James Fang, San Francisco's Last Elected Republican, Dies at 58

Former BART Board Director James Fang (Courtesy BART)

James Fang, San Francisco's last elected Republican, died Friday at the age of 58.

In a statement, Fang's family said he died of "natural causes." Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told KQED Fang died of a "heart attack." The Fang family could not be reached for comment.

Fang is survived by his wife, Daphne, his mother, Florence, and brother, Ted. For decades, the Fang family long held sway with their newspapers, the San Francisco Independent, AsianWeek and at one time, the San Francisco Examiner.

"He had a very happy life," his family wrote, in a statement. "The family wishes to share their appreciation for the expressions of support from everyone."

Fang left his stamp on Bay Area culture as publisher of AsianWeek for more than a decade, until its closure in 2009. He was also the president of the San Francisco Examiner newspaper after the Fang family bought it in 2000.

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Elected to the BART Board of Directors in 1990, Fang served until he was ousted by Nick Josefowitz in 2014. Fang was a noted proponent of an effort to extend BART out to Ocean Beach through San Francisco's West Side, an effort that may now finally be gaining traction as BART studies a second Transbay Tube.

Noting Fang's prominence in the Asian community, particularly the monolingual Chinese community, Brown said San Francisco lost an important voice.

"For years, they were part of the business of letting San Franciscans know about other San Franciscans," Brown said. "He was an alternative voice for BART and for all of us. But without that voice, San Francisco is harmed."

Pius Lee, a former San Francisco police commissioner and prominent Chinatown community member, said Fang and AsianWeek gave the monolingual Chinese community a voice in the English-language world.

"For once, our message could be published in an English paper so all people could read that," Lee said. "It was so important. He's prominent not only in the Chinese community, but outside."

John Burton, a prominent former chair of the California Democratic Party, was also a long-time friend of the Fang family. Burton told KQED he was "stunned" by Fang's death, particularly because he was so young.

"He was a fine young man from a fine family, I wish his family and everybody, Florence, and Ted, (well)" Burton said.

A San Francisco native and alum of Lowell High School, Fang interned with Rep. Phillip Burton, brother to John.

A photo of James Fang, third from left, in the 1979 Lowell High School yearbook, in the 'Bike Club.' (Courtesy Allan Low)

San Francisco Recreation and Park Department Commissioner Allan Low was a friend of Fang since they were both teenagers attending Lowell. They also both interned for Burton.

In high school, Low recalled Fang was in the "Bike Club" and was an avid runner. Later, when they were both interns for Rep. Burton, Low remembered Fang often had his back.

"Burton always liked Chesterfield Lights cigarettes and a particular gin, and I couldn't buy it because I wasn't 21," Low remembered. "I always had to use James' ID."

Low recalled Fang as humorous, outspoken, politically ambitious, and an ardent champion for San Francisco.

"While our politics might've been different, he was a good guy," who at heart was always "a city kid," Low said.

San Francisco's political leanings changed around Fang, eventually crowding out its few elected Republicans until only Fang remained. Critics of his BART Board of Directors race in 2014 often noted a need to oust San Francisco's last remaining Republican holding office.

Despite that political loss, and what it represented, Low said, "Deep down, he always loved the city."