Social Impact

Alum Robert Garcia elected mayor of Long Beach

Civic responsibility and a love of education drive the city’s top official

July 17, 2014 Olivia Niland

Robert Garcia MA ’05 has brought historic change to the highest public office in Long Beach.

At 36, he is the city’s youngest mayor to date, as well as its first Latino and openly gay mayor.

I was always interested in civic life and being involved.

Robert Garcia

Garcia, who received his master’s degree in communication management from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, teaches at USC Annenberg and the USC Price School of Public Policy, as well as California State University, Long Beach and Long Beach City College. After earning his master’s degree, Garcia went on to receive a doctorate in higher education from Cal State Long Beach in 2010.

“I always wanted to be in education,” Garcia said. “I was always interested in civic life and being involved.”

From Peru to public office

For Garcia — who was born in Peru and immigrated to the United States with his family at age 5 — education was a steppingstone to a better life. Raised by his mother, aunt and grandmother in California, Garcia became the first in his family to graduate college, earning his bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Cal State Long Beach.

“Education is what gave my family and I a chance to succeed,” Garcia said. “Having that opportunity, and providing that same access for as many people as possible, is important.”

During his undergraduate career, Garcia was elected student body president, a role that ignited his interest in politics and passion for public service.

“Government is in the business of helping people, [by] providing security and education,” Garcia said. “There’s a role in government to help people.”

A successful career in politics

Garcia began his political career with a successful run for the Long Beach City Council, representing the First Council District in 2009, and he was elected vice mayor of Long Beach in 2012. Garcia credits the education he received in USC’s communication management program as being especially applicable to the political arena.

“It was a great experience and a great program,” Garcia said. “I had great instructors — Tom Hollihan in particular, who taught a great course on communication and politics. I learned a lot in that class, and I knew that [communication management] was the right program for me.”

For Hollihan, Garcia’s political promise was evident early on.

“Even as a student, Robert expressed a strong interest in public service,” Hollihan said. “He was an outstanding student in my media and politics class, and I closely followed his campaign for office. I was especially impressed by his clear and inspiring campaign messages and his social media strategy.”

Hollihan’s class instilled in Garcia an understanding about the importance of changing technology and communication systems, which he found to be especially useful in his campaign.

A drive for diversity

Another valuable aspect of Garcia’s experience as a communication management student, he said, was the diversity among students for which USC is known.

“There were students from all over the world, which was very beneficial to my growth,” he said.

Diversity was a hallmark of Garcia’s campaign, and it will continue to be an important issue as Garcia takes office as the mayor of an increasingly growing and diversifying city. Still, Garcia’s focus is first and foremost on serving the needs of all Long Beach residents.

“There’s historical implications [to my election,] but I’m really focused on being mayor for everyone,” Garcia said. “I represent everyone equally, regardless of skin color or who people love or what part of the city they’re from. I want to make sure that everyone in the whole city succeeds.”

In addition to his political career, Garcia has simultaneously taught journalism courses as an adjunct faculty member at USC Annenberg for three years, and he also mentors and advises students.

Though serving as mayor is now Garcia’s first priority, he hopes to be able to balance his passion for both government and education while in office.

“I would love to still be able to teach at Annenberg,” Garcia said. “That’s something I’d always like to do.”