suffering a heart attack last night. He first took office in 2011 as acting mayor, succeeding Gavin Newsom. Here is Lee at that swearing-in ceremony.


ED LEE: I spent the past 21 years in and around these hallowed halls, beneath this glorious dome, working to make this city a better place, working for people, working for justice, working to get things done.

SIEGEL: Before joining city government, Lee was an activist lawyer who fought the city, suing over unsafe public housing and civil rights violations in the police and fire departments. Retired judge Lillian Sing knew him since he graduated from law school and worked with him on housing issues and joins us now. Welcome to the program, and I'm sorry for your loss.

LILLIAN SING: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

SIEGEL: How would you describe Ed Lee?

SING: Well, Ed Lee was a man from a very humble background who loved his family, loved the people that he worked with. And he was always doing good things to improve people's lives. As a lawyer, he started with the Asian Law Caucus. And I remember him very well with International Hotel when the senior citizens, the Filipinos and Chinese-Americans were being evicted from a very, very well-known hotel called International Hotel. And he helped the residents to defend eviction.

SIEGEL: That was a case of Ed Lee taking on local government. He ended up joining city government. Why did he make that choice?

SING: That's a interesting question because Ed Lee was always a bureaucrat. He was never a politician. I remembered Ed Lee as a human rights director. I was also on the Human Rights Commission. He always played a low key. He's not one of those people that love the publicity and the limelight. He worked in the back. He worked diligently and laboriously. He made sure things happened.

SIEGEL: How would you describe Mayor Lee's greatest concerns for the city of San Francisco?

SING: I think he wanted to make sure that everybody is served and the citizens of San Francisco gets what we deserve. It's hard to be a mayor of San Francisco. San Francisco's a very litigious city with diverse interests. And he tries. He tries very hard. And I don't think he pleases everyone. But I think he's fair. He's even-handed. People criticize him for changing San Francisco's scene. I mean, there are more tall buildings now than before, and a lot of it has to do with Mayor Lee. Some people like it. Some people don't.

The other thing about him that I want to remember him for is that he was very courageous in signing the resolution to build the comfort women memorial in defiance of a bullying mayor of Osaka. And that was his last big move, and I really respect him for being courageous.

SIEGEL: We say - the comfort women were in this case Chinese women but also Korean women who were used by the Japanese army during the war.

SING: Actually it was girls and women from 13 countries, countries that Japan invaded. And they captured over 400,000-plus girls, boys and used them as sex slaves. Now, that chapter of history needs to be told to the world. Otherwise, history will be repeated. Mayor Lee understands history.

SIEGEL: You know, we've caught you on the day of your friend, the mayor's, death. And it's clear that you're doing something that people very often do at this time, which is speak in the present tense of this man as...

SING: I'm so sorry.

SIEGEL: No, and...

SING: Yes, I did. I'm sorry.

SIEGEL: Obviously he's still very, very important to you.

SING: I can't - I just couldn't believe it. At 3 a.m., we got a text from Anita, his wife, about his passing. We just couldn't believe it. I guess it's just fate. God takes, and God gives.

SIEGEL: That's retired Judge Lillian Sing remembering her friend, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. Judge Sing, thank you very much for talking with us.

SING: Thank you for inviting me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.