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Data Sheet—San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee Was an Unlikely Friend to the Tech Industry

Ed Lee, the mayor of San Francisco who died suddenly Tuesday at age 65, was an unlikely friend of the technology industry. A civil rights lawyer and housing advocate as a young adult, Lee spent his middle-aged years as a low-profile city bureaucrat. It’s as unlikely that anyone in the tech community would have known Lee as it was that he’d one day become the tech-friendly mayor of the city that is the global capital of IT.

But life takes strange twists and turns. In 2011 he was the consensus choice of the city’s bickering legislature to serve out the term of Gavin Newsom, who had resigned to become lieutenant governor. Surely the colorless city administrator would be a safe pick for preening politicians who couldn’t agree on a leader. His assurance that he wouldn’t run for a full term sealed the deal.

I first met Lee that summer, when Andy Serwer, the last managing editor of Fortune, and I visited the interim mayor in his office. Andy had a couple things in common with Lee. He had worked for years for an organization before becoming its leader. And he went to Bowdoin College in Maine, which Seattle-born Lee had won a scholarship to attend.

Going to school in Maine was Lee’s first unlikely turn in life. He told us how strange it was for a poor son of Chinese immigrants to end up in frigid New England. Over the course of the conversation it became clear to Andy and me that Lee was going to break his pledge not to run for mayor. He did, and he won office handily later that year.

US-SAN FRANCISCO-PRIDE-MARCH-homosexuality-demonstration
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee waves to a cheering crowd along the San Francisco Pride parade route in San Francisco, California on June 25, 2017.Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images
Josh Edelson—AFP/Getty Images

That’s when he became a friend of tech, particularly its chief San Francisco booster, Ron Conway. The tax breaks Lee offered Twitter and other companies made him a hero to tech startups and a villain to the left in San Francisco. They thought he was helping the rich, but his moves breathed life into a moribund part of town and brought numerous jobs to the city.

It was a promising start, but ultimately the huge challenges of running San Francisco overwhelmed the mayor who decidedly wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t able to get a handle on homelessness, housing costs, or congestion—all of which got increasingly worse during his tenure.

His death, from a heart attack Monday night, saddened anyone who knew what a kind and unassuming man Ed Lee was. Just three days ago the astute San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight published an account of accompanying Lee as he picked up garbage on the city’s perennially disgusting streets. She noted that he had two years left in his term and that he intended to focus his efforts on housing and homelessness. “When the end comes and that’s it, I’m going to feel OK—that I did everything I could to help the city,” Lee told Knight.

He was referring to the end of his term, not his life. San Francisco has lost a good man who did do everything he could.

Adam Lashinsky


Arrivals and departures. Twitter debuted a new tool to help users connect a thread of tweets in a “tweet storm.” At the same time, another tool for displaying a bunch of related tweets that were not threaded, called Storify, is being shut down by Adobe next year. And oddly it turns out that once and future Trump advisor Steve Bannon was seeking to shut down Twitter back when he was running Breitbart News, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed.

Coming in fast. Apple debuted its new top-performing desktop computer, the iMac Pro, on Tuesday. Starting at $5,000, the space grey version of the iMac has one of Intel’s Xeon W CPU chips and a graphics card powered by AMD’s latest Vega chip. Apple seeded a few review units with bloggers in fields that could tax the machine’s multi-core CPU design. Photographer Vincent Laforet said the iMac Pro was consistently two to three times faster than his current iMac on photo and video editing tasks. Apple also said it would invest almost $400 million with Finisar to help open a manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas to make laser sensor chips.

Спасибо (spasibo). President Trump signed a defense spending bill that included a ban on the use of software from Russia’s Kaspersky Lab in the government. “The case against Kaspersky is well-documented and deeply concerning,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who led the effort to ban Kaspersky, said. The bill also reimposes the 2015 consumer drone registration rules from the Federal Aviation Administration that were struck down by a federal court in May.

Merci bien. France will prohibit students in elementary and middle school from using their phones during the school day. Under the plan, students aged six to about 15 will be able to bring the phones to school but not use them, even during breaks,

Next gig. After almost 25 years, Julie Larson-Green left Microsoft earlier this year. She announced Tuesday that she will join online survey and customer feedback startup Qualtrics as chief experience officer. “I want to go somewhere where the company is a little younger, not already set in their ways,” Larson-Green tells Fortune.


The rise of Google, Facebook, and a handful of other tech superpowers has stirred discussion of whether the companies wield too much power. And that has some looking back at the history of how antitrust law has been used to curb the tech giants of prior eras, such as IBM, AT&T, and Microsoft. Brian Feldman reviews the Microsoft case for New York magazine, but I’m not sure he delivers on his headline: “U.S. v. Microsoft Proved That Antitrust Can Keep Tech Power in Check.”

It’s a commonly held notion that even though Microsoft was not broken up, the company was hobbled by fear and reluctance to offend after the case ended in 2001, opening the door for the rise of Apple, Google, and others. That’s certainly Feldman’s thesis:

It began acting a lot more cautiously, and running more of its decisions past lawyers. The tech industry disruption principle to “move fast and break things” could no longer apply. Microsoft survived the case as a single company, but it emerged from the proceedings drastically changed. Interoperability between platforms and products is now key to Microsoft’s consumer business strategy. It needs its software to be available on and compatible with platforms that it doesn’t control, but does, in some ways, compete with. At the same time, the company is/was no longer confident in its ability to maintain its market share — and became so focused on protecting Windows that it was slow to adapt to the mobile-computing revolution that rival Apple came to define. Like BlackBerry, Microsoft had smartphone software before the iPhone came along, but was too confident or not nimble enough to reorient itself in time.


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Apple to Bring Coding Education to Chicago Public Schools By Jonathan Vanian

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Commentary: China Is Right: The World Doesn’t Need Silicon Valley By Vivek Wadhwa


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out this week and I don’t want any spoilers, so I’m avoiding the reviews. Fortune colleague Tom Huddleston Jr. has no such qualms, and he’s compiled a roundup with links to the full reviews, if you’re interested. And may the force be with you.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.