We Weren’t Born to Follow

Trish Fontana Headshot

Trish Fontana was a former staffer for Leo T. McCarthy.  She has also worked for two California Lt. Governors, two Governors, two First Ladies and two State Senators. She continues to work in the State Capitol, currently for Senator Richard D. Roth, a retired Major Air Force General who represents Riverside.

This past weekend, I did what I do every Saturday morning.  I strapped on my running shoes, put on my favorite cap and plugged into my Apple Shuffle.  But this particular morning, I just couldn’t shake off the horrible news of the week.  The shootings, natural disasters, flu deaths and daily barrage of sexual harassment stories weighed heavily on my heart.

 And then Jon Bon Jovi’s powerful words penetrated my mind:

 “We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe.”

I started thinking about how do we hold onto what we believe in the face of so much sadness.  Sometimes there are just no answers.

I am proud to say that I am a public servant who works in the State Capitol.  Yes, that same Capitol building which has been overshadowed by the dark clouds of sexual harassment cases, corruption, and bribery.  But against all of that, I am still a big believer in the honor of public service.

It was over 30 years ago that I was a wide-eyed 19 year who at the age of 4 couldn’t speak a word of English when she started school.  I was fortunate to walk into the Office of Lt. Governor Leo T. McCarthy to begin an internship that would change my life forever.

Leo T. McCarthy, the T. stands for Tarcissus, a third-century Roman saint who worked on behalf of imprisoned Christians.  “Tarcissus got stoned to death for his efforts, McCarthy would say, and it reminded me of my days as Speaker.”

Now working in the Capitol can be extremely challenging but it can also be very rewarding. Leo McCarthy was a compassionate public servant who led by example that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

 He was passionate about advocating for seniors, the mentally ill and the poor but always with compassion, kindness, and ethics.  Sometimes his meetings could get highly charged and contentious but Leo McCarthy always tried to steer toward the road of higher reason.

I learned a phrase that has become my own personal mantra which is that “you should never mistake kindness for weakness.”

After retirement, he established the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, which is dedicated to inspiring and preparing students at the University of San Francisco to pursue lives and careers of ethical public service.

During my Capitol career, I have worked with many interns and Fellows who have gone on to pursue careers in public service.  One intern stands out and I will never forget him.

I met Joseph Schultz in 1997 when I was the intern coordinator for Lt. Governor Gray Davis.  Joseph was self-confident and had a strong commitment to public service for which he would later work in the Washington DC Governor’s Office.

We lost contact but one day I was standing on the first floor of the State Capitol when the elevator doors opened.  Out walked Joseph in his full Green Beret Captain uniform. I had no idea that he had enlisted and he just yelled my name and gave me the biggest hug.

I learned later that Joseph was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country during Operation Enduring Freedom where he was known for his leadership ability and steadfast friendship.  He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, the ultimate example of public service.

 Public service is the opportunity to make a difference.  It is putting the “we before me” in our daily lives.  Many interns have gone on to work with foster children, become teachers, coaches, attorneys, public officials, worked in public health and on environmental issues or joined the Peace Corps.

They are shining examples of what Leo McCarthy envisioned – people helping others for the common good.

And on that Saturday morning, Jon Bon Jovi continued singing and I followed right along:

“This road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry,
This road was paved by the winds of change
Walking beside the guilty and the innocent
How will you raise your hand when they call your name?”


Former staffers of Leo T. McCarthy from left to right: Ed Manning, Trish Fontana (author), Betsy Butler and Ted Toppin


2018 Brings Conversations

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This February, the McCarthy Center kicks off the inaugural season of a new speakers series, Conversations for the Common Good, co-presented with news media, POLITICO. The McCarthy Center Board and staff have been planning this series in conjunction with the 15th Anniversary of the Center celebrated this past November 9th at the Merchants Exchange Club where Mayor Art Agnos was honored with the first Leo T. McCarthy Award.

Conversations, envisioned as an annual signature series of speaking engagements, will bring local, regional and national figures to share their visions of the challenges of serving the public good. This year, the series invites leading candidates for California’s upcoming gubernatorial election in fall, 2018.

Entitled, The Race for the 2nd Most Important Office in the Country — Who Will be the Next Governor of California?, the series invites five top candidates (with others to be possibly added) including four Democrats and one Republican.

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 Join us in meeting California’s gubernatorial candidates on the Hilltop campus in McLaren Conference Center. Free limited seating is available. Register to attend here.

