HomeBad Ass Asians Mayor Ed Lee story had to be told

Mayor Ed Lee story had to be told

Hillary Clinton with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
Hillary Clinton with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent

Longtime Bay Area sportscaster turned filmmaker Rick Quan (The Dorothy Toy Story) knew after San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee died, he had to tell his story.

After Jane Chin, the Executive Director of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA), mourned Lee’s death, she knew Lee’s legacy in both Asian American and San Francisco history had to be documented.

Chin and Quan who had worked together before would cross paths again. Their collaboration would lead to the production of Quan’s new documentary, Mayor Ed Lee. The documentary, a project of the CHSA, plays at CAAMFEST tomorrow in Oakland and again in San Francisco on Sunday.

“After Mayor Lee’s sudden death in December of 2017, I had been thinking about doing a documentary on his life, but was hesitant because he was such a high profile person and I didn’t know if I could do it justice,” said Quan to AsAmNews. “Soon after I got a call from Jane Chin. We met in early January and she asked if I was interested in producing a documentary on Ed Lee. I saw this as a sign I should undertake this project.”

Chin explained further.

“The tremendous grief that we were all sharing and feeling was too much,” she said. “As time went on, the whole evidence of sense of loss, we should do something about it. Here’s a man who had a tremendous life. We needed to turn that grief into something positive. We needed to do something to preserve his memory.”

Lee, who had then never run for election, became the first Asian American mayor of San Francisco in its history when the Board of Supervisors appointed him to the position in January 2011, days after Mayor Gavin Newsom was sworn in as California’s 49th Lieutenant governor. Lee would win election to the office in 2011 and again in 2015. His rise to prominence surprised many.

He began his career as an activist attorney for the Asian Law Caucus organizing a successful rent strike in San Francisco’s Ping Yuen Housing Project. Lee, himself, grew up in a housing project in Seattle, and could relate to the Ping Yuen tenant demands for better living conditions and safety. In 1989, Mayor Art Agnos appointed Lee the first investigator under the city’s new whistleblower ordinance. He worked his way up the bureaucratic ladder, and was the City Administrator when the supervisors appointed him mayor.

When Quan began shooting his documentary just three months after Lee’s death, emotions were still raw.

“For Mayor Lee’s wife Anita it is still difficult for her to talk about her husband’s passing,” said Quan. “While she gave her blessing to this project and we encouraged her to be a part of it, she turned down our requests to be interviewed because she said she still cannot talk about him without becoming overcome with emotion. We respected her wishes.”

Quan said many others were still processing the pain and sadness of Lee’s death, but most agreed to talk “because they wanted to honor and remember the man.”

Mayor Ed Lee is not a political movie. Anyone looking for a look at both his political accomplishments and controversies will be disappointed.

“We all agreed it was to explain how Ed became the person who eventually became the first Asian American Mayor of San Francisco,” said Quan. “We wanted to focus on his character and personality, where he came from and what shaped his thinking.”

Quan discovered almost everyone has an “Ed Lee” story. Quan was surprised to learn Lee wanted to originally work for the State Department as a Sino-Soviet diplomat, that he was a very good athlete and that he was also an organ donor.


“We are hoping this documentary will both educate and inspire the public about the life of Ed Lee. Because of his sudden death, we are hoping it might also provide some closure,” Quan said.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart.  We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns.  Check out our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content.  Please consider interning, joining our staff or submitting a story.

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