Ann Campbell is testament to the fact that things don’t always turn out the way you plan.

Campbell has been mayor of Ames since 2006. At the end of her current term in 2017, she will have spent nearly 30 years in elected office. She was a member of the Ames City Council from 1986 to 2001.

It would seem that she set a firm path. Not so.

“If you had asked me 30 years ago what my game plan was, this was not it,” Campbell said.

She grew up in the newspaper business. But again, it would be a mistake to guess that she wanted to be a journalist, although she has been a publisher.

Teaching was her passion 30 years ago. She taught in Thailand, then in Boston, finally at Des Moines Area Community College.

In the early 1980s, when the city had a bare-bones bus system, Campbell was asked to chair a committee made up of representatives from City Hall, residents, Iowa State University student government and the ISU administration.

There was no rule book at the time for how such a diverse body was supposed to operate, but with Campbell, who was chairing the group, a plan was fashioned that led to a citywide mass transit system that today carries more than 6 million passengers about the city and through the campus. Even an out-of-towner probably has heard of the system, which is called CyRide.

“We were extraordinarily lucky in that it came at a time when the feds were much more generous than they are now, both in operations as well as capital, and gas prices were high,” Campbell said. “We had players who were not territorial. … I can’t claim credit for that, other than being a traffic cop and spokesperson.”

In 1986, Campbell was asked to campaign for the seat of a City Council member who was stepping down. She held that seat for the next 15 years. She was elected mayor in 2006.

During her career, the city forged a strong bond with the university. 

“Our relationship with the university, I learn as I meet with the mayors of other cities that have universities, is a remarkably cooperative one,” Campbell said.

Sustainability has been a key goal during Campbell’s tenure as mayor. In 2007, she joined with other mayors from around the country in signing the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.

On the other hand, she hasn’t been hanging many trophies on her wall at City Hall, a place she calls her natural environment.

“These are not my achievements,” she said. “I’ve been lucky to be a player either on the front lines or the sidelines as these things have been happening. … I look on my job as mayor to be more of a facilitator; sometimes I do better than others.”

Three areas of influence

Prior to being elected to the Ames City Council in 1986, Campbell chaired the Transit Board Advisory Committee, which eventually led to the formation of the CyRide public transit system.

After suffering a heart attack and being resuscitated through the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), she used the experience to educate others about the importance of AED training and understanding the signs of heart disease.

At the end of her current terms as mayor, Campbell will have completed 28 years of public service as an elected city official. She served on the City Council from 1986 to 2001 and has served as mayor since her election in 2006.