Edgy Interview: Jordan Marks
My friend Jordan Marks is the new Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk for the County of San Diego, having won election over former San Diego City Councilwoman and entrepreneur Barbara Bry last November. CERC polled for the supportive independent expenditure campaign and only had a small hand in the victory; Jordan did ALL the heavy lifting. That included raising an enormous amount of money for a race to decide an elective office that most voters don’t even know exists! But that’s Jordan: an extremely hard worker who never shuts off and runs through the tape. He also has a sense of humor and I think you’ll pick all of that and more in this Edgy Interview installment.
Most people say they got a lucky break at some point. Tell us about yours.
My older brother recruited me to intern for a California State Assembly campaign as a junior in high school. Out of dumb luck this campaign garnered national attention when my candidate’s opponent, who was an incumbent, was caught on camera inebriated and tearing down our campaign signs. This made national news, my candidate won, and the campaign manager received accolades for his candidate’s upset victory.
Due to the national attention of the tremendous victory, the campaign manager was offered a position to oversee a presidential campaign youth outreach effort. He offered a position to my brother to move to New Hampshire and oversee the youth campaign effort. My brother was a sophomore in college and wanted to focus on finishing school. As a graduating senior in high school, I felt my brother was passing on a tremendous opportunity. So he said if you think it’s so good you do it. And I did.
My brother arranged the interview and the campaign manager saw my hard work and determination personally on the Assembly campaign. I was hired as the Youth for Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign organizer New Hampshire. It was an amazing opportunity for an 18-year-old. I traveled Ohio and New Hampshire and witnessed presidential politics firsthand. My campaign effort was so successful that we were featured on the TV show MTV Rocks the Vote. I learned about being a better community organizer, learned about the flat tax and tax policy in politics, and was able to spend time with Steve Forbes; an opportunity I am still grateful for today.
What was it like working for former Assessor Ernie Dronenberg?
Working for Ernie “The Legend” Dronenburg was an amazing opportunity for me, as I was able to work with my friend and mentor. I am an old soul and being with Ernie I was able to feed my personal enjoyment for the yesterday of politics. I’ve always appreciated the working relationships of President Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill and I try to bring that solution-oriented mindset into my professional career. Ernie is a living example of that relationship that I was able to witness first-hand in Sacramento.
Having lived in San Diego for over 75 years, Ernie is living history. As we traversed the County helping taxpayers, Ernie told stories that helped me become a better public servant. He taught me about the development of Rancho Bernardo as the 15-freeway expanded to the famous avocados of Fallbrook.
Behind the bow tie is someone who lived a fun and fulfilling life from his cheerleader days at SDSU, to being the architect of his family home in El Cajon, to being a creature of habit meeting friends at his lunch table at Filippi’s Pizza. Through his exemplary servant leadership Ernie taught me to lead. Every lunch brought another story or introduced me to another person whose career he elevated over the years.
Thanks to Ernie’s time he invested in my career, I now am a stronger leader and have a vision of measurable for success in my own career. I hope to be as successful as Ernie in my service, community, and family.
If you could repeal one law, which would it be and why?
I’m a big believer in opportunity for young people. Today we mandate internships that must be paid, and I believe it has reduced the number of opportunities for internships and apprenticeships. I would repeal the law requiring internships be paid and allow for paid and unpaid internships to return those additional opportunities to students exploring their future careers.
I believe in that because I lived it. My first internship was with a world class cake shop in Los Angeles that entertained my initial desire to be a baker. While you know I am not a baker today, the cake shop provided me that opportunity to learn early on that was not the career for me because there was a low cost to them to have a 15-year-old high school intern. (It cost them their time – it was an unpaid internship).
Through an internship at Sony Music, I learned my rapping skills were… well let’s just say it was not my destined career.
I was not one of those kids who knew what they wanted to do, so I continued to explore opportunities through internships. While at Sony I learned I couldn’t rap, period. End of that story and that unpaid experience. However, Ernst and Young’s tax department taught me a love for tax policy, walking on an Assembly campaign taught me a love for retail politics, and numerous other offices that I’ve sadly learned no longer offer these opportunities for career exploration due to the cost and regulation.
