Loretta Smith spent more than 20 years working for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. All that time, running for office herself was never at the forefront of her mind. But when the county commissioner position opened up in 2010 and she was asked to run, she couldn’t turn down the opportunity. “I do think I have a unique voice as a single mom, and as a black woman,” Smith says. She won, becoming only the second black elected official in her county.
Tackling unemployment was at the top of her to-do list. She quadrupled the size of SummerWorks, an employment initiative targeted at underserved kids. Today it’s a thriving program that has placed 3,105 youth in summer jobs in the past six years. Now she’s turned her attention to infrastructure. “We have some seriously crumbling bridges here in Portland that need to be addressed,” she says.
Her term ends in 2018, and while she hasn’t decided whether to seek higher office, she knows “there will be some opportunities” when the time comes. Regardless, she wants to stay in public service to inspire others to serve. “It means a lot to be a visible elected official,” she says. “If other women and people of color see me, they know they can do it too.”