(Photo: Courtesy of the City of Cleveland)
We've all heard stories about a young man or woman becoming a star on film or the runway after being discovered at the mall or a grocery store. As it turns out, lucky chance encounters also apply to less glamorous pursuits.
Fresh out of graduate school, Valarie McCall, now chief of government and international affairs for Cleveland, Ohio, bumped into then-council member Frank Jackson at City Hall. The next thing she knew, she was being hired to run the city's empowerment zone office.
Although she had some experience working with the city for a local community development organization, McCall recognizes that the job was a pretty big deal.
"I'm honored that I had the chance, that someone saw something in me in terms of potential and gave me that opportunity," she told BET.com.
Like any federally funded program, the prospective beneficiaries want results and they want them fast. So, part of McCall's task was to enhance the empowerment zone program's credibility while at the same time making a difference in Cleveland's communities.
"It taught me about working with the community, how government does and doesn't work and how quickly or slowly," McCall said. "But I tell people all the time, working in local government is probably one of the best jobs out there, regardless of whether you're in a city hall environment or part of a community development corporation."
McCall believes that it offers an unparalleled level of on-the-ground training.
That first position also trained her for her current role as chief of government affairs for Jackson, who is now in his third term as Cleveland mayor. As the city's chief lobbyist, McCall's duties range from the cultural to the political. It's all about building relationships and opportunities, McCall says.
She works on community development, serves on the boards of several organizations, including the American Public Transportation Association, Opera Cleveland and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum; represents the mayor on such boards as the Northeast Ohio Mayors & Managers Association; and is working on pitching the city as a 2016 convention site to the Democratic and Republican national committees.
"When you think about politics, Ohio is the swing state," she says, noting that no Republican has ever won the presidency without also winning Ohio. "It's a very important political state and Cleveland is the bedrock of politics."
And even with all of that, she's still not too busy to help an elderly lady get a birth certificate or validate parking for a couple to help them save a few of the dollars they need to spend on City Hall business and introduce them to the mayor as an added treat.
"I love and take pride in what I do," McCall said. "Of course, I think Cleveland is the best city in the whole world."
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