Leo at the Creation

In this weeks blog, the Center’s founding director, Richard Spohn, recalls working alongside the Lt. Governor and the motivation behind creating the center.

A rare privilege it was to work with Leo McCarthy in setting on a solid foundation and off on a true trajectory the Center for Public Service and the Common Good. Genial, approachable, affable, solicitous, Leo was at his core a serious person. An immigrant who grew up in the Mission District, schooled by the Jesuits, a “Big Man On Campus” (BMOC) at USF, an Air Force veteran, a lawyer, an adult kidnap victim, a devout Catholic, himself a legislative aide, burnished in the barrel of San Francisco 1960s politics – he became Speaker of the California Assembly just six years after arriving in Sacramento. Under his leadership the Assembly and California enjoyed a golden age of extraordinarily productive bipartisanship.   And squeaky clean:  Leo kept a tight rein on his Members, some of whom squirmed under his ethical gaze and referred to him as a “boy scout.”   Leo went home from Sacramento every night to be with his family in San Francisco.

Leo over the years had come to be concerned about the quality of professional staffing in both the Legislature and in offices and agencies of the Executive Branch. With term limits, the legislative staff, both personal and committee, underwent constant turnover, so that the apprenticeships, the mentoring, the career paths and perches that had served the legislative process so well when he was Speaker, barely existed.   

His vision for the Center was of a forum and hub to inspire, teach, capacitate and provide hands-on experiences to successive cohorts of USF students interested in careers of public service in the public sector, who would serve as the skilled professional staff of the future.  Other schools have similar programs, including Cal, Stanford, Harvard, and Cal State Monterey (Leon Panetta), and Leo wanted his alma mater to be a contributor and a player in that wise investment in governance and democracy. He was a serious guy, with a serious mission.

— Richard Spohn, Founding Director, McCarthy Center


California State Assemblycommunity engagementLTMCPublic Service

Leo T. McCarthy Center • September 23, 2021

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