Will new trustee back off? You don't know Jack

Fresh from the gym, a bit menacing in all-black Under Armour gear and Roger Federer cap, Jack McGrory, San Diego’s former city manager and next California State University trustee, exudes his signature can-do confidence.

Nine days earlier, he’d met with Gov. Jerry Brown and tossed around touchstones they share -- all-boys Catholic education, Irish-American heritage and classics majors.

It’s been more than a decade since our region has had more than one representative on the 25-person California State University board.

Pending state Senate approval, current trustee Adam Day will have a 6-foot-6 power player by his side, an alliance Day told me would be a boon to public higher education in the region.

McGrory, it should be noted, has earned his gravitas in the classroom, not just in boardrooms.

He earned a master’s degree from State, a law degree from the University of San Diego, and an honorary doctorate at State. He has taught classes part-time at State and UC San Diego for years.

He’s been a typhoon-level rainmaker, chairing the Campanile Foundation, State’s philanthropic auxiliary, as well as many other laudable civic enterprises.

I ask McGrory, 68, if he’d actively lobbied for his new post in Long Beach.

“I mentioned it to (state Sen.) Toni (Atkins) a year ago,” he shrugs.

Well, that mention percolated into a flight to Sacramento and, days away from St. Patrick’s Day, McGrory was looking at the governor’s family pictures connected to the ould sod. (Brown, it should be noted, was seeing green. He was soon to be inducted into the Irish-American Hall of Fame.)

Despite his manifest qualifications, McGrory gives the luster of San Diego State much of the credit for Brown’s appointment.

Forty percent of State’s students receive degrees in four years, McGrory boasts; 75 percent in six years or fewer, which is the goal of the CSU system as a whole.

In Sacramento, “they’re very impressed with SDSU,” he says.

I wonder if McGrory’s position as a CSU trustee will mute his cheerleading for the SDSU West initiative that would, if it prevails at the polls in November, permit the sale of the city-owned Mission Valley stadium land at fair-market value to State for a new campus.

Short answer: No!

Though McGrory expects to be busy learning the ropes of the 23-campus system, he intends to remain on the SDSU West steering committee.

“I don’t think there’s a conflict, or an appearance of a conflict, in doing that,” he says, “SDSU needs room to expand.”

(It’s an interesting question for pettifoggers: State’s officials from the president on down are theoretically constrained from going beyond “educating” the public about the dueling initiatives, but an appointed trustee is free to get down and dirty in the political mudfest?)

Though the initiative battle with SoccerCity looms huge in San Diego, McGrory does not see his appointment as a pro-expansion signal from Brown & Co.

“This is not on the radar in Sacramento,” he says, especially since the initiative, based on a public-private partnership, does not suppose a “multi-hundred-million-dollar package from the state.”

Reflecting on the news of the day, I ask McGrory what he makes of the city attorney’s ungushing view of the SDSU West initiative?

He found her tone “strange” but stresses that the city attorney’s reservations would be erased in the sale contract. State, though it’s the “superior” level of government, is committed to a collaborative public process that will, in McGrory’s well-educated view, improve the city’s long-term economic prospects.

The same, he implies, cannot be said of SoccerCity, a private dueling initiative favored by Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Like many Aztec boosters I talk to, McGrory cannot fathom the mayor’s failure to pivot away from SoccerCity and toward his own alma mater.

Those same boosters, however, are no doubt jazzed that the CSU board is now energized by not one but two San Diego trustees who appear ready to fight like warriors for the future of the Aztecs.

Logan Jenkins is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at lbjenkins5437@gmail.com

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