Sharetta Smith tried not to make a big deal Tuesday about being both the first Black and the first woman to be elected as the mayor of Lima. It’s evident though she’s proud of what she’s accomplished and who she’s become, as she should be.
Her election victory was not only historic but inspirational.
It was about life choices, of getting a “do over” and doing it better.
It was also about believing anything can be accomplished through hard work and perseverance.
More so, it was about believing in oneself.
Those lessons will be tantamount as at the age of 43, she takes over for Mayor David Berger, a man whose 32 years as mayor is nearly as long as she’s been alive. She was in grade school when Berger became mayor in 1989.
In so many ways, Smith’s story is a Lima story.
It was the steel factories of the city’s south side that lured both of her grandparents from Alabama to Lima in search of a better life. Her dad was a laborer and her mom worked on an assembly line. Part of her childhood was spent living with her two sisters and parents in an 800-square foot home.
Her dad would end up spending seven years in prison on drug charges. As for Sharetta, she would have her first child at 18 and two more before she turned 21. Both she and her father realized life could not go on this way, and each turned their life around.
Sharetta worked, raised her children and went to college, receiving a law degree in Chatanooga, Tenn., where she also became a magistrate. In the process, though, she became overburdened by debt and was the subject of a series of lawsuits.
Smith told The Lima News the lawsuits were a result of several things — poor decisions made as a young adult, her struggle to better herself by obtaining a law degree, and health issues involving herself and her children. She said she has not shirked her responsibilities in paying back that debt.
“Some will argue that my personal financial challenges disqualify me from public office. I disagree, and I believe the 80% of Americans who are in debt — the four out of five Americans who also owe money — would disagree as well,” she said.
Lima has been a hard-beaten city, and people understood her explanation. Voters turned out to be a forgiving bunch — for now. It’s a safe bet her ability to manage a $34.3 million general fund budget will be closely scrutinized.
Also on the watch list will be Lima’s crime problem, code enforcement and housing issues. All were targeted by her opponent, Elizabeth Hardesty, during what was a bitter election that at times split the community.
We were glad to see Hardesty congratulate Smith during a phone call after the final results were tabulated. She also challenged the community, telling The Lima News, the city has “great people and hopefully the Lima community can grow, which it hasn’t recently, and they can bring some new business, good-paying jobs, which we haven’t had happen. The downside is I think I learned that Lima doesn’t want change.”
Smith said that even after working for the previous administration, changes will be coming.
“I’m looking forward to really looking at how we run the day-to-day operations of city government and changing things up a little bit,” she said. “So the very first thing is the transition team, which I’ll be announcing in a couple of weeks, and Lima will see that we’re ready to lead on day one.”
Smith will take office on Dec. 1.