The mahogany-walled and ornately draped Julia Morgan Ballroom in downtown San Francisco exudes class and distinction. On Nov. 9, USF faculty, students and California political figures gathered there to celebrate San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, who was awarded the first-ever Leo T. McCarthy Center award for public service, named after California’s longest serving Lieutenant Governor and USF ‘55 alum. Minority Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave a speech to finish the night. Both Agnos and Pelosi consider McCarthy a mentor who encouraged them to seek office.
Agnos said in his acceptance speech that “It was Leo who inspired me after I left public service. He said, ‘You will now have a new opportunity to be of service using all the skills you’ve accumulated over the years.’”
It’s no surprise then that Leo T. McCarthy used his “opportunity to be of service” by establishing USF’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good in 2002. The Center is known for its programs that give students the opportunity to study and work in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento. According to the Center’s mission statement, they are “dedicated to inspiring and preparing students at USF to pursue lives and careers of ethical public service and the common good.” Sadly, McCarthy passed away in 2007 at the age of 76, but his legacy lives on within the Center.
As McCarthy’s wife, Jackie Burke, said at the banquet, “Leo’s Jesuit education taught him that government was to work for justice, government was to get results, government was to help the helpless and government needed compassion.” These are the lessons the McCarthy Center aims to teach USF students.
Art Agnos was awarded the inaugural McCarthy Center Award for Public Service, because he, too, thought government should work for social justice. As mayor of San Francisco, he appointed more minorities to city positions than any other mayor. He drastically increased San Francisco’s budget to fight AIDS. He famously allowed the homeless population to camp out in front of City Hall after shelters were destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The press donned these camps “Camp Agnos.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi attested to Agnos’ character in government. Near the end of the night, she neared the verge of tears when she recalled a story from nearly 30 years earlier. Pausing to take a breath, she said, “I was remembering we were all gathered for a big dinner the LGBT community had honoring Jim Foster and Phil Burton. [Art] comes in, and when he’s introduced, he holds up Christopher — his first born, a little baby — and he said, ‘I brought my baby because I want to be able to tell him that he was here. That this is important. That this is about values and we are so proud — I am so proud — to be associated with the LGBT community and I want Chris to always know that.’” The audience thundered with applause.
Upon accepting the award, Agnos said, “[The McCarthy Center] is what I believe is the best investment we can make to change things in this country and around the world. With the kind of education, the values, the integrity, the skills that are being transmitted to these young people coming from all over the world to learn at the McCarthy Center… they’re gonna change things. That’s the hope of the future.”
Senior Ayah Moukhtar is one of these young people who participated in a McCarthy Center program. She spoke to the crowd explaining how she would not be where she is today if not for the McCarthy Center’s USF in DC program. Upon meeting an intern for Paul Ryan, Moukhtar expected to dislike her because of political differences. “But I also remember thinking that not trying to understand her would bring no good and only reinstill the divide our country has,” she said. “You have to live through and work through experiences like mine, because staying in the bubble hinders growth and the lessons I learned are still with me today and are still so useful.”
Over $80,000 was raised from tickets and an auction held at the beginning. Funds raised during the 15th anniversary celebration will go towards toward underwriting student programs and activities in the McCarthy Center, both undergraduate and graduate.
Featured Photo: Mayor Art Agnos accepts his award. From left, former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, Sherry Agnos, and Representative Nancy Pelosi. RACQUEL GONZALES/FOGHORN