Former Assemblyman Gene Mullin — a dedicated educator and accomplished lawmaker whose family legacy continues shaping the local political landscape — has died. He was 83.
The former state representative, mayor of South San Francisco and local teacher who had been diagnosed with cancer three years ago died Monday, April 5, in his South San Francisco home.
Assembly Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, honored the memory of his father in a prepared statement.
“His legacy on civic engagement lives on through the lives of his legions of students, as well as his children and grandchildren,” Kevin Mullin said. “He was our proverbial north star and we’ll never be the same with him gone.”
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, effusively reflected on Gene Mullin’s career in public service, as well as their friendship.
“Gene was a man whose generous heart was always overflowing, whose ethics were akin to a theologian and whose mind was like Sherlock Holmes, always probing, always asking tough questions about what is in the public’s best interest,” she said in an email.
Gene Mullin introduced himself to his local community as a government teacher in the South San Francisco Unified School District, with a role that he maintained for 32 years.
He also coached basketball, helped lead his district’s teachers union and received recognition as the San Mateo County Teacher of the Year in 1991.
With hopes of inspiring his students to take a greater interest in their hometown, Gene Mullin accepted an appointment to the South San Francisco Planning Commission in 1972.
He was working as a commissioner when South San Francisco welcomed Genentech, which has since transformed the city and region and established South City as the birthplace of biotechnology.
He went on to serve on the South San Francisco City Council from 1995 to 2002, and also twice served as mayor. He then set his sights on the state Legislature, and ran for Assembly representing the 19th District.
In the Assembly race Gene Mullin outdueled Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan, despite her father Lou Papan being the incumbent. Gene Mullin ultimately served three terms before leaving office in 2008. During his time in Sacramento, he chaired the Assembly Education and Housing committees.
“As a legislator he earned high praise and wrote the gospel on education reform during his years in the state Assembly,” Speier said.
Gene Mullin earned a reputation for remarkable consistency in the Assembly, because he was the only member that never missed a committee vote and cast approximately 11,000 votes in his six years in office.
Colleagues referred to him as “the Cal Ripken of the Legislature,” evoking the Baltimore Orioles shortstop who broke Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,131 consecutive games played.
Among the issues he was most passionate about as a lawmaker was an effort to reduce the voting age in the interest of enhancing youth engagement on political matters.
Though Gene Mullin struggled to get the issue to the ballot, Kevin Mullin took up the fight and successfully brought it to voters in 2020 through ACA 4 — though it was ultimately defeated.
Other legislative priorities included affordable housing, child care expansion and advocacy for the life sciences industry. He also taught summer programs for Sacramento State University, authored books on local government and produced educational videos.
His public service expanded into the nonprofit sector as well, as Gene Mullin was a board member for local organizations such as the San Mateo County Historical Society, HIP Housing, the South San Francisco Library Foundation, BayBio and Seton Medical Center.
The South San Francisco City Council issued a statement honoring the death of an iconic local figure, paying special attention to the encouragement his showed local youth to get involved in their community.
“His enthusiasm for representing his city and then representing our county were inspiring. In South San Francisco, a city he loved, we were fortunate to count him as our own,” said the statement.
A black wreath has been placed at South San Francisco City Hall in his honor.
Services will be private but contributions to Gene Mullin’s memory may be made to the South San Francisco Community Learning Center via the South San Francisco Library Foundation.