San Diego’s ‘iMayor’ leaves the city better than he found it
By Monica Medina | SDUN Reporter
Many would have trouble believing that San Diego’s ever had a mayor nicer than Interim Mayor Todd Gloria. Having stepped into the role last summer in the midst of a maelstrom that made national headlines, he did so with the skill and know-how needed to get the job done.
In a Feb. 15 letter to the U-T San Die
go, Gloria was referred to as “a steady hand on a ship that was floundering.” Indeed, compassionate and impeccably polite, Gloria’s been a calming force and a welcome respite from the previous mayor.
Now, in his last few days as “iMayor,” as he’s affectionately been dubbed, Gloria took time to sit down for a little Q&A.
San Diego Uptown News: Why is public service important to you?
Todd Gloria: My parents raised me to believe that if you care about something you’re supposed to leave it better than you found it. When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford a car and would have to borrow one. Yet whenever we returned the car, it would be fully gassed-up and we’d wash the car, too, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Show gratitude and return it better than you found it. I think that’s what drives my public service. I really love the community and living in the city. I want to return it better than it was given to me. I feel so fortunate when I wake up that all I have to do is try to make the city better. I don’t have to increase the stock price or return more profit to shareholders. All I have to do is look at my constituents and say, I paved more roads today, added more library hours and made the neighborhoods a lot safer with the help of our city employees. For me, that’s what motivates me.
SDUN: How did you manage to stay above the fray while saving our city from dire times?
TG: It goes back to your family, your upbringing. My role in my family is that when something bad happens, I’m usually the one that gets the call, because I tend to be the one to shut out the white noise and stay focused on the situation and solve it. My mom had her credit card stolen the other day and she’s very upset. I said let’s call the bank, let’s file a police report, and so on. I think in part this is the role that I’ve constantly played. In terms of what we’ve been able to do, it’s just trusting people. The biggest flaw of the previous mayor is that he was a micro-manager. He didn’t really empower people to do their work. I got into this role and saw that we have amazing people who work here and all they needed to do their job was to say to them, “Follow the rules, use common sense and I’ll back you up.” It’s amazing the kind of output that comes when you do that. People’s morale increased, productivity increased and things are running well now.
SDUN: When you look back at your decision not to run for mayor, what are your thoughts about the choice you made?
TG: I don’t regret it, because it was the right thing to do for the city. It may not have matched my personal ambitions, but this is not about advancing myself or my career. This is about public service. My personal ambitions and public service may not have aligned perfectly, but if given that choice, if I’m not choosing public service, I shouldn’t be in this business.
Because of the city’s charter, I was the person that had to run the city in the absence of an elected mayor. I came in here on August 30th and it was obviously a mess. I wasn’t scared but that doesn’t mean I’m not fearful. I walked in through those doors the son of a hotel maintenance gardener, a brown gay guy who’s thinking, am I now in charge of the eighth largest city in the country? How do I do this?
The responsibility was on me and a lot of people were counting on me, and our team here at the city, to pull us out of this nosedive we were in. I made the judgment that I could not do that well and run for office at the same time. It’s very much a matter of believing I could do two things poorly or one thing well. And rather than be a bad candidate and a bad mayor I wanted to be a good mayor. As I walk out the door, if folks feel that I’ve done a good job then I did what I set out to do, which was to do one thing well and to leave the city better than I found it.
SDUN: Any plans to run for mayor in 2016?
TG: Well, I do have to find something to do in 2016, because I’ll be out of a job with the City Council. I never expected to be the City Council president. That happened because of a resignation. I never expected to be mayor, but that happened because of a resignation. While I’m a relentless planner and a very Type A personality, a part of me has become very comfortable knowing things happen for an important reason. You leave yourself open for an opportunity, do a good job with the work you’re presented and good things will come your way.
SDUN: Come Monday, what’s the first thing you’re going to do after you hand over the reigns of the Mayor’s office?
TG: I’ll go right back to being Council President. I have a Council meeting that afternoon and we have some important issues on the agenda.
SDUN: As Council President, what are you going to do about filling the council seat Mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer is vacating?
