Mayor Todd Gloria of San Diego: A Filipino American Story

The son of a hotel maid and a gardener is sworn in as his hometown’s chief executive.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

At his inaugural address on December 10, 2020, Mayor Todd Gloria declared, “Today marks a new chapter in San Diego’s history. It is a place where the son of a hotel maid and a gardener, a Native American, Filipino, Puerto Rican, Dutch gay guy has just become your mayor.”

It is indeed historic because Mayor Gloria, who won by a wide margin over his closest opponent (previous mayor has been termed out), is the city’s first mayor of color, first openly gay mayor, and the first Filipino American. San Diego has the second largest population in California, after Los Angeles and the eighth largest city in the USA.

His paternal great-grandfather, Melacor Gloria, immigrated from Baliuag, Bulacan to Juneau, Alaska in the early 1900s when the Philippines became an American territory. Colonial Spain sold the Philippines to the U.S. after being defeated in the Spanish American War of 1898.

Melacor married a Native American from the tribe Tlingit Haida in Juneau known for their Totem Pole art. Their son, Louis, the mayor’s grandfather, moved to San Diego to join the military during World War II where he met and married his Puerto Rican grandmother, Margarita, whose father was of Dutch ancestry.

His parents were working class. His mother, Linda, worked as a maid in a hotel and his father, Phil, worked as gardener around apartment buildings. They provided for their two sons, Todd’s elder brother, Tye, and Todd with a modest home they were able to buy from their savings. They taught them to be hardworking, honorable, and responsible.

Mayor Gloria recalled the time they did not have a car growing up. Their father would borrow a car from a relative or a friend and at the end of the day, he and his brother’s responsibility was to wash the car, clean it well and fill up the gas tank. Their mother emphasized, “You should leave it better than you found it,” which was actually the perfect recipe for public service.

With parents Phil and Linda Gloria during the June 2018 Families Belong Together march. Twitter photo

In 1987 when the economic crisis struck and his parents lost their jobs, both Todd and his brother were homeschooled during their middle school years. At 14 years of age, the young Todd started to volunteer in the campaign of a local official. In fact, he would register people to vote who were older than himself. That included his own parents.

When he was in high school, he took a college course in Political Science being offered. His teacher remarked to him when he indicated his ambition for public office, “Gay guys are never going to be elected.”

He was not discouraged, “I did not listen. I will prove him wrong.”

A year later, at 18 years of age, he came out as gay.

More than 30 years ago, young Todd  was a finalist in the Mayor For A Day essay contest. In 2013, he became interim mayor, and in 2020 San Diego’s 37th mayor.

Because he was already a regular volunteer during campaign periods, after graduating from the University of San Diego, he joined Congresswoman Susan Davis’ office as her district director.

An opportunity opened in the City Council in 2008. He ran and was elected Councilmember for the City of San Diego’s Third Council District. When San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigned in 2013, Todd became Interim Mayor for eight months. It gave him a close look at how being a Mayor of San Diego worked.

In 2016, he was elected Assemblyman, the second FilAm after Assemblymember Rob Bonta, to be elected in California. He served for four years.

Then, last year, he ran for mayor of San Diego in the Primary and received the top vote. In November, the people of San Diego chose him as their mayor.

The problems are formidable. He inherited a budget deficit of over $150 million. The infrastructure is decayed and needs $6 billion to fix. The city’s workforce is “overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.” The pandemic has caused “single-day records for cases and deaths.” Homelessness is widespread mostly people with mental health or addiction problems. Middle-income housing is practically non-existent. The Police Department has to be re-trained on race relations, and an independent police review board is needed. The economy is battered due to the pandemic and thousands of jobs need to be created.

Mayor Todd is not daunted by these challenges. In fact, he has already set up solutions with his staff with well-thought-out plans to meet these challenges. As for the deficit, with President Joe Biden in the White House, Mayor Todd is confident that the stimulus package of $1.9 trillion would be part of the solution to this deficit. He knows how to fit the needs of the city with the budget.

The mayor recalls when his grandmother visited him in his office when he served as Interim Mayor. As she entered his office on the 11th floor of the City Building, she was wide-eyed and awed. He started to expand his chest in pride waiting for his grandmother’s praise. His grandmother moved toward the window and exclaimed, “My! I never thought San Diego would get to be this big.”

Mayor Todd smiled as he recalled that moment. “My family keeps me grounded.”

NaFFAA continues to update its list of newly elected, re-elected Filipino American officials in 2020. Email info@naffaa.org for information.

© The FilAm 2021



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