After his foiled optometrist appointment, Gloria heads to the City Administration Building for the first time that day and sits behind a massive desk that’s devoid of anything but a small wooden sign: “The buck stops here.”
The sign, a replica of one that once sat on the desk of the U.S.’s 33rd president, is a relic from Gloria’s time as a 1999 Harry S Truman scholar.
Truman told reporters in 1952 that the message reminded him that at the end of every day, the president has to make the decisions. “He can’t pass the buck to anybody.”
Neither can Gloria – or the next mayor of San Diego.
“I think it’s one of the differences about this job,” Gloria said, reviewing messages and notes staffers have prepared for his next stop: a press conference at the San Diego Natural History Museum, where he’ll help announce that children can do pretty much anything for free in San Diego during the month of October.
“It’s so much more about saying ‘no’ because the buck does stop here. You have to make a decision. That’s probably something the (Filner) administration wasn’t particularly good at.”
That theme runs through most stories about the Filner administration while spending a day with the iMayor and his staffers. Filner didn’t know when to say “no.”
As Gloria packs up to head to the press conference — a mayoral duty, not a Council president or representative one — he reiterates that point. This moment, he says as puts his notes away, is probably where Filner would have gotten a call to take a meeting. He would have said yes and he would have been late.
“In this situation, I have to look at (things) more globally,” said Gloria. “And that’s a more difficult juggling act.”
Despite Gloria’s emphasis on the necessity of “no,” there are times throughout his day when the word won’t work.
Example: When Council member Kevin Faulconer, who's running to take the mayoral reins from Gloria, shows up in his office just as Gloria is on his way out the door.
“Would you like some privacy?” Gloria asks Faulconer.
Faulconer says yes.
This is when "no" gets hard.
“I feel really responsible for being present and being connected and accessible,” Gloria said. “I believe in democracy and it’s supposed to be representative. The only way you can do that is if you’re actually accessible.”
That’s another thing that’s changed since Filner resigned. The former mayor was simultaneously everywhere and impossible to get a hold of.
His inaccessibility, according to a Gloria staff member, was illustrated by his use of the oversized, gold-plated key to the city to lock the grand double doors of his office in the mayor’s suite when he left the 11th floor.
Those doors stay open when Gloria leaves.
They remained unlocked even during a meeting on this particular Wednesday with leaders of the Service Employees International Union.
The only time they closed was during back-to-back meetings with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Planning Director Bill Fulton.
These types of meetings are the ones that allow Gloria to get things done on a citywide scale, a feat he says was rarely accomplished during Filner’s administration.
“Being sort of addicted to seeing outcomes and results and progress is really fun, and in this job you do a lot of that so I think that will be difficult to let go (after the election),” he said. “At the same time, I love the job that I have. I love the district I represent. Being Council president is a pretty cool gig.”
In addition to the “get things done” meetings, there are also the “show up and listen” meetings. Like the next one.
It’s 4:45 p.m. at the San Diego Humane Society and a gray striped kitten has nuzzled its way onto Gloria’s shoulder. This meeting is a Council president duty that was scheduled pre-Filner resignation just after the Council banned puppy mills.
Here, there’s no “will he say yes?” dynamic (unless you count the “no” he gave to continual prodding to eat one of the lemon bars in the conference room). It’s about relationship-building.
So is a quick beer (Gloria drank the Alesmith X Ale) with a longtime friend at the new 7th Avenue Pub in the Hillcrest Whole Foods.
And finally, an appearance at the College Area Community Council, allows him to meet one on one with constituents outside his home district.
By 8 p.m., Gloria has shaken 32 hands. He’s told four people why he doesn’t have time to run a campaign for mayoral office. He’s answered about a dozen questions from community Council members. He’s put in almost 13 hours.
Gloria says he’s still not sure if he’ll ever run for mayor. The top office in town, now that he’s had time to test it out, is “more attractive” than before, he said.
And he said during every one of those moments, he was amazed at where he is partially because of the timing and partially because of the “no's” he heard repeatedly while growing up.
“When I was a kid, I had a teacher say that if you were gay, you could never be in elected office. That wasn’t allowed,” he said. “People say, 'Thanks for what you’re doing.’ (I say) Thanks for the opportunity to do it.”
It’s a Wednesday morning at Kaiser Permanente’s Vandever Medical Offices and the woman at the optometry department’s front desk has no idea who Todd Gloria is.
She doesn’t know that he left his studio apartment in Hillcrest at 6:30 that morning to have breakfast with San Diego’s police chief.
She certainly doesn’t seem to care that he’s already been a guest at that morning’s North Park Main Street board meeting.
And there’s no reason for her to know that he made several City Hall-related calls and wrote three handwritten notes on special interim mayor stationery at the Einstein Brother’s bagels down the street just a few moments ago.
“Can you spell your last name for me?”
Gloria’s interim mayorship is not registering with her at all.
She’s just told Gloria his appointment has been rescheduled for Friday and he’ll just have to come back then.
“Um. I don’t think that’s going to work,” Gloria says hesitantly as he scrolls through his calendar. “That day’s a bit of a mess.”
“No” is a word Gloria has had to use a lot lately.
As a man with three jobs — interim mayor (or iMayor, as he calls himself from time to time on Twitter), City Council president and representative for San Diego’s Council District 3 — Gloria is expected to do a lot of things, be a lot of places, give a lot of speeches.
The two women who sit just outside his office spent what seemed like an entire afternoon making calls to organizations throughout the city to let them know that either “yes, the interim mayor will be able to make it” or “I’m sorry. He’s booked already at that hour.”
He knows that “no” is a necessary part of the job for whoever takes over following next month’s election to replace former Mayor Bob Filner.