Questions For John Chiang


California State Treasurer John Chiang will be our fifth speaker to participate in Conversations for the Common Good, a new speaker’s series that invites inclusive voices to the challenge of serving the public good. Join us in meeting California’s Treasurer, John Chiang and POLITICO’s Carla Marinucci in conversations on Thursday, March 22nd, 5:00 PM on campus at USF’s McLaren Conference Center.

John Chiang has never been one to chase the spotlight, Chiang has been getting the job done throughout every successive tier of public service. He was first elected to office in 1998, as a member of the Board of Equalization. In 2006, California voters elected Chiang to serve as the State’s Controller for three terms. As Controller, Chiang managed the state’s finances throughout the Great Recession and prevented the state’s credit rating from falling into junk status. Chiang also reformed the pension system, and implemented programs to increase the state’s transparency and accountability to the public. In 2014, Chiang was elected as the State’s Treasurer, where he sold bonds, invested state funds, and managed California’s growing cash reserves. Chiang has seen it all throughout his two decades of public service, from financial deficits and budget cuts to California boasting the sixth largest economy in the world, and he now he is running for the state’s highest office, California Governor.

Chiang describes himself as the only candidate who understands how to finance the programs Californians want, which would lead to ideas becoming a reality rather than a talking point. Chiang’s priorities as governor would be creating more affordable housing, investing in the states K – 12 and University systems, and preventing sexual harassment and assault. John Chiang asserts that he is a fiscally responsible leader and as Governor, he promises to make California accessible and affordable for families who dream of a better future.

Questions To Ask:

  • Proposition 13 has limited a city’s ability to fund services. What are the biggest roadblocks to reforming Proposition 13, and how would you overcome those barriers?
  • Divisions exist between California’s inland and coastal communities. Politicians spar over taxes, environmental regulations, and poverty reforms. How would you bridge the existing divides in California as Governor?
  • You have two decades of experience managing the state’s finances. How would someone who has been all about the numbers in California, apply those skills to address the social issues throughout the state?
  • Many middle-class Californians are struggling to purchase homes, send their children to college, and maintain a quality standard of living. What is your agenda to help our struggling families?
  • The impacts of climate change will compound throughout the twenty-first century,  and California will experience harsher droughts as a result. What is your plan to address future water shortages?
  • Many seniors and retired adults live on fixed incomes; every year the cost of food, utilities, services, and housing increase, but their incomes stay flat. How will you address the needs of aging Californians?

This post was written by Justin Balenzuela, M.A. Urban Affairs ’18. Justin will be introducing Treasurer John Chiang on Thursday, March 22nd.

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How Cobb Elementary Transformed Me


Valeria Imendia, International Studies’18

I still remember receiving an email about a literacy internship opportunity during the fall semester of my junior year and thinking it would be a great chance for me to expand my experiences in education. As a student in the Dual Degree Program for Teacher Preparation, I decided to apply to be a literacy intern through Engage San Francisco but little did I know I would be embarking on an experience of a lifetime. I am now a senior, about to graduate this coming May, and I continue to learn so much about myself and my passion for teaching with every chance I get to walk the halls of Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School.

From my very first day of the internship, I was met with nothing but kindness and support. My first impression of the school was more than I could have hoped for, and it continues to be a place of unique learning experiences for me. For one, every day at Cobb is different—whether it is because I have to work with new students and create activities for them on my own or because unexpected situations arise where I have to provide care for students. I first went in thinking of myself as a tutor for my students, but it was not long after I started my work there that I realized this job required a lot more than just academics. Every single student I have had the privilege to work with at this school has sparked so much passion for teaching within me, and I continue to think about them in everything I do as I pursue my teaching credential.

Alongside my students, my mentor at the school and my internship supervisor always go above and beyond to ensure that as interns we are being supported and guided in the best way possible. It has been thanks to their warmth and guidance that I have been able to feel like I have agency in my position as an intern. From day one, I have felt like I am a part of the school community and that is because I have been given the tools and the trust to bring my perspective into the work I do with my students. Hence, this program has been crucial in my journey as a future educator because it has shown me first-hand that there is a lot of work to be done in the classroom. It has likewise shown me in practice what my responsibility as a woman of color going into this profession looks like in order to ensure I am doing my best to advocate for our youth. My students have therefore opened up new possibilities within me and they have taken me by the hand and walked me through their life experiences and their passions, which is something that will be forever engraved in my heart. I am honored and humbled to walk the halls of Cobb and get hugs from students I have not even worked with yet and to get high-fives from the older kids who normally like to tell me they are “too cool” for doing reading activities with Miss Valeria. My students give me so much joy with all their unique ways of showing me love and affection, and I have come to understand that with this care also comes responsibility. I strive to honor these demonstrations of trust by making sure to always keep my students and their rich knowledge and individuality at the forefront of my teaching practices.


