By Andrew Cohen
Edwin Lee ’78 became San Francisco’s first Asian-American leader on January 11, when he was sworn in as interim mayor.
The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 to appoint Lee—a city employee for more than 20 years and City Administrator since 2005—to fill the remainder of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s term until next January. Newsom was sworn in a day earlier as California’s lieutenant governor.
Following the vote, Lee took the oath of office in City Hall before a crowded gathering of family members, current and former city leaders and supporters, and members of the Chinese-American community.
Lee has worked for the city under four different mayors. He first became a San Francisco employee in 1989, when he was appointed Investigator for the city’s first Whistle Blower Ordinance. Lee later became deputy director of Employee Relations, and from 1991–1996 served as executive director of the city’s Human Rights Commission.
In 1996, Mayor Willie Brown named him director of City Purchasing. In that role, Lee successfully modernized the office by streamlining the purchasing code and helping the city access cutting-edge computer technology.
Appointed director of the Department of Public Works in 2000, Lee oversaw major capital public works projects. In doing so, he established new recycling standards, created public/private partnerships for neighborhood beautification, strengthened departmental attempts to improve city cleanliness, and reinstituted the undergrounding of utility conduit.
Earlier in January, neighboring Oakland inaugurated Jean Quan—the first Asian-American woman mayor of a major U.S. city.