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We were struck by the similar arguments made in two letters to the editor we received this week, ahead of the City Council’s postponed vote today to select its next president. We’ve paired them together below. 

A decade ago, I was a young Marine who had been appointed to the county of San Diego’s Veterans Advisory Council. Our meetings were held early on Saturday mornings in the dusty and dimly lit basement of a local museum. We discussed the intricacies of local, state and federal policy that affected veterans. Sometimes we made recommendations.

But in all honesty, I’m not sure many outside that windowless room knew we existed or really cared what we had to say.

Appointed members of the council were very committed and generally showed up, but that was about it – except for a young staffer for a local member of Congress.

This staffer showed up dutifully for every meeting, took notes and offered to help on federal issues whenever possible. And most strikingly, he wasn’t a veteran. He couldn’t have joined the military if he tried. At that time, the backward policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell excluded from consideration many brave and courageous Americans based on sexual orientation. But that didn’t deter Todd Gloria from doing the hard work that no one saw to ensure he used his position and influence to best help our veterans.

That was when Gloria earned my respect and gratitude. I saw a leader who worked hard, treated people with respect and was focused on solutions. These are the traits we need in leaders in all aspects of life – particularly elected office.  The people of San Diego have seen this leadership over the last six years first as a councilman for District 3, then as our interim mayor and most recently as City Council president. He led our city through a tumultuous period and has guided the council admirably as president.

Sadly, good intentions and actions are not always rewarded in our hyper political environment. For reasons that few seem to understand, a group on the City Council seek to use their position to take out a person who has represented the very best of San Diegans.

Today, the Council will take up who will lead for the next year. It is disappointing to me that politics are being played against someone who has shown our city, and the nation, that he can put politics aside and govern in the best interests of the people. I hope the Council can set this pettiness aside and get back to the business of governing under Gloria’s smart and fair leadership.

Years ago, one of the recommendations from our little advisory group was to encourage all cities to enact a veterans hiring policy. As soon as Gloria was elected to the City Council, he dusted off that old study and went to work leading the charge to pass Proposition C – an act to ensure our city honored our veterans’ service by ensuring their contribution to our nation was considered in hiring practices. Veterans are better off and so is our city.

That showed me all you need to know about Todd Gloria. He’s focused on listening, learning and then building a coalition to get things done. I know he’ll continue to work to build a better future for our city. He did it with veterans in a quiet and unselfish way that has come to define his leadership style. He has led the way to protect those less fortunate and take on tough issues when it may not have been popular. He has made decisions that have put the good of the city above his own ambition and I think we need that in San Diego. In the military, we call that being a leader.

— Nathan Fletcher

 ♦ ♦ ♦

The city of San Diego is notoriously silent on veterans issues.  As a veteran, I must say that our community notices, but we’re generally used to that kind of thing.

It is a sad truth that there is only one veteran on City Council today:  Ed Harris, who was appointed, not elected. In a city with 250,000 veterans, that is a shame. Harris leaves the city on Dec. 10, but even so, we veterans will still have a friend and advocate at City Hall. But that friend is facing an election that could scuttle all of the teamwork and goodwill he has worked for so long to build.

That friend is Todd Gloria. Shortly after being elected in 2008, Gloria began working with city departments to update the veterans hiring policy to apply to those who entered service after 1973.  After several months of work, it was discovered that the policy lived within the City Charter and could, therefore, only be changed with a ballot measure; hence,  Proposition C was born.

Gloria worked tirelessly with the city attorney and city clerk to get the measure drafted, then presented to his fellow council members.  On Feb. 1, 2010, he was able to garner a unanimous vote from the council to place Prop. C on the ballot.  On June 8, 2010, the citizens of San Diego overwhelmingly passed the measure and veterans in San Diego were finally recognized for their sacrifice with a small preference in hiring for city jobs.

Why it took so long for someone to notice that our city’s policy was so outdated is, I’m sure, another story. But the entire saga is a telling indicator that Gloria made veterans a priority of his from day one. He was a committed problem-solver and consensus-builder throughout.

The job of council president requires a savvy leader who can manage the nuances of each council member’s policy priorities and ensure that the dockets are fair and balanced. Rarely, however, are we graced with a president who will go the extra mile to build bridges and partnership rather than play political games. Gloria has done an incredible job of working with each council member over the two years that he has been president.

For that reason, Gloria is exactly the kind of leader veterans look for. We want strong but measured leadership, unafraid to take feedback from all sides. When we were overseas fighting for our country’s interests, we did not care about the political leanings of our leaders; as long as we were fighting for them, we just hoped they would fight for us. Gloria has shown that he will.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares this value of strong leadership. Gloria’s presidency is now threatened simply because some on the Council are jockeying to ensure a shift in power in 2016. It is insulting to me both as a San Diegan and as a veteran that partisan politics are being played against someone who has shown our city that he can put politics aside and govern in the best interests of the people, not a party. I hope the council can set this pettiness aside and get back to the business of governing under Gloria’s smart and fair leadership.

— Shawn VanDiver

Nathan Fletcher is combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps and currently serves as a professor at the University of California San Diego and as chairman of the Three Wise Men Foundation. He previously served in the California State Assembly. 

Shawn VanDiver is a 12-year Navy veteran and adjunct faculty at three universities teaching military studies and national security policy. He manages corporate security and enterprise risk at a major tech company, and is a defense council fellow with the Truman National Security Project.

Fletcher and VanDiver’s notes have been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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