City of San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria was honored earlier this month in Washington, D.C., by the Latino Leaders Network (LLN), a national organization dedicated to bringing leaders together.
The recognition came at a private event, called Tribute to Mayors, which is held during the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting.
Gloria was chosen by LLN to receive the Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award, named for the longtime Los Angeles mayor and California State Assemblyman. The prestigious award has been handed out since the nonprofit, nonpartisan LLN was founded in 2004 by Mickey Ibarra, former assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House during the Bill Clinton administration. Villaraigosa’s name was added to the honor in 2012.
Ibarra, who is also president of the Ibarra Strategy Group, a government relations and public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C. since 2001, said LLN bestows the leadership award upon a mayor who exhibits a standing commitment to bring diverse communities together. He said Antonio Villaraigosa “set the gold standard for inclusion and diversity.”
Ibarra founded the LLN because he sought a platform for Latino leaders to share their stories of how they overcame obstacles on their way to success. He also wanted to provide a network opportunity for elected officials, policy makers, corporate executives, opinion leaders, community activists, industry experts and political insiders.
Elected to lead San Diego in 2020, but with a long resume in politics, the 44-year-old Gloria – the first person of color and first openly gay person to serve as San Diego mayor – was honored before a sold-out crowd of more than 200 people, including more than 80 of his mayoral peers.
The Antonio Villaraigosa Leadership Award is presented to a mayor from a city with a significant Latino population who has exhibited an outstanding commitment to bringing diverse communities together, Ibarra said.
“We (were) delighted to present this award to Mayor Todd Gloria,” Ibarra said. “Our criteria is that this award goes to a mayor that’s doing right for our community, first and foremost, with diversity and inclusion. We (honor) a mayor who’s including us, a mayor that stands for bringing their community together. We look to see what are they doing to unite us, not divide us. We want mayors who weave us all together. And Todd Gloria is doing that very well. He has an outstanding record. And his personal story is a terrific success story for the San Diego community.”
A third-generation San Diegan, Gloria grew up in a Filipino/Native American/Puerto Rican household in Clairemont with his parents and older brother. He said he remembers hearing the story about how one set of his grandparents faced pushback when they tried to move out of Paradise Hills.
When Gloria’s dad’s father and Puerto Rican mother tried to buy a home in Clairemont in the 1950s, “They were told ‘No, not here.’”
“My grandparents, particularly my grandfather, were very persistent and they were able to buy the home, but they had to put more down than anybody on the block,” Gloria said. “They were scarred by those experiences. They also had difficulty getting a marriage certificate because they were a mixed race.”
Gloria said that being elected mayor of San Diego “really speaks to how special our city is.”
“You go from two generations of ‘You can’t buy here, we don’t want you here,’ to ‘Your grandson is now the leader of the city,’” he said.
Gloria said he was humbled by the award because he is in only his third year as mayor, and to be recognized by his peers is a unique honor. He also said that Villaraigosa’s connection to the award is “personally meaningful” to him.
Gloria said that when he was attending the University of San Diego, Villaraigosa was the mayor in Los Angeles. He called Villaraigosa “a legend in politics” who helped blaze a trail for Gloria and others.
“There’s a saying in politics that ‘If you haven’t seen it, you can’t be it,’” Gloria said. “And while at the time in college I don’t know if I entertained the idea that I might be mayor, I did know he was serving in that role. And that plants the seed, creates the notion that it’s possible in that role.”
Gloria said that when he first learned about the award, via Zoom, Ibarra surprised him by having Villaraigosa join their online conversation. “It was a very special moment, going back to the ‘90s and knowing who he was and making that connection,” he said.
Gloria said he often reflects on the fact that many people don’t realize San Diego is the eighth largest city in the country. He said being on a main stage during an event as significant as the LLN tribute helped him achieve one of his main objectives – keeping San Diego “at the table, in the room and using our agenda to ensure our quality of life is maintained and improved.”
He also said that he will continue to do the work “that needs to be done today” in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. “We’re really trying to push further beyond that,” Gloria said.
Latino Leaders Network
CHAIRMAN: Mickey Ibarra
BUSINESS: Nonprofit, nonpartisan leadership network focused on Latino leaders.
HEADQUARTERS: Washington, D.C.
NOTABLE: LLN honors leaders who have demonstrated a strong record of impact and influence on the lives of U.S. Latinos. Its programs provide a platform for public officials, community and business leaders to share their personal stories of obstacles overcome to achieve success.