We had a chance to sit down with the very busy Nick Serrano for a Q&A on his appointment as Mayor Todd Gloria’s deputy chief of staff, his upbringing, his passion for a career in public service and his plans for his new job.
Name: Nick Serrano
Where were you born: San Diego
High School: Eastlake High
College: San Diego State University
Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science
While growing up as a young boy, some of your relatives talked about how being Gay would prevent you from becoming successful in life, how did those comments affect you growing up?
It was definitely hard to hear, and to know that’s what they believed. But I distinctly remember also taking it as a challenge. Every time I heard that kind of rhetoric, whether in a familial setting or at school, I remember thinking, “I’ll show you.” I was determined to prove them wrong. I wanted to show that with or without their approval, I could make it.
Your father is a former police officer, you later grew up to intern for the district attorney, how do you feel now about the relationship between police and Black Lives Matter?
We have work to do. My father was a San Diego Police Officer, so I have the greatest respect for our officers and the sacrifices they make to keep communities safe. To that end, I also know first-hand that not all police officers are bad. I think we have to acknowledge that there is an institutional failure on our hands when certain communities – in this case Black and Brown communities – fear interacting with police officers so much so that they won’t even call 911 in an emergency situation. What I firmly believe is that both sides must come to the table seeking understanding.
Who are your political role models/heroes and why?
Obviously, first and foremost, Todd Gloria has been (and continues to be) a tremendous role model and mentor for me. He is everything you would hope for in an elected official and he has imparted so much wisdom on me. I’m forever grateful to him. My other political role model is Assembly member Dr. Shirley Weber. She inspires me every time she speaks, but more importantly, she inspires me through her action. Often, I look at the issues challenging us as a society and so many are not taken up because folks are too scared to fail. That’s never stopped Dr. Weber. This past November, at a press conference for “Yes on Prop. 16,” Dr. Weber perfectly encapsulated the perspective that she and I share. She said, “People say, ‘Aren’t you afraid to lose?’ I said, ‘I’m more afraid that we don’t try.’”
When did you first meet Todd Gloria?
That’s rather poetic in a sense. I met him for the first time in 2014 in the mayor’s office while he was serving as the interim mayor. I was an intern and they asked me to help move his stuff out of the mayor’s office and back to his Council District 3 office. Funny enough, in 2020, I helped elect him to be mayor, so I’ll be moving his stuff back into the mayor’s office on December 10th.
You and Ben F. Dillingham are the only two LGBTQ members to achieve high positions on the mayor’s staff, how do you feel about making history?
Wow. That’s an honor to be mentioned alongside someone like Ben Dillingham. I don’t feel as though I’ve made history – I feel it’s Ben Dillingham and so many others who have fought as part of our LGBTQ movement who have made history. I stand on their shoulders. I wouldn’t have been able to come this far if it hadn’t been for those like Ben who came before me and paved the way. I’m just the person who benefitted from their hard work, advocacy, and sacrifice. So, I hold much more gratitude in my heart than anything. Importantly, I refuse to be the last.
You were president of the board of directors for San Diego Pride — do you oppose law enforcement in our Pride Parade?
I don’t oppose it, but I think we should rethink it. We have learned that law enforcement’s presence in the Pride Parade – fully equipped with their gun and badge – is difficult for some in our community. Pride has always been about inclusion. Therefore, I believe we must find a way to include law enforcement without excluding a part of our diverse community. At the end of the day, I want our sworn officers to be able to march with us in solidarity, so I believe we have to work together to find a way so that all of us are comfortable.
You were considered a top candidate for the District 3 Council seat, why did you decide not to run?
I felt it was more important for our city that we elect Todd Gloria to be mayor. In my mind, our city could not afford eight more years of the status quo and Todd was the only candidate with the vision and experience to take us in that new direction. So, I decided my time and energy was better spent getting him elected for all of us.
Do you consider yourself a moderate, liberal or progressive?
I consider myself a Democrat — a Democrat that fights for the people and for progress.
How do you handle the attacks and death threats over Todd Gloria’s vote in support of SB145?
Not well. Unfortunately, this attack just reinforced the tropes and beliefs that some have about Gay people. The legislation was the right thing to do — it addressed discrimination in state law against LGBTQ people. The problem was, it became a political challenge because we knew the GOP could weaponize it against us. Todd Gloria did the right thing in voting for it and that only speaks to his character and why he had to become mayor of San Diego.
Many consider you to be a top contender in the future for a state, county, or city-elected office — which one is it?
Time will tell. Right now, I’m focused on moving my hometown forward as part of the Gloria administration. If an opportunity arises and my community wants me to serve, you may see me step up.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new position as deputy chief of staff?
I hope to help make Todd Gloria the best mayor in our city’s history, and I hope to make our city a statewide and a national leader for progressive policy. I entered this line of work to do the most amount of good for the most amount of people. That is my guiding principle heading into this new role.