TG: We are encouraging interested residents of District Two to apply. It’s my anticipation we’ll have a council hearing in early April that will be like an open job interview where those that applied and completed the vetting process will answer questions of the council members and whoever receives a majority of support of the sitting council members, will be the next council member. That person will serve from early April until early December.
SDUN: How do you see San Diego 25 years from now?
TG: I have a vision for it and I’ll be working the next couple of years to do my part to get it done. I would hope we’d be working aggressively on infrastructure. The biggest issue facing our city is our crumbling streets and sidewalks, and inadequate public facilities. It’s my hope that the voters will consider a measure in 2016 that will aggressively tackle this problem. It’s bigger than the pension problem and it needs really assertive action to fix it.
I hope we’ll be a city that has successfully tackled homelessness. We’ve seen other cities across the country make significant strides in this regard. Phoenix recently declared an end to veterans’ homelessness. We should be able to do the same here.
My hope and expectation is that we’ll be a global leader in sustainability. I proposed an aggressive climate action plan to put the city on a cleaner renewable future, 100 percent reliance on renewable energy by 2035, relying far more on solar power and wind energy. It’ll also be a city dependent on public transit, biking and walking, in order to get the gas emissions reductions. A denser, more compact city where we’ve preserved our open spaces and back country. By doing that, we’ll match people’s vision for themselves. Millennials typically don’t seem to be interested in a 1950s idealized version of life. They want urban settings, access to mass transit, the ability to bike to places and I’m hoping to put into place policies that will help make that so. Work will happen in the next couple of years and assuming we’re successful, that’s what San Diego will look like 25 years from now.
SDUN: What’s going to be the last thing you do as interim mayor?
TG: I have a practice of going to get coffee every morning at the same place. I’m a creature of habit and stay as long as it takes to have a cup of coffee and eat a bagel. These folks have seen me become Councilmember, Council president and the Mayor and I love that they know me well. People will come up to my table and tell me what they think. I like the interaction and pick up a thing or two. They let you know if you’re doing well or not. I’ve gotten feedback, “You’re the same person, nothing’s changed, you’re still here.” When I stop being mayor, nothing’s going to be different, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday.
SDUN: How did calling you “iMayor” start?
TG: We were kicking it around what to call me. Interim mayor sounded long and (City Attorney) Jan Goldsmith said, you should just be “iMayor,” and it stuck. On KPBS someone said it’s a reflection of being younger and tech savvy on social media. As a hashtag, it works well. I do my own tweeting. I think social networking is invaluable. It gives me a good sample of people and you can see their comments and reactions. You find out what people like to retweet or what didn’t get retweeted because it’s not that important to them. I enjoy staying in touch, whether it’s the old school style, while having my coffee, or through social networking. Hopefully, you do it with some understanding of where people are.
SDUN: What makes you laugh?
TG: A lot of things around this job make me laugh. I enjoy “Arrested Development.” Shows like that that crack me up, but I find a lot of humor in this job. I was at a school and a student asked, “Do you live in a place like the White House?” I laughed and said no. The kid didn’t understand why I was laughing so hard. I live in a studio apartment in Hillcrest so the idea of living in some mansion really doesn’t match my reality. One night I was shopping at the grocery store and a lady says, “You’re shopping?” Yeah what do you think? I do have to eat. Or when I’m at the Laundromat, “Don’t you have someone who can do this for you?” I just start cracking up because of their perception of what life must be like for me.
SDUN: What’s the one piece of advice you have for Faulconer as he comes into office?
TG: Trust the staff. When I took over, we didn’t have permanent people in most of the city’s executive ranks. I’m happy to say that those positions are all filled by public servants who will help him implement his vision. They’ve been helping me these last few months and I think he will be very successful by relying on these folks and trusting them. I’ll be there as well, as the Council president, and I think he shares my belief that we can be a great city.
SDUN: So you feel like you’re leaving the city in good hands?
TG: I do. I’ve worked closely with Kevin the entire time I’ve been on the City Council. We have done many things together, collaboratively. Most notably of course, working to effect the resignation of Bob Filner. We have a genuine friendship. We’ll have points of disagreement, I’m sure, but on the whole I think he’ll be just fine.