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Jack McGrory

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Edgy Interview: Jack McGrory

Jack McGrory is one of those San Diego public servants who, as they say, knows where all the bodies are buried. Heck, Jack may have buried them! Seriously, Jack was San Diego’s City Manager at a time – 1991 to 1997 — when the Mayor was weak and the public administrators wielded a lot of power. He helped bring Super Bowls XXII and XXXII to San Diego, helped make Petco Park a reality and more recently had a leading role in bringing San Diego State University’s new western campus to fruition.

Tell us about the point in your life when you realized your calling was public administration?

I grew up on the South Shore of Boston. Home to three Presidents and I was deeply influenced by JFK. Public service was a noble motive then. And politics is core to my Irish genes 🙂 I figured a law degree would be critical. I was diverted by four years as a Marine Infantry Officer, but eventually got the JD. By the way, the Marines were the best experience of my life. I wasn’t in combat; I was in the last Marine officer class to get orders to Vietnam and they pulled us all out in July 1972. James Mattis was in the class after me.

If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?

I would love to talk with President Lincoln about his personal beliefs around the Civil War, his views of his Generals, and what he would have done differently. And his plans for Reconstruction of the South.

If you could repeal one law, which would it be and why?

I would repeal all laws restricting a woman’s right to privacy, the right to seek an abortion as contemplated in Roe v Wade. We keep trying to impose moral values into the law at the expense of our freedoms.

What was your proudest accomplishment while serving as San Diego’s City Manager?

I was most proud of our commitment to diversity in our workforce and establishing much better relationships with our communities of color particularly in City Heights and Southeastern.

Please share a funny story about your time at City Hall?

The stories are too many to tell. For 15 years I was the lead staff person for closed sessions. You’ve never seen crazier discussions behind closed doors. Wow! My last City Council meeting as City Manager was pretty funny. I walked in with a Marine flak jacket on just in case the Council wanted to give me a hard time. City Councils suspect that City Managers hide money in reserve in their budgets to make the budget balance. Of course we have to or they would spend everything at least twice:) So Councilmember George Stevens — a great guy and an African American preacher — stands up at his Council seat and pounds the shelf in front of him three times and says, “Jack you can’t leave the building until ‘You show me the money!’” A really hilarious moment. And I said, “not happening.”

What’s the best professional advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?

John Lockwood, the prior City Manager, would always say: don’t do anything that you couldn’t look Mike Wallace [ed. Of 60 Minutes fame] in the eye and explain. I had a little different take. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want your five kids to read about in the newspaper.

Who is your favorite artist — any medium – and why?

Whitney Houston. Incredible voice and music. Would have loved to have dinner with her. Such a crazy, tragic ending.

What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?

I liked good rap and then Michael Bublé; “Home” is my favorite.

Who would you want to have play you in your biopic?

Jimmy Stewart [Ed., so what if Jimmy’s dead? He could probably out-act most of today’s stiffs]

What fiction book has influenced you the most?

To Kill A Mockingbird. It just reinforced a deep respect for civil rights and the courage it takes to stand up to racism. That’s why today’s public discourse about these issues is so shameful. Slavery was “a job training program?” Who are these people?

Favorite cuisine and where do you get it? 

Hot dog and fries. Must have ‘em once a week.

What three things are must-haves in your fridge at all times?

Fruit, Cheez-Its, and chocolate chip cookies. [Ed., There’s your traditional food pyramid!]

What is your favorite sports moment?

Being in Houston to see Butler sink the winning shot in the Final Four. Personally… winning the Marine Corps basketball championship as captain of the First Marine Division team.

What passion project(s) are you involved with?

I’m extremely passionate about SDSU and the California State University system. I was just reappointed by the Governor. As a first generation/first in family to go to college, the CSU is really important to me. We are the university of opportunity in California. 70% of our 500,000 students are first generation and 75% are ethnically diverse. I got my MPA from SDSU, taught at night there for 25 years and served on the Foundation board for nine years, two as chair.  We raised $830 million. And I was a leader of the campaign to enable SDSU to acquire the Qualcomm stadium site for a new western campus, so I’m passionate about all things CSU.

Jack McGrory Photo
Jack McGrory

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