Marty Block Quits Race vs. Toni Atkins, Mulls State Chancellor Job

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State Sen. Marty Block during an interview in Sacramento. Courtesy Block’s office

By Ken Stone

State Sen. Marty Block says he’s “very at peace” with his decision to quit his race for re-election against Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.

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What shaped up to be a brutal campaign among Democrats for the 39th District seat in San Diego came to an abrupt end Thursday when Block announced he would not run for re-election.

Block made his announcement on the Senate floor, saying he will pursue other opportunities. One option for the former San Diego Community College District board president is state chancellor of community colleges in Sacramento.

“I’d have to very, very seriously consider moving in that direction,” Block told Times of San Diego in a phone interview.

Although he said it was premature to say anything more about the vacancy (current Chancellor Brice Harris announced in October he would retire in April), Block said: “If other chancellors from districts around the state think I would be a good fit for that position — and want to nominate me for that position — I’d be flattered, I’d be honored.”

Chancellor Constance Carroll of the San Diego Community College District appears poised to do the honors.

Carroll, elevated from Mesa College president to district chancellor when Block was board president, told Times of San Diego that she’s waiting to learn how the chancellor job is defined — and the steps for nominating or providing a reference.

“Marty is supremely well-qualified for that position and other leadership positions in higher education,” she said. (And Carroll is “absolutely not” interested in the chancellor job herself, she said.)

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Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins at an endorsement event on Saturday. Photo by Chris Stone
Block, the force behind efforts to let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees, “would bring exemplary qualities and experience” to the chancellor’s or similar jobs, Carroll said. “I have no negatives regarding Marty. All positives. All superlatives.”

San Diego County Democratic Party Chair Francine Busby said she’d heard that Block was “seriously being considered” for the chancellor job. (In fact, the search for a leader of the 113-college system has barely started.)

Block called the chancellor’s job “a wonderful opportunity to make a huge difference in higher education” and the future of California.

He says the community college system, with 2.1 million students, has the potential to integrate people into the economy “who have not done so well in high school.”

Busby said she always believed that the Atkins-Block race “would be resolved” well before the June primary election.

Busby wouldn’t speculate on why Block chose to leave the race, but noted that Democratic Party delegates around the state would caucus this weekend in their districts, deciding who should be endorsed at the state party convention Feb. 26-28 in San Jose.

For his part, Block said: “I’m pretty sure that we would have had the votes to get the endorsement,” especially after winning nods from the Mira Mesa, Coronado and Point Loma Democratic clubs.

But he said he realized in recent months, especially after three club appearances last weekend with Atkins, that “we really do agree on almost everything.”

And he said “it makes no sense for us not to work together” on common challenges in Sacramento amid a battle for the state Senate seat.

“I’m very at peace with the decision,” Block said, “and very much enthusiastic about the future. … Nothing changes tomorrow except that I don’t have to work 100 hours a week. I can go back to working 50 hours a week.”

Block, a lawyer and former San Diego State University professor, also said he’s not interested in running for San Diego mayor.

Atkins, who is being termed out of the Assembly, said she was surprised at Block’s decision.

“What is no surprise to me, having appeared at so many campaign events with him recently, is how much Marty Block believes in the state Senate and its ability to do good for the people of the 39th District,” Atkins said.

“Our community has been beyond fortunate to have had some great state senators, including Lucy Killea, Dede Alpert, and my mentor, Chris Kehoe,” she said. “Marty Block was a fitting member of that lineup. I will work very hard to measure up to the standards they all set.”

Block said that after 26 years in higher education and 24 years in elective office, he’s “eager to pursue new opportunities” to promote the values he favors.

Block won election to the Assembly in 2008 and served as chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee for three years. A former dean, professor and legal advisor at San Diego State University for 26 years, he now chairs the Senate Education Budget Subcommittee.

His district includes most of the city of San Diego north of state Route 94, the cities of Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach, and parts of unincorporated Rancho Santa Fe.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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