Late Mayor Ed Lee remembered as different from his predecessors

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The late Mayor Ed Lee was remembered today in the rotunda in San Francisco's City Hall as a different kind of mayor who didn't want the job but took it and served with humility and kindness. 

 Lee died Tuesday. He was 65 years old. 

"His was a legacy of humility," former mayor and current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said. 

Lee started in city government in 1989. He served as an investigator for the city's whistleblower ordinance and later became the deputy director of employee relations.

He served as the director of the Human Rights Commission, director of city purchasing and director of the Department of Public Works.  

In 2005, when Newsom was mayor, he appointed Lee as city administrator.

Newsom wondered how much of the work Lee chose and how much of the work chose him. Newsom thinks the work chose Lee, including the work as mayor. 

Lee served "but never sought the public spotlight," according to Newsom. 

Gov. Jerry Brown called Lee an unusual political leader, saying just his mere humanity is an incredible exception to what we encounter.

Brown said Lee was a real person with integrity and love of life.

The celebration started at 3 p.m. at City Hall at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, drawing dignitaries from all over the nation and an outpouring of condolences from around the world.

"He never forgot whom he served," former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a message delivered by chief of protocol of San Francisco Charlotte Mailliard Schultz. 

Even Tony Bennett sent along a song by video saying Lee was a golden son for San Francisco, after Bennett's iconic song "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." 

Lee was a child of Chinese immigrants and San Francisco's first Asian-American mayor. His selection as mayor was a source of tremendous pride for the Asian-American community, former mayor and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein said.

Now new generations of Asian Americans know that they can run and be successful in the highest office in the city, Feinstein added.  

Lee became mayor when Newsom was elected as lieutenant governor. Newsom was convinced to delay his swearing in so a cadre of supporters could get the necessary votes to get Lee elected, former Mayor Willie Brown told the audience. 

The cadre didn't let Lee know what they were doing, the former mayor said. 

"Newsom, you're right," Willie said. "He didn't want the mayor's job."

Still, he was lauded for his good work. 

Acting Mayor London Breed said she joined Lee and his wife on a trip to San Francisco's sister city Shanghai.

"In China, San Francisco's first Asian-American mayor was a superstar," Breed said. "Like Beyonce with a mustache." 

Breed read the words of a city worker who said that Lee treated city workers with respect.

Feinstein said Lee started as mayor in the recession and brought the city's unemployment rate down to 2.7 percent. Also, under Lee, more housing units were built in the city than under any other mayor, according to Feinstein. 

"But Ed was always Ed," Breed said. "He carried his own suitcase. He held the door for Anita (his wife). He carried his doggie bag home from the restaurant." 

"San Francisco on this day appropriately acknowledged and celebrated the life of a man who was different than any of his predecessors," Brown, the former mayor, said.