Tech sector loses champion in death of
San Francisco mayor
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[December 13, 2017]
By David Ingram
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco
technology companies including Twitter, Salesforce.com, Uber and Airbnb
lost an important ally on Tuesday with the sudden death of Mayor Ed Lee.
Lee courted the industry with tax breaks and helped fend off a backlash
against the tech sector and the soaring rents and rising inequality it
has brought to the city.
Lee, 65, a former tenants' rights lawyer and San Francisco's first
Chinese American mayor, died with more than two years left in his term.
The cause was a heart attack, local media said. The mayor's office did
not confirm the cause.
As a champion of the tech industry, Lee arranged a major tax break for
companies that moved into the impoverished Mid-Market neighborhood, a
measure designed in part to keep Twitter <TWTR.N> in the city.
In 2014, he brokered a deal to let Alphabet Inc's Google <GOOGL.O> and
other big companies use city bus stops for their private commuter buses,
so long as they paid a modest fee. Street protesters had targeted the
buses as a symbol of how wealthy tech workers were driving up rents and
forcing long-time residents out of middle-class neighborhoods.
San Francisco's skyline was remade during Lee's tenure as the local
economy soared along with the tech industry: a new skyscraper, the
city's tallest by far, will house software firm Salesforce.com Inc
Lee also advocated a hands-off approach to firms such as Airbnb Inc,
Lyft Inc and Uber Technologies Inc even as they faced political pushback
and stiff regulations elsewhere.
Tech companies historically were mostly based in suburban cities to the
south of San Francisco such as Mountain View, where Google resides, and
Cupertino, the home of Apple. But in recent years many more firms - and
the venture capitalists, lawyers and others who serve them - have opted
for the city. Other San Francisco-based companies include Square Inc
<SQ.N>, Yelp Inc <YELP.N>, Zynga Inc <ZNGA.O> and Dropbox Inc.
Lee's alliance with tech firms put him at odds with large blocs of
liberal voters in the famously left-leaning city, where Lee faced savage
criticism over the cost of housing and an influx of white, wealthy
No mayor could have avoided that criticism, said Nathan Ballard, a
Democratic political strategist who credited Lee with persuading tech
firms to be more philanthropic.
"He'll be remembered for being very friendly to tech, but he wanted San
Francisco to be prosperous and he presided over one of the most
prosperous eras in San Francisco," Ballard said.
Lee justified his policies by pointing to a falling local unemployment
"We have to work with the new jobs creators, and that's what I believe
the public wants me to do," Lee told Reuters in an interview in 2012,
the year after he won election.
[to top of second column]
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee speaks during a news conference at city
hall in San Francisco, California, U.S., January 31, 2017.
REUTERS/Kate Munsch/File Photo
On Tuesday, after Twitter co-founder Biz Stone called Lee an "all
around good guy" on the social network, one of the responses, from
Twitter user @B34NS, was: "a 'good' guy if you're a millionaire who
benefits from his tax breaks."
Lee, a longtime city bureaucrat, was appointed mayor in 2011 and won
election later that year with the backing of the tech industry. Ron
Conway, a venture capitalist, formed an independent political action
committee on his behalf and raised almost $700,000 from executives
such as former Facebook Inc <FB.O> President Sean Parker and
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
Conway in a statement on Tuesday praised Lee for caring "so deeply
about the city and its people, about jobs and opportunity for young
Jane Kim, a member of San Francisco's board of supervisors, its city
council, said she never doubted Lee's commitment to the poor and
middle class, but that inequality nevertheless rose during his
tenure and that his successor would need to do better.
"Our housing crisis is going to continue to be a top priority," Kim
said in an interview. "We feel it by people leaving the city -
feeling squeezed, feeling vulnerable to eviction."
A city-led survey found this year that the number of homeless had
increased slightly to 7,499 people from 7,350 people in 2013.
London Breed, president of the board of supervisors, is serving as
acting mayor. A native who grew up in a city housing project, Breed
is allied with more moderate members of the city's fractious board
An election is set for June 2018 to fill the rest of Lee's term,
which ends in January 2020.
One of the next scheduled items on Lee's agenda was a visit next
week to the headquarters of software company Zendesk Inc <ZEN.N> to
meet with its employees, something he had done before, Mikkel Svane,
the company's chief executive, said in an interview on Tuesday.
Svane praised Lee for being accessible, and for not demonizing the
tech industry as other politicians might.
"He never made a political agenda out of it. He just made things
work. It's so easy to point fingers to this group or that group,"
(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Jonathan Weber)
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