Catching Up with Jane Campbell

The former mayor of Cleveland now directs the Washington office of the National Development Council, advocating for small business, community development and job creation in her hometown and across the country.

Jane Campbell has a great view. From a top floor of an office building on Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland, Campbell looks down at the city that called her mayor from 2002 to 2006. Campbell is now director of the Washington, D.C., office of the nonprofit National Development Council's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, which maintains a Cleveland presence. The Northeast Ohio office has long corner windows that provide a panoramic look at new downtown retail, growing housing opportunities and the city’s recent, cautious pride.  

Campbell sets up camp in one of the interior offices on her frequent trips to Cleveland. But the space is devoid of personal touches — no family photos, no funny greeting cards pinned to a bulletin board, no plants that need to be watered. Granted, it’s a shared space. But you get the feeling that Campbell would like a more permanent place here to hang her hat or store her coffee mug. However, to Campbell, the city’s first female mayor, Cleveland memories are bittersweet.

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1953, a young Jane Campbell moved with her family to Ohio. She graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1971 and earned degrees at the University of Michigan and Cleveland State University. Campbell became known for her hard work with advocacy groups and community organizations. In 1975, she founded WomenSpace, Ohio’s first shelter for battered women and a training ground for those aiming for leadership positions.

Campbell, a Democrat, was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for six terms, from 1985 to 1996. She served as a Cuyahoga County commissioner from 1997 to 2001, and chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana from 2009 to 2013.

“The first time I was running for mayor of Cleveland, I already had 17 years in elected life,” says Campbell. “But someone asked me, ‘Do you think you are tough enough?’ No one would have ever had that discussion about a guy.”

Campbell had to be a tough cookie. She claims to have spent the first two years of her administration making sense of the city’s finances and the $60 million budget deficit she inherited. 

“We had to lay off safety forces, and an alternative newspaper in town ran a headline that read ‘The Bitch Who Stole Christmas.’ I’ll never forget it. We had to make some tough decisions,” says Campbell, who streamlined departments and ultimately laid off 700 city workers.

Another time, a local television station criticized the fact that Campbell’s two daughters did not take a bus to school.

“We lived six blocks from the school. There was no bus,” says Campbell, whose family's threats at the time had not been revealed. “The city issued to me — as it had to mayors previously — a car that was equipped with a police radio. I paid taxes on the vehicle as part of my employment compensation. The city provided previous mayors’ wives a police driver in a city car. My husband chose to drive himself. We faced criticism that he drove the car issued to me.” 

Campbell regrets she left projects and ideas on the table when she lost the 2005 mayoral race to Frank Jackson a. But Campbell says Mayor Jackson has done a good job: “He’s different than I am, but he’s got a lot of stuff done.” 

Campbell runs through a list of incredible changes in Cleveland that were in embryonic stages right before or during her administration: lakefront development, East Bank Flats redevelopment, Fourth Street redevelopment, Gordon Square Arts District, the Global Center for Health Innovation and new housing and shopping areas downtown and in neighborhoods.

“I wish people would be able to say that the things we did when I was mayor set the stage for Cleveland’s Renaissance,” says Campbell.

There were positive social contributions to the city’s image. Under Campbell’s watch, Cleveland was the first city in the country to host the International Children’s Games. She was also the first mayor to fly the rainbow flag from atop City Hall during the Cleveland Pride Celebration in 2002. It could have become an unfortunate incident.

Campbell was riding in the Pride Celebration parade when someone approached her vehicle and cried, “Mayor, the flag is upside down!” Campbell quickly contacted the city employee who hung the flag, who confessed he really had no idea that the flag’s red stripe is on top, with violet on the bottom.

“By the time the parade came around to City Hall, the flag was the right way,” recalls Campbell.    

Chris Ronayne, now president of University Circle Inc., a community development corporation, was Campbell’s campaign manager in 2001. Ronayne also served as director, Department of City Planning, chief development officer and chief of staff during the Campbell years in Cleveland. Ronayne said Campbell “quickly learned the community development process” and understood the need to revitalize neighborhoods.

“Jane Campbell rolled up her sleeves and worked long hours to ensure communities were getting noticed and getting what they needed,” says Ronayne. “That meant she had to work with labor, business developers and neighborhood residents. Community development has two strains — human capacity, and bricks and mortar. Jane Campbell was able to bring the two together.” 

Campbell’s work in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County helped prepare her for her present position, Ronayne explains.

Campbell’s life in Washington is busy. Up at 6 or 6:30 a.m., Campbell makes breakfast for the younger of her two daughters, who lives with her while going to graduate school. Then it’s off to the NDC office, meetings on the Hill and client luncheons. She rarely gets back home before 6:30 p.m. Campbell hits the gym at least once a week (she was an impressive volleyball, field hockey, basketball player and swimmer in her high school days) and valiantly is learning to garden.

“I love flowers, but it’s probably good I have a postage stamp-size garden,” says Campbell. “I can’t tell a weed from a flower. So I send photographs to a friend who is a good gardener and ask, ‘Is this a flower or a weed?’”   

The former mayor is also an elder in the National City Christian Church and participates in two Bible study classes. Social life is often work-related. Campbell counts her divorce in 2008 from urban planner Hunter Morrison as “one of the great sadnesses” of her life. 

“The dating scene at my age is a little hard,” observes Campbell.

But that sometimes-open dance card also gives Campbell more time for her passion — helping others through advocacy with business opportunities.

The National Development Council, an economic and community development entity that provides training, guidance and financing in urban and rural areas, seems like a good fit for Campbell. (Since September 2016, Campbell has also served as president of Women Impacting Public Policy, an NDC partner.) The development council supports the creation of jobs and expansion of small businesses in underserved areas.

The development council’s Grow America Fund provided $16,070,100 in loans for small businesses in Cuyahoga County in the quarter ending June 30, 2015. Thirty-one GAF loans were made and 707 jobs were created and retained. Some of the largest NDC loans (partially guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration) were awarded to Wagner Industries, Cleveland; Undercar Express, Cleveland; Cardinal Fastener and Specialty Co., Bedford Heights; and Hemodialysis Services, Beachwood.   

In addition, the Capital Access Fund of Greater Cleveland partners with the development council, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, the National Urban League’s Urban Empowerment Fund, Morgan Stanley, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Recently, it announced $8 million in capital low-cost Small-Business Administration and non-SBA loans to minority small businesses in Greater Cleveland.

Campbell’s development council leadership, presence in the Cleveland office and contacts with local movers and shakers give her an opportunity to make sure her old hometown is always considered when it’s appropriate. She is still very much a Clevelander. However…

“The Cleveland community is not very good at providing opportunities to former public officials to work and continue to contribute in that community. What a loss of talent,” lamented Campbell. “I know. I looked hard. I’d love to be here in my hometown. I am fortunate to have a good job in Washington. But Cleveland is my town.”

  • Share this story: