Leadership Spotlight: Mayor Todd Gloria

Emerging Leaders Zoom call with Mayor Todd Gloria

Written by: Alli Temnick, Senior Development Executive

On Tuesday, June 22nd, Mayor Todd Gloria spent part of his 196th day in office hosting a virtual leadership spotlight for United Way of San Diego County’s Emerging Leaders. As the mayor of America’s Finest City, Mayor Gloria said that no two days are the same – and we are grateful that he set aside time to speak to our group of Emerging Leaders to share advice in the middle of a long and busy day. 

Mayor Todd Gloria is a third generation San Diegan, and the first in his family to go to college. He recalled fond memories of his parents instilling strong values and the importance of education in him, even though they did not have access to higher education themselves. Additionally, Mayor Gloria shares United Way of San Diego County’s focus on the importance of education and mentoring. In his words, education is “the difference maker.” His personal story attests to how true that is, and he is confident that education will continue to make a difference for the next generation of San Diegans. 

As a San Diego native, Mayor Gloria has seen San Diego change in many ways over the course of his lifetime. He joked that he was old enough to remember when the city ended with the 52 freeway and Mission Valley was mostly farmland. Although he has seen San Diego come a long way, he believes that we still have a long way to go. 

During his time as mayor, he hopes to create change in two specific areas: housing and infrastructure. As we all know, housing is very expensive here in San Diego, and the mayor believes that more housing will prevent housing costs from going even higher, and entice more young professionals to move here. Additionally, he wants to ensure that we invest in the infrastructure that our city will need moving forward. (We will be voting on a regional transportation plan later this year.) 

When asked what advice he would give to young professionals, Mayor Gloria emphasized the importance of authenticity. In his experience, when he has participated in events that don’t perfectly align with his values, it is obvious to others and it usually doesn’t turn out well. He also mentioned the importance of listening more than you speak, embracing who you are, and not listening to the voices in your head that tell you “no.” Following these pieces of advice have enabled him to be successful in his career. 

The final question posed to the mayor was, “As the first person of color and the first openly gay person to serve as San Diego’s mayor, your election has underscored the need for representation in leadership positions. What advice would you give to young professionals who aspire to follow in your footsteps?” He quickly responded, “I hope that they would. I may be the first, but I don’t want to be the last.” It is difficult for people to be something that they haven’t seen, but Mayor Gloria took a different path, by saying “if you haven’t seen it, let’s go make it.” 

Mayor Gloria recalled a political science professor in the 1990s saying, “If you want to be in public office you can’t be two things. One is gay…” He never remembered the second point because he was so astonished that someone would say something like that. Fortunately, Mayor Gloria knew his history, so he knew that wasn’t true. He encouraged all of us to be people who inspire young people to reject negative messages like that one, or to give a positive impression instead.

One great message we can all take away from the event is that you don’t have to be in politics to effect change. There are many tremendous opportunities to improve our city that don’t require you to put your name on a ballot, so Mayor Gloria encouraged us to consider the ways that we can all be people who inspire others. 

What will you do to inspire a positive change in our community? 

United Way of San Diego County Emerging Leaders are young professionals interested in cross industry networking, volunteering, and being involved in the San Diego community. Find out more about membership and upcoming events.