According to Valarie J. McCall, chief of Government & International Affairs for Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson and current chair of APTA, Cleveland is the greatest place in the whole world.
And it’s a city that has done McCall well. Her magnet high school focused on public service, which prepared her for her bachelor’s degree in social work and master’s in public administration. Not to mention the two honorary doctorate degrees she’s received.
During her schooling, McCall held several jobs she feels were important in preparing her for the positions she holds today. Her first job was at McDonald’s, a position that made her entirely reliant on public transit to get to and from work. There, she learned the value of customer service and how important it is to show up on time, ready to work. More than a first job, it was a job she greatly enjoyed, and where she first learned to manage people.
She left McDonald’s to begin her career as a public servant, working first at a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and then, as a social worker for at-risk children. Working to get kids out of unsafe homes taught her how prevalent domestic violence is across the income spectrum and gave her a perspective from both the youth and adult side.
“[Those jobs] showed me so much more. It showed me what it looks like when you can’t go home, and what violence looks like. People who are rebuilding themselves all the time,” she says.
After that, McCall began her civic work doing business development at a nonprofit called “Midtown Cleveland.” Next, she was hired to work at Cleveland City Hall by then-Mayor Michael White as the youngest director of the federally-funded Empowerment Zone. Eleven years later, she gets to be involved with everything from the biggest projects to the smallest resident issues in the city.
A recurring theme in McCall’s work has been advocating for public transportation. She works very closely with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to ensure the success of citywide events including the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC)and the International Children’s Games.
Cleveland has also recently hosted the Gay Games, which McCall was acting leader for. Another success is Cleveland reclaiming the Rock and Roll induction ceremonies. McCall also planned the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship parade through the city. Her involvement also led to securing the 2016 RNC for Cleveland. McCall explains that coordinating the convention took a huge amount of cross-agency and business community collaboration because of its massive scale.
“Every meeting we had about the RNC, RTA was at the table with us. It was a community effort. They are usually my first call with any major event,” she explains.
McCall values her position with the city because of the opportunity it affords her to positively impact the lives of the average Clevelander. “Every day I’m motivated to do the next great thing to put Cleveland on the map. Taking care of our community is what matters,” she says.
On top of McCall’s demanding nine-to-five, she serves as the Chairwoman of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). McCall cut her APTA teeth as a Transit Board member, and those seminars are vital, she feels. APTA has the chance to set policy for transit nationally, and potentially, influence transit organizations abroad, too.
“It’s so important to share those practices, those experiences,” McCall says. “There are all kinds of people involved. Business leaders, transit CEOs, policy members, Transit Board members; you name it.”
And the support APTA sees from the U.S. Department of Transportation has been invaluable to the development of the organization in the last year. McCall explains that a national relationship for local transit agencies helps them become trendsetters in the industry. Plus, she has helped the organization examine its internal and external practices. “It really made us take a good hard look at how we play in the sandbox together. How we can get to our best selves,” she says.
When she’s not wearing her multiple hats, McCall enjoys traveling, taking care of her poodle, and spending time with her 95-year-old “sidekick” grandmother.