Santa Clara University

Alumni Heritage Series


This inaugural story in the Alumni Heritage Series profiles alumni who have served as mayors.

A life of governance

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown

Former California Governor Jerry Brown, now mayor of Oakland and candidate for California attorney general, attended SCU for a year and then studied for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Novitiate. Eventually he completed his degree at the University of California at Berkeley before attending Yale Law School. He recalled his Catholic education:

“I had the privilege of enjoying a pre-Vatican II Jesuit education. I have taken eight years of Latin, three years of ROTC, and endless years of religion and theology. That certainly helped shape the way I organize my interpretation of the world.”

“To be able to have grown up with the uncritical acceptance of pre-Vatican II Catholicism provides a perspective from which to look at the post-modern world. That’s not to say that the things in the Baltimore catechisms should be reprinted but rather it’s like standing somewhere and looking back at where we are, as opposed to being totally engulfed in the technocratic mediagenic world that we all inhabit today ...There was a poetry; there was a philosophy. Of course there was a lot of repression as well. I can appreciate both repression and its opposite. Both have serious problems.”

“I still remember things I learned at Santa Clara. I remember Fr. Bannan saying that intelligence is the ability to perceive relationships... relationships between things, being able to see the pattern that might not be obvious. I find that a very sound observation. ”

Anthony Williams

Capitalizing on opportunities

Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams

Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, president of his sophomore class, left SCU for an Air Force stint and then worked with the Foundation for the Junior Blind. He earned a political science degree at Yale, a Harvard law degree, and a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School at Harvard. He discussed his influences:

“The Jesuits teach you to always think of things new. Take a fresh approach. Look at things critically... And your life here is about serving. It’s not about self aggrandizement. I carry that with me to this day.”

On mayoral challenges:

“We still are failing in education, which is one of the reasons I supported on a test basis vouchers in my city-because I went to Catholic school growing up and I don’t think I should be hypocritical and say it worked for me and it couldn’t work for other minority students.”

“We take a lot of political heat for that. When I was at Santa Clara I took a lot of political heat. People said I wasn’t black enough. That’s still kind of a recurring theme. It’s funny how some things never change in life.”

On facing criticism:

“You have an inner balance from your spirituality and belief. You develop your own compass. Ultimately, you’re elected to lead, not to follow... I look at being mayor as the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of the time you’re taking dinner orders. Twenty percent of the time you’re really leading. And there may not a parade; there may not even be anybody on the street, but you’re elected to lead. You’ve got to make those choices.” “I’ve become more spiritual since I’ve become mayor ... You realize, like Abraham Lincoln said, it’s not a question of whether God’s on your side, it’s whether you’re on God’s side. That is definitely true. It makes you a more humble person.”

His difficult decisions:

“The time around September 11 and later when we had an anthrax crisis in our city. Certainly when I moved to privatize the local hospital and take the money we were using for the public hospital and use it for health insurance for people. That was very controversial.”

Richard Riordan

A business-like approach

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riodan

Richard Riordan transferred from SCU to finish his degree at Princeton. A successful businessman, two-term Los Angeles mayor, and GOP gubernatorial candidate, he recently served as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s appointed education secretary before resigning effective in June. Riordan reflected on switching from business to politics:

“If I had to pick one person who made it happen, it was Fr. Fagothy. Because he taught me to have a social conscience and to say it’s not just enough to believe, you’ve got to do something about it. And that has stuck with me all my life ... Fr. Fagothy said all theology can be wrapped up in two sentences: I am extremely important in God’s eyes, and two, everybody else is just as important as I am in God’s eyes. So treat yourself with respect and treat everyone you meet with respect. It simplifies a lot of things. You’re not out there trying feel like you’re better than other people.”

On being mayor:

“My philosophy was: what is in the best interest of the poor? I think about that every day. First, it was to organize neighborhoods to take responsibility for themselves in the poor areas and throughout the city. Second was to bring quality jobs for the poor; and then the other big thing was to reform education in the city, which is not under the mayor but I supported reform slates for the school board.” “Another thing I’m proud of: I was the only elected official to come out against bilingual education... It pulled all the kids down, not just Spanish-speaking kids.”

On governing:

“Basically, it was learning to surround yourself with the strongest possible people and empowering them to do a job. I would tell people in my office, ‘Don’t start guessing what the mayor thinks. You do things the way you think they ought to be done.’

It sort of magically gets so much more done because they’re not looking over their shoulder.”

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