Like granddad, like father, like son: politics as usual

For a long time, Milton Marks III resisted seeking elected office.

"I've had that expectation of me my entire life because of my name," said the San Francisco resident. "It caused me…to resist doing this until I" could make a distinct contribution.

In November Marks, 41, was elected to the board of trustees of the City College of San Francisco, becoming the third generation in his family to hold public office.

In 1917, his grandfather, Milton Marks, was the only Jewish member of the state Assembly. He later went on to serve as San Francisco's city attorney and on the Board of Supervisors.

Marks' father, the second Milton Marks, spent 38 years in the state Assembly. It was only because a new term-limits law was enacted that Marks' father, who died in 1998, was prevented from seeking re-election.

And although his mother, Carolene Marks, was defeated in her 1996 run for the Board of Supervisors, she is no stranger to public service. She was appointed to the commission on the status of women in San Francisco and currently serves as vice president. In addition, she has long been active in breast cancer advocacy.

Marks reflected on how his father's long tenure as in the Assembly affected him as a child.

"When I was born, my father left the hospital to go meet Nelson Rockefeller," who was putting out feelers for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1960. "He was working on the campaign," Marks said.

Then, from the first grade, comes this episode of the traditional classroom favorite, Show and Tell.

"Some people bring in frogs and rocks and things like that," Marks recalled. "I brought in a picture that was in the newspaper of me sitting in my dad's lap in his dad's chair in the Assembly."

Marks said his father's absence from home during the week was often difficult for the family. While his father was cognizant of that, he said, "I think he recognized that it was difficult for us, but he had a commitment to do his job well."

Like his father and grandfather, the younger Marks attributes his attitude toward public service to Jewish values, as the tradition encourages one to take action to try and make a difference.

"I know my father was always very proud to point out Jews doing good things in the world," he said.

Marks, whose family is of German Jewish descent, celebrated his bar mitzvah and was confirmed at the Reform Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

After attending college and living on the East Coast, Marks reconnected with the Jewish community when he returned to San Francisco.

He participated in the Jewish Community Relations Council's New Leaders Project, which is a national leadership program for young adults. He now serves on the JCRC.

Professionally, Marks is the executive director of the Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit in charge of planting trees in San Francisco.

"We've planted over 33,000 trees in the last 20 years," he said. In doing so, the organization aims to build community at the same time.

Marks explained why he chose to run for the City College board. "I saw an institution far more important to San Francisco than people think," he said. "To have the ability to influence so many people who study and work there is an appealing thing."

And when his four-year term is up, will he seek higher office?

"I don't know," he said. "I have to figure out if this works. I can see how hard it is to pay adequate attention to your family when your work is so all-consuming," said Marks, who is engaged to psychologist Abby Levinson. "I don't know if it's something I want, but this is the best way to figure it out."

When Marks was sworn in, he recited the Shehechiyanu, the prayer said before embarking on something for the first time. "I probably wouldn't have done it a few years ago, but being on the JCRC and being more confident about being Jewish, I wanted to show people the importance of Judaism to me.

"I know that people were pleased that I made that gesture," he continued. "My mother was really kind of stunned."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."