Gloria: “Public Service Is a Lifestyle”

gloria

It’s
already been a decade since I was a Truman Scholar.  In some ways, it seems like only yesterday
that I was in at the Summer Institute in Washington, DC for the program, where
my eyes were opened to many new things. 
And that was just in the George Washington University dorm.  In other ways, it seems like I’ve traveled a
long road from the 21 year old college student I was then to the 32 year old
San Diego City Councilmember I am now.

I have
known since middle school that I had an interest in government and public
service.  At that young age, I didn’t
know all that much about government or what it could mean for my future.  A youth leadership program in San Diego
helped provide a foundation of knowledge, and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship
Program gave me the incredible gift of experiential learning throughout the
program and as an intern at the White House for First Lady Hillary Rodham
Clinton.

As Truman
Scholars, we all know about the program and took away something a little
different from it.  For me, the biggest
takeaway was a renewed sense that I was on the right path.  I studied history and political science and
worked as an intern in the local office of California State Assemblymember
Susan Davis.  The year I graduated from
college, Susan unseated an incumbent to win a seat in the U.S. House of
Representatives, and I was proud to serve in her San Diego office as a
Community Representative for her first term and as her District Director for
her next three terms. 

Through
my work as a congressional staffer, community activist and a City Housing
Commissioner, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of exemplary San Diego
neighbors, and many of them suggested that I run for a City Council seat that
was going to be open due to term limits. 
After a lot of soul-searching, days worth of discussions with family and
friends (including some fellow Truman Scholars), and a fair amount of MTV to
distract me, I decided to go for it.  I
recall one of the first doors I knocked on when canvassing for myself was an
older man who informed me that he is a very conservative Republican.  He asked me only one question: “Who is your
favorite President?”  My answer was the
only one a Truman Scholar could give: Harry Truman.  The man jumped for joy, hugged me and let me
place one of my signs in his yard.  The
Truman Scholarship was still paying off all these years later!

Thankfully,
the folks who suggested I run for office weren’t the only ones who thought I
was qualified, and I won my race and was inaugurated at the end of 2008.  Naturally, I quickly placed a portrait of
President Truman in my office.

While
serving in public office during the worst economic climate in 70 years is not
ideal, I can say without hesitation that I love my job.  In the short 20 months I have been in office,
I have worked with my colleagues to advance my goals of improving public
safety, increase infrastructure funding and build more affordable housing for
San Diego families.  My daily objective
is to help people and to make San Diego a better place. 

Certainly
the work is not without its downsides. 
It is impossible to adequately address the needs of the eighth largest
city in the United States.  No matter how
I vote on an issue, there is always some individual or group that is
disappointed.  Most of all, I have been
surprised by the lack of anonymity that comes with this kind of public service.  I thought only wonks like Truman Scholars
knew who their local elected officials were! 
Turns out, most people closely track the actions of their City
Councilmembers and are not shy to give their two cents whether it is at the
grocery store, the dry cleaner, or the gym locker room.   It’s led me to explain to folks that this is
not a job but a lifestyle.

On the
most difficult of days, I often think back to my experiences with the 1999
Truman Scholars at William Jewell College. 
I recall the optimism and sincerity of purpose all of us share for
professions in public service.   It
renews my commitment to this lifestyle to think of the great work that my
fellow Trumans are doing around the world. 
I remain grateful for the opportunities the Truman Scholarship provided
for me and the chance to live out my dream of a career in public service.

Todd Gloria (CA ‘99) is a San Diego City Councilmember.

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