OAKLAND, Calif. - As leaders of two of the largest cities in the Bay Area, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee each have battled with regional issues such as the housing crisis, homelessness, traffic congestion and crime.
Each mayor focuses on their city's individual problems, challenges and successes. But if ever there was a time to work together on an issue facing both Oakland and San Francisco residents, businesses or government agencies, Lee was the first to suggest collaboration, Schaaf said.
Lee died early Tuesday following a heart attack while he was grocery shopping in San Francisco. He was 65. He had served as mayor since he was appointed in 2011, replacing Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was elected the state's lieutenant governor.
"Lee was somebody who was truly a regionalist, not just in his words, but in his deeds. He constantly showed that we are all interconnected. That cities can not compete against one another and that we have to collaborate if we are truly going to solve the problems that brought us all to public service to begin with.”
Lee, the city's first Asian-American mayor, was known for his work against homelessness, his championship of gay rights and immigrant rights and affordable housing. He was a staunch supporter of the city’s sanctuary city policy and just recently was working to get 1,000 homeless people off the streets.
Schaaf said that with everything he did, he did it with kindness.
“It’s not a secret that politics is a rough and tumble profession and yet Ed Lee just stood out as a beacon of decency, of true compassion, of humility, ‘’ she said during an interview with KTVU Tuesday.
Schaaf. who said the two talked all the time and met regularly, often leaned on Lee for guidance.
“He was the person I was on the phone with during the (city workers) strike seeking his counsel and advice,’’ she said.
Schaaf said they had two appointments in the coming weeks, including one to talk about making a push for the federal government to take more responsibility for the housing crisis and homelessness.
“And another, and this is true Ed Lee, he and (San Jose) Mayor Sam Liccardo and I were going to drive all the way up to Napa to show our support for that community and their attempts to recover from the fires. That was Ed Lee’s idea. That’s just the kind of guy that he was.”
When Lee had a meeting earlier this year with Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, the two men talked about ways to put more young people to work in San Francisco during the summer, and Benioff offered generous funding, Schaaf said.
“But Ed Lee said to him, ‘Marc, you know who really needs your help is Libby. Oakland really needs help getting more of their youth employed. That’s good for all of us.' What mayor would say that?” Schaaf said with a smile.
The idea was a success and hundreds of Oakland kids went to work last summer.
"He was always looking for ways to collaborate and he always recognized that no city can succeed unless the whole region succeeds. And that our challenges like homelessness, like the housing crisis, like traffic congestion, don’t exist in vacuums. We as a region have to take them on holistically and together.”
Schaaf said Tuesday that she is deeply saddened and will miss his spirit, both professionally and personally.
“He was a man who was truly motivated by all things good. (There was) not a shred of ego in that man. He was just a hard worker, a smart worker and just someone who exuded generosity all the time.”