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    In Memory of One of the Good Guys in the Resistance

    By Andrea Shorter–

    The recent and unexpected death of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee remains a shock for our City, the Bay Area, and the nation. For those of us who knew him and had the honor of working with him over the course of his 40 years of public service, it is hard to imagine San Francisco without his service from one of the many posts he held along the way to his eventual and unexpected tenure as Mayor.

    As due upon the passing of a public figure, much has and will continue to be written about his life, his career, and his legacy. We know that Mayor Lee was a man from humble beginnings as a son of immigrants, who became a fierce student organizer, an attorney on behalf of low-income and public housing residents, a Human Rights Commission director, and a chief administrator for the City, before making history as the first Asian American Mayor of San Francisco when he was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Gavin Newsom when he was elected Lt. Governor. A career civil servant cast into the role of the reluctant politician, Lee managed to win election and re-election as Mayor amidst critical and controversial turning points for San Francisco and what it is to become in relationship to the arrival of the technology sector, a burgeoning affordable housing crisis, perineal homelessness, and the fight to elevate San Francisco values concerning sanctuary cities, LGBT equality, racial diversity and more in the face of anti-ethical and hostile forces stoked and led by the President of the United States.

    Debates regarding the impact of his leadership upon the life and future of San Francisco are to be expected. Was he overly accommodating of corporate and technological business sectors’ presence in the City? Was his aggressive push to build more housing aggressive enough? Was he on the right track in his efforts and initiatives to better serve and respond to homelessness? The issues are numerous, and there will be many who are all too willing to ignite and engage those debates in the days and years to come. No matter what partisan corner or agenda from which one might view the late Mayor’s legacy, however, the consensus about Ed Lee is that, in the greater scheme of this current political climate, he was one of the good guys.

    Beyond our provincial interests, we lost Mayor Lee the very morning of Alabama’s harrowing election to quite possibly send a raging lunatic homophobe—a dyed in the wool racist Judge battling to survive accusations of pedophilia with the support of the President and Republican leadership—to the United States Senate. Thankfully, much due to the voter turnout of African American women, the Democratic choice triumphantly prevailed.

    It’s hard to resist some satisfaction and cheer in a sort of cosmic reckoning that, on the day of Mayor Lee’s passing, justice prevailed in arguably the most entrenched southern state of the union; the arc of the universe bent towards justice by descendants of slaves. Further, that Mayor Lee would be succeeded by, as Acting Mayor, an African American woman who came up from the public housing projects to become President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is in accord with a kind of Shakespearean poetic justice striking against the very kind of racial and gender injustice that Ed Lee stood firmly against throughout his careers as an attorney and public servant. 

    I have now enjoyed the honor of appointment by the last three Mayors to the Commission on the Status of Women (COSW). My first appointment was received by former-Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr., soon upon his leadership with the COSW to adopt locally the international treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Much of my tenure on the COSW has focused on the implementation of the principles and tenants of CEDAW, which include ending violence against women.

    Throughout each administration, each Mayor has contributed in significant fashion to the implementation and adherence to the policies and practices that have enabled San Francisco to become a national model for the intensive collaborative effort it takes between community-based services, law enforcement, City agencies and City Hall to effect critical response to domestic violence. A father of two daughters, Mayor Lee was a fierce and strong advocate and ally in the fight to end domestic violence. Mayor Lee’s unwavering stance on the infamous case involving a former Sheriff’s domestic violence offense elevated the understanding of family violence as a community concern and will always be greatly appreciated. The anti-domestic violence community of advocates will be forever indebted to his support, integrity, and leadership that made critical response a top priority for San Francisco.

    As a friend and ally to the LGBT community, Mayor Lee will be remembered as a champion for marriage equality, transgender empowerment, workplace inclusion and protections, and a myriad of other battles on the path towards full LGBT equality. Appointing the nation’s first Transgender advisor to a major city certainly ranks high among his numerous achievements to help advance LGBT liberation.

    Having known Ed Lee for nearly 20 years, I have many memories of a developing relationship with him as a colleague, appointee, ally, and friend. One memory that will remain forever intact is standing with Mayor Lee on the steps of City Hall on Friday, August 25, to rally San Francisco the day before white nationalists were to land in town in the wake of the neo-Nazi descent on Charlottesville. Before a swelling crowd of hundreds of true believers in diversity, equity, and social justice, and along a nearly as much populated stage of other public officials, inter-faith leaders, community organizers, and celebrities, Mayor Lee—known for his notoriously low-key, no-flash, no grandeur, personable, no drama style—was very much in his element. Of course, it is expected that whoever is Mayor, he or she would stand firm in the resistance against the tyranny of hatred at the City’s golden gates. In his case, it seemed that as Mayor or not, he would have been there to help organize, speak out, and speak up for what I believe was in his heart: we are stronger together, and our strength is in our diversity.

    As the curtain draws on his time as Mayor of San Francisco, the intrigue and machinations ensue as to who will succeed as the next Mayor—our first African American woman Mayor, our first LGBT Mayor, our next Chinese American Mayor, or someone else. Whoever succeeds, let us hope that he or she will also seek to move us forward in resistance against the forces of hatred and division, will stand firm in the strength of diversity, and will be a true believer—as Ed Lee was—in the City of Saint Francis as sanctuary and home to all seekers of the grandest of possibilities, and especially those that are least expected.  

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.