My time at Cobb has helped transform me in only the best way. I have been challenged by difficult situations; I have been put to the test as I have had to come up with solutions without much time to prepare, and I have most importantly been shown the most genuine and pure love from my students. Being at Cobb and experiencing the day-to-day routines and witnessing what my students go through both as students and as individuals with their own interests and stories has allowed me to step back and think about the privileges I hold in that space and also as I think about my own future classroom. My students have taught me to be humble and to understand that this work is in the service of every single person in my classroom, particularly of those whose voices have historically been left out. My students—all of whom are not older than eleven—have taught me far more than I could hope to learn from a textbook. I am grateful to have wonderful teachers who push my thinking and hold me to high standards, yet it is my students at Cobb who push me even further and keep me accountable in everything I do.

I continue to be grateful for every single day that I get to be a part of this literacy program because it means I am being challenged to question the ways I engage with this work in education. Regardless of the official expectations of my position or of any titles, this work goes beyond what can be seen as purely academic at a surface level. This opportunity has allowed me to immerse myself in hands-on experiences in teaching and given me a new sense of purpose. I have wanted to go into the teaching profession because I believe our youth has invaluable lessons to teach us and because they deserve to know that their voices matter. I know that this work is difficult, but we owe it to our students to show up for them and allow them to be visible in every way that makes them who they are in order to disrupt practices that have silenced much of our youth—particularly our youth of color— for far too long. This internship has therefore allowed me to work on the skills that make this ideal a reality and I am humbled to be able to experience this with the wonderful mentors I have gained and the students that make this journey worthwhile. This journey is a constant learning experience and I am grateful I got that email and decided to apply all those months ago because now I have a new community that has given me the best gifts: a renewed sense of purpose and a greater love for teaching.


Our USF in DC Fellows Have Arrived


Congratulations to our USF in DC Spring 2018 cohort! They recently arrived in Washington, D.C., and have already attended the Women’s March, experienced a government shutdown, and explored the sights and sounds of our nation’s Capital.

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Jose Esquer Romero, Finance ‘18

Jose is a Newmark Scholar and is interning with Senator Kamala Harris. He plans on using his time to build his knowledge on a variety of issues, including immigration, climate change/sustainability, and tax reform. During his time at D.C., Jose hopes to gain experience working on Capitol Hill and learn about the intersection of government and the business world. He believes that his time in D.C. will help shape his future educational and career goals.

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Katie Chapman Pinto, Politics ‘19

Katie is a Politics major with a minor in Entrepreneurship. She is a recipient of the Newmark Scholar award and interning for California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. As a member of the Saint Ignatius Institute, a University Scholar in the Honors College, and a Public Speaking Coach for the Rhetoric and Language Department, Katie has actively participated across vibrant intellectual communities throughout her time at USF.  Katie’s ideal world is one in which all social, economic, and political decisions are evaluated based upon the degree to which they work to advance collective human happiness, and she hopes to one-day push reality closer to this vision through a career in politics.

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Brianna Marcus, Communication Studies ‘19

Brianna is a recipient of the Newmark Scholar award and will be interning with Planned Parenthood in their marketing department. She plans to use her internship to build on her knowledge of women’s health and education policies. During her time in D.C., Brianna hopes to gain experience in working in our nation’s capital and seeing first hand change with women’s health and rights and applying that experience in her last year back at USF and in San Francisco.

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Taylor Scott, International Studies ‘19

Tayler Scott is currently a third-year International Studies student with a minor in Asian Studies and a focus in culture, societies, and values. The previous semester she studied Global Korean Studies at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea. While in Washington, Tayler is spending her time as an intern at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group to further her understanding of international relations and to broaden her network of female leaders in the field. This semester she hopes to spend her free time attending unique DC events, visiting monuments and museums, and trying out new restaurants.


Tyson Rhodes, Politics ‘19

Tyson is a Politics major with a minor in Legal Studies and will be interning with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. He plans on using his time with the civil rights organization to learn about political advocacy and grassroots movements to help secure and protect the rights of communities of color. In particular, he is interested in how criminal justice and prison reform can be used to bring an end to a system that has disproportionately affected low-income people of color.

