Edgy Interview: Mark Kersey
Mark Kersey gets things done. We had a problem with the bridge near our house. It wasn’t falling apart, it was loud: when trucks or really anything with more weight than a moped traveled over the bridge, it was like the Blue Angels were flying over the neighborhood. The neighbors complained, but not until Councilman Kersey intervened was the bridge fixed and we could enjoy an evening in the side yard. As you’ll read, that’s not the only thing Mark accomplished during his two Council terms. He’s also a successful entrepreneur, baseball player, and Dad. Get to know him in this installment’s Edgy Interview.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a firefighter. The closest I got to that dream was interacting with many firefighters while on the City Council and appropriating their budget every year. Not exactly what little kids envision for when they grow up. In fact, the first City Council meeting I ever went to was with my Cub Scout pack. I remember thinking how boring it was and why would anybody ever want that job?!
What advice do you have for young people starting out?
I really dislike the old adage “find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” because it’s just not true. Every job or profession has its long days, unnecessary meetings, or dealing with people you’d rather not — all of which definitely qualify as “work.” So young people starting out need to find their passion, be prepared to work really hard, and exceed their higher-ups’ expectations. I think they’ll find there’s always going to be a path to success for people who follow that playbook.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
An old mentor told me that there are two kinds of people who enter public life: those who want to do something and those who want to be somebody. He advised me to choose the former. Sadly, today’s political climate seems to disproportionately reward the latter.
What achievement are you proudest of during your term on the San Diego City Council?
We made substantial progress on rebuilding the City’s infrastructure during my eight years. In prior years there were times when the City’s street repair budget, for example, was close to zero. Radically changing that approach and driving an agenda that prioritized fixing streets and sidewalks, replacing 100-year-old water mains, and expanding City parks was a big part of not repeating the mistakes of the past. San Diego had never had a multi-year infrastructure strategy, so we got one done. We streamlined the approval process for projects, substantially reducing the time for those projects to go from concept to completion. We evaluated certain City assets like sidewalks for the first time so we’d know how much it would cost to fix them. This all culminated in the passage of Prop H in 2016, which committed millions more taxpayer dollars to infrastructure without raising taxes.
There’s always more work to do, of course, because decidedly unglamorous work like infrastructure maintenance never stops.
With Cask & Coast Whiskey you’ve embarked on a totally different path. Tell us about that.
A decade in politics prepared me well for my next career in the whiskey business. My business partner Richard and I started Cask & Coast Spirits Co. last year and we’re getting ready to bottle our first release of California bourbon. Our bourbon is a proprietary blend that’s distilled and aged in the Midwest (where they’ve been doing it for 200+ years) then we finish it for a year in California Cabernet wine casks from my partner’s vineyard. In my admittedly biased opinion, it’s excellent bourbon and we’re really looking forward to being able to actively distribute it this fall.
What three things are must-haves in your fridge at all times?
I always have craft beer, vermouth (sweet & dry), and blueberries in the fridge (for separate consumption of course). I got a mixology certificate many years ago, so I enjoy experimenting with interesting cocktails. I’m hoping the superfood elements of the blueberries offset any health downsides of the other two.
Favorite cuisine and where do you get it?
I’m a sucker for good Italian food and as such enjoy several local establishments — most frequently my neighborhood spot Rosina’s, both because it’s within walking distance and it has great food. The arancini, chicken Bolognese gnocchi, and burrata alla panna are fantastic.
Who would you want to have play you in your biopic?
You mean the lowest-rated biopic of all time? Let’s go with Keanu Reeves…maybe Neo could drive some views. Whoa!
Who is your favorite artist – any medium – and why?
I’m a big fan of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi dating back to my study abroad days in Spain. His buildings are so unique and unmistakably his. La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona is a sight to behold, and despite being under construction for more than a century, is finally nearing completion.
What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?
As a 90s teenager I was a pretty big fan of grunge, especially Nirvana. Not surprisingly I became a big Foo Fighters fan — now the last great rock band. A few years ago they played at Kaboo at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Dave Grohl mentioned that the last time he played that venue was in the early 90s with an upstart band (that he didn’t specifically name), and the crowd went wild. It was a cool moment. I still listen to plenty of both bands.
What is your favorite sports moment?
Back in college, my roommate and I went to a Mariners-Blue Jays baseball game in Toronto and saw Ken Griffey Jr. hit three home runs. In his other two at bats he hit long fly outs to the warning track, so he came within 10 feet or so of hitting five HRs in one game, something no one’s ever done. Best all-around player of his generation.
If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?
Dwight Eisenhower. I’d love to talk to him about D-Day: the preparation that went into it, the operation itself, his contingency plans if it didn’t succeed. Countless D-Day books have been written and TV shows have been made, but to talk directly to Ike himself about it would be amazing. My grandpa was at D-Day as a young sailor onboard the USS Laffey destroyer, so I’ve long had an interest in the invasion, and was fortunate to be at Normandy for the 75th anniversary festivities in 2019.
If you could repeal one law, which would it be and why?
Boy, it’s tough to pick just one but Prop 47 has been a disaster. Looking at just one of its provisions, it seems clear that downgrading shoplifting and grand theft up to $950 per incident to a misdemeanor has been one of the main causes — and likely the primary cause of — the dramatic increase in theft seen around the state over the last several years. A big frustration is that 47’s opponents (me included) predicted these kinds of negative consequences, to no avail.
You’re a traveler. If you could return to a place you’ve traveled, where would you go and why?
I’ve spent some time in Ireland the last couple of years as part of another whiskey venture, and I can’t wait to return. It’s a beautiful island with incredibly friendly people, and it’s not very big so you can see quite a bit of it in one trip. Part of my family came over from Ireland a couple centuries ago, so it’s been a great experience to go back.
Take us through “Mark Kersey’s perfect day” in San Diego.
A perfect day includes spending time with family, including my English bulldogs Winston and Duke, sampling some whiskey, and taking in a Padres game at the best ballpark in America. Hmmm come to think of it that’s what I’m doing today!