Yes, I am aware of bad actors in the industries that exploit student workers (let’s protect them). As a former internship director in a legislative office, the value of these unpaid internships became clear as we hired numerous students our budget afforded, and we developed raw talent from various socioeconomic classes that would not have flourished had they not had that opportunity.
Having been given the gift of time, I can look back and see these students had raw talent but would not likely have received a paid internship. These kids have acknowledged to me that their internship changed their life’s trajectory and because of their unpaid experience in our office they have successful careers today.
What are you most looking forward to accomplishing as Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk?
“Jordan Marks knows how to save the taxpayers money” was my campaign slogan and I truly love helping make San Diego homeownership more affordable. I look forward to implementing innovative ways and changing state law to make it easier for homeowners and renters on their taxes.
I’m most excited about finding a path forward to expanding the homeowners’ property tax exemption and (by law they must be done in tandem) the renters’ credit. This would lead to a more affordable San Diego for folks that we know live in San Diego.
As part of an expansion of the homeowners’ exemption program, I would increase the disabled veterans’ exemption – which is granted solely to veterans with a 100% disability – to include our first responders who are 100% disabled. I’d also extend the exemption to the families of first responders who lost their life in the line of duty.
Next to saving taxpayers money, I truly enjoy serving as the Commissioner of Civil Marriages. I’m excited to roll out a mobile marriage unit in the future to allow us to preform marriages on the beaches in La Jolla, on base for Marines at Camp Pendleton, in a beautiful Julian covered in snow or in Borrego when the desert carpet blooms. I look forward to delivering love all across San Diego County!
Who would you want to have play you in your biopic?
Jonah Hill. Jonah is a comedian, versatile actor, and well-established filmmaker.
Let’s be honest I’m an Assessor. Most people don’t know what an Assessor does and when they find out its property taxes, they either yawn or run away. I feel my humor and personality transcend “the tax guy” and Jonah Hill can be as funny as me.
Jonah Hill and I are both bigger guys, naturally smiling, both of Jewish faith, and I personally enjoy Jonah’s brand of humor. At the foundation of who Jonah Hill is you will find a professional who works to make the world around him a better place. I think he brings that attitude with humor to his roles and will capture that element of how I live.
Lastly, in his most recent role in the Netflix film “You People,” which I highly recommend, Jonah’s character is a White Jewish guy that married into an African American family. As a White Jewish guy that married into a Mexican American family, my wife and I found the film humorous and true to our own family experience in many ways.
I also think Jonah Hill makes excellent sequels – and yes, I will have a sequel!
What is that one book that has influenced you the most?
Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has had a tremendous impact in my life. [ed. Great book with tons of life lessons.] I read this book annually. I give this book as a gift to colleagues when they are promoted, to interns when they graduate, and to friends making career changes. Dale Carnegie helped me identify and understand basic tools and traits I employ daily to achieve success in my service to the community and my team.
At a recent San Diego County Bar Association Leadership Academy panel, I was asked, “how I was successful in my recent political campaign for Assessor and raise of $1 million in campaign contributions?” My campaign success and fundraising success was due to employing the six ways the book helps you make people like you. Smile. Become genuinely interested in other people. Use people’s names. Be a good listener. Talk in terms of other people’s interests. Sincerely make the other person feel important.
If you want to be more successful, be a better person, and have a fun read, I highly recommend “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?
In 1989, I was 9 years old. My single mom got into a live music kick and decided to take each of my brothers (there are three of us) to a different concert. To make it more special we each got our own experience with our mom.
My mom took me to see Cher as part of her “Heart of Stone” tour in 1989. This was when Cher released her hit “If I could turn back time.” To be honest, I would not turn back time – I might be more scarred from the concert and Cher’s outfit. The good news was my mom loved it and I think I lucked out as my older brother had the embarrassing joy he still hasn’t lived down of seeing Madonna singing “Like a Virgin” next to his mom as part of her “Blonde Ambition World Tour.”
If you were a competitive eater, which food would be your specialty?
