Ed Lee’s inauguration on the morning of Jan. 8 marked a historic moment for San Francisco, which now has its first-ever elected Chinese American mayor.
But unlike when he was first appointed by outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom, the ceremony saw an affable Lee downplaying his background in the Chinese community, instead emphasizing his role as an innovator for the city as a whole.
Thousands gathered to witness the swearing-in, administered by former San Francisco Mayor and now United States Senator Dianne Feinstein. The ceremony began at 11 a.m. after an hour of dance and musical performances.
Introduced by former Mayor Willie Brown, Lee, the 43rd mayor of San Francisco, was joined by his wife, Anita, and two daughters, Brianna and Tania.
“I came in determined to bring a new level of stability to city hall,” Lee told those gathered during a 26-minute inaugural address delivered just after his swearing in. He then cut straight to the challenges San Franciscans continue to face, including unemployment, a severe budget crunch, pension reform issues, and housing.
“Whether it’s parks, health care, the arts, public safety, the environment or schools, our ability to make progress is directly connected to giving every family the dignity of a paycheck,” he said.
What little reference was made to his Chinese background came by way of reference to 2012 as the Year of the Dragon, which Lee described as a time to take risks.
“The dragon is the most powerful of all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, and therefore the year of the dragon is a time for confronting challenges, taking risks and embracing innovation,” the mayor said.
In a nod to the city’s diverse array of ethnic communities, Lee offered thanks in multiple languages, including Tagalog, Spanish and Russian.
He also referenced the continuing Occupy Wall Street movement, saying, “We are the city for the 100 percent. We serve the needs for each and everyone.”
Job creation was a major focus of Lee’s speech. San Francisco’s unemployment rate has hovered at just under 8 percent, mirroring national statistics.
To address the problem, Lee stressed that “innovation” was key, describing the city as the “innovation capital of the world.” He laid particular emphasis on the embrace of technology and related investments.
Lee was instrumental in convincing the microblogging giant Twitter to remain in the city by promising a controversial tax break, a decision he defended by noting the company would bring much needed capital to the city’s Sixth Street corridor, known more for its housing shelters and high crime rate.
To demonstrate his commitment, Lee interrupted his speech to send out his first official tweet as mayor.
Lee comes in with an extensive career in local politics, having served under four of the city’s five previous mayors, most of whom were in attendance during yesterday’s event. His most recent post was as city administrator under Gavin Newsom.
Despite his efforts to downplay his Chinese roots, for leaders of the city’s Chinese American community, Lee’s victory comes as an affirmation, and they turned out to show their support.
Community leader Marlene Tran was one of them. Tran said she was glad that Lee is already creating jobs by attracting and keeping high-tech and biotech companies in the city. However, she also said she expects Lee to focus more on the immigrant community as they face enormous barriers to finding employment.
Chinese American Lenora Hall, 62, who was born and raised in San Francisco but moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago, said she came back to witness the historical moment.
Hall described Lee as a role model for young people, especially Asian Americans seeking to get involved in civic engagement work.
Bay Area resident Alexandra Ramos, who voted for Lee in November, also came to the inauguration to show her support. Ramos said she believes Lee’s experience in administration will help lead San Francisco in a positive direction.