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Gabriel Greschler, Politics ‘19

Gabriel is a Politics major with a minor in Journalism. He is interning at the Student Press Law Center, an organization that protects the First Amendment rights of student journalists. At USF, Gabriel is the News Editor of the Foghorn, which has given him the unique opportunity to connect his passion for journalism and public policy on campus. He intends to take advantage of his time in D.C., acquire new skills and knowledge, improve his writing, and use his time in DC to attend policymaking events and leverage networking connections in the nation’s Capitol.

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Isabel Malcolmson, Economics ‘19

Isabel is a recipient of the Newmark Scholarship and will be the Sustainable Analyst Intern at Sustainable Capital Advisors. Through her internship, she hopes to explore her interests at the intersection of economics and the environment, and more specifically learn about financing sustainable infrastructure and clean energy projects. Isabel is excited to get hands-on experience working in the industry and move the marker on energy-efficient solutions to meet the development challenges of public and private sector.

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Rosa Olascoaga Vidal, Politics ‘18

Rosa is a recipient of the Newmark Scholarship, majoring in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies. This spring she will be interning for United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, she has a deep passion for immigration reform. Rosa hopes to gain knowledge on policy and advocacy through comprehensive immigration reform during her time in D.C. and advocate for underrepresented communities.

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Jacqueline Garcia

Jacqueline is a Newmark Scholar as well as a recipient of the Betty L. Blakley scholarship. She will be interning at the National Immigration Forum and United We Dream. She hopes that her experience in D.C. will fuel her already potent passion for public policy for the years to come. She hopes to gain more hands-on experience in advocacy work, as well as gain perspective about the world outside of her progressive San Francisco bubble.

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Claudette van Maarschalkerweerd

Claudette will be interning with the Office of Congressman Darrell Issa (R- CA). Her internship will be focused particularly towards the tasks of the House of Representatives Majority Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, as well as working with the Millennial Action Project, and Congress’ Future Caucus. An international student from Singapore and the Nederlands, Claudette is excited to be immersed in the political center of the world, engaging with issues usually reserved for her textbooks and essays.

Questions for Antonio Villaraigosa

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Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will be the inaugural speaker to participate in Conversations for the Common Good, a new speakers series that invites inclusive voices to the challenge of serving the public good. Join us in meeting Mayor Villaraigosa and POLITICO’s David Siders in conversation on Thursday, February 1, 5:00 PM on campus at USF’s McLaren Conference Center.



Can Antonio Villaraigosa trump the competition?

The upcoming 2018 California gubernatorial race will be loaded with interesting democratic candidates. Amidst political heavy hitters such as Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and State Treasurer John Chiang, Antonio Villaraigosa stands to run on a platform of educational equity. The former California State Assemblyman, who was also the Mayor of Los Angeles, is hoping to fortify a well distinguished political career by winning the vote to occupy California’s top office. Villaraigosa’s reputation is hallmarked by epic civic and municipal partnership building efforts. He is credited with turning around the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)’s poor performing schools with the construction of an organization called the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which works with the LAUSD as a coalition. Additionally, Villaraigosa led efforts that have  resulted in successfully combating spiking Los Angeles crime rates by hiring more police officers.

Villaraigosa has stated publicly numerous times that if elected to office as California Governor,  he would defy President Trump if his administration were to order the deportation of undocumented persons, including DREAMers. Villaraigosa has also said that he is not in support of building a wall to keep out immigrants from our southern border. Given his policy stances on immigration, Villaraigosa will no doubt find himself bumping heads with one America’s most controversial president. On the campaign trail, Villaraigosa will find himself challenged with the daunting task of unifying the Mexican-American vote which has been sharply sliced by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. As the campaign season begins to ramp up, it will be very fascinating to see how Villaraigosa energizes his base.

Questions to Ask

  • In what ways do you feel your experiences as State Assemblyman have prepared you to govern California?
  • What measures can be implemented in the State Assembly and Senate to ensure transparency and fairness regarding the investigation into claims of sexual harassment in the state legislature?
  • Given the current socio-political impact of the #MeToo movement, is there a credible need for comprehensive re-training on sexual harassment as well as cultural and gender sensitivity issues within the state legislature?
  • What strategies can be used to protect California’s coastline against the ongoing threat of offshore drilling?
  • Can we legally protect California as a sanctuary state with minimal federal disruption?
  • What are your thoughts on allocating cannabis tax money towards the implementation of a state-wide cannabis equity program?
  • In what ways can California restore its educational system to its once highly regarded status?
  • Given the current lack of bipartisan participation in Washington D.C., how are you prepared to discourage that type of political climate in the state legislature?

 This post was written by Calyn Kelley, Urban and Public Affairs ’19. Calyn will be introducing Mayor Villaraigosa on Thursday, February 1 in the opening event.

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