Early in my legislative career I was volunteered to enter a Julian Pie eating contest. Being a big guy with an even bigger mouth, my office was confident of my ability to win. Turns out I am a terrible competitive eater and came in last behind the high school football coach and senior community representative. While I was terrible at the competition eating, I did really enjoy the apple pie. It’s one of my favorite foods. So if I had to lose eating apple pie, I would still consider myself a winner.
Favorite cuisine and where do you get it?
Being Jewish I don’t eat pork or shellfish (shrimp and lobster) – a requirement of the dietary restrictions. Tip of the day- sit next to me at a community event and you can have my bacon, shrimp or lobster. It makes me a popular table companion.
All that said, I love ribs and because I don’t eat pork, I love beef ribs. Yes, many will now tell me pork ribs are better. I will take your word for it. I’m always searching for delicious BBQ and delicious beef ribs. San Diego has many excellent BBQ options, buy my favorite place to get beef ribs is Phil’s BBQ. They are consistently delicious, juicy, and flavorful. They deserve the YELP rating they received. The Marks household is happy when beef ribs from Phil’s BBQ are served up for dinner!
What three things are must-haves in your fridge at all times?
Eggs. I’m a breakfast guy all day long. If my wife would have let me, we would have had a brunch wedding. I joke that one day I will open a restaurant called “It’s in Your Omelet” because I like to make omelets with crazy and fun variations from a Philly cheesesteak to beef lo mein noodles.
Milk. I like my coffee and Earl Grey tea with milk. My mother is from Canada where tea and milk are very common and that spilled over to how I drink my coffee. Heavy milk.
Chicken. Growing up with a single mom who ran her own business, my brothers and I enjoyed the same meal 90% of the time. It was salad, chicken, and rice. It is my comfort food.
Frozen chocolate. I think chocolate (milk or white chocolate) tastes better frozen.
Which reality TV show would you most like to compete on and why?
I would like to compete on the World Poker Tour. I’m a fan of playing poker. From a social aspect, it sharpens my ability to read people, it exercises my math skills, and I enjoy the thrill of the game. To go to Las Vegas and compete with the best of the best in the world would be a memorable opportunity. The table talk with players from across the world would be fun and I would have to buy a cool pair of sunglasses.
Let’s shuffle up and deal!
Your son stole the show at your swearing-in ceremony. Any proud moments to share about him?
I’m proud and grateful that at the swearing-in ceremony my son only repeated my name and didn’t choose to say one of his other “funny” words. My son is three years old so I’m pretty proud if he doesn’t wet his bed at night. My wife and I were challenged with having a kid and had to do Invitro Fertilization (IVF). I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to raise this funny, smart, and warm human being. He has made me a better person.
Your Jewish faith is a big part of your life. How has it influenced your perspective on politics?
My politics are driven by my faith. My belief is in the Jewish laws, and bible is there to show you how to live and be a good person. I try to be a better person every day. My favorite scripture is Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” This is difficult in politics, but choosing to think and speak with grace towards others has made me a better servant leader.
I’m also reminded man is fallible and not perfect, so forgiveness is necessary. It has reminded me we are all created to serve and to help those that need it the most. We have gifts and should be grateful to wake up every day to use those talents and treasures to make this world a better place. In the bible we also learned the value of tithing – just not excessively!
Lastly, my faith reminds to me act with purpose and intention. A Rabbi taught me early on that prayer is really a time for daily meditation and reflection. We have been blessed purposefully and so we should take that time daily to prepare ourselves to act with that same care.
What advice do you have for young people starting out?
Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, write handwritten thank you notes, and “showing up” wins. The book will teach you to be a good human by caring for the person you are communicating with so they can receive you. Mail is a thing of the past and while e-mail is convenient, it’s handwritten notes that break through the noise today and a tangible connection in today’s world.
In my career I have found that while others around me may have been smarter, faster or have other advantages of life that gave them a leg up, it has been my grit and hard work ethic of showing up that helped me excel. Whatever you are doing in life show up and give it your all. That grit will equal success in whatever path you choose.