It’s 1983. The Asian Law Caucus, Equal Rights Advocates, and the Lawyers’ Committee are working on an ordinance that will get more contracting dollars into the hands of women and people of color. This is when I first met the man who would become Mayor Ed Lee. I remember him as a true progressive and as a man who knew that all people of color needed to stand together as friends and allies and not as co-competitors in the oppression Olympics. (As I type this, my internet service goes in and out. Is this what the end of net neutrality will be like?).
The brothers from the Caucus, Ed, Bill Tamayo, and Dennis Hayashi were super cool, super progressive, and hella smart. We got the ordinance through and litigated up and down the federal courts keeping the legislation in place despite the efforts of our foes, the Associated General Contractors and their attorneys the Pacific Legal Foundation, but that’s another story.
A couple of years later, Ed and the Caucus represented Asian-American firefighters in the landmark case against the SF Fire Department. I spoke with my friend Shauna Marshall (we were co-counsel on the case) this morning after I heard the news of Ed’s death. We laughed at a memory of a firefighters legal team gathering at my home when Ed did the bump (ask your parents about this dance) in the kitchen with Shauna. We laughed and cried remembering what a wonderful man he is (was).
Ed then started his ascendancy in San Francisco politics. We all kept in touch and were blown away when he became the mayor. I believe this job was the death of him. Shauna and I talked of the tensions that came with that job. Ed was progressive at a time of the rise of the tech behemoth that is changing San Francisco. Also, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a progressive mayor in one of the bluest cities in this most blue of states at this insane time. Shauna reminded me of the attacks from the Fox News machine around sanctuary cities and the recent acquittal in the murder case involving the undocumented gentleman. We are sure this weakened his heart.
The last two times I saw Ed were festive. Our friend Judge Ed Chen asked Ed, me, and a couple of other jokers to sing the national anthem or God Bless America at one of his investiture ceremonies. This was the first time I saw him with bodyguards!! The last time I saw him was at a party we had for all those involved in the firefighters’ litigation. I did not think he would come. He was the Mayor after all. Well, he came and stayed and had a good time. He was his same warm friendly lovely self. That is the memory that will stick in my mind’s eye.
Friends, life is short. I am at an age when folks are starting to leave this mortal plain. I was looking out at the garden in my back yard after I heard this sad news of Ed’s passing thinking that, despite all the madness around us and our need, indeed our duty, to work to make things better, we need to take care of ourselves and of those we love. I am fairly certain Ed knew how much we loved him. Make sure all the people you love know that and take good care. Life can be shockingly short.
Sending love and the hope for peace,