by Dwain Hebda
There’s been much said and written about Veronica Smith-Creer’s El Dorado mayoral win last fall – the city’s first woman mayor, the city’s first mayor of color – but the small businesswoman and community activist is more interested in what’s to come than in what’s in the past in her hometown.
“I think [my administration] gives an opportunity and voice to those who, for whatever reason, felt like they didn’t have one previously,” she said. “No disrespect to former administrations, but I think I bring a component to the table that they’ve not seen.”
Smith-Creer, a Democrat, says her previous work in the community makes her a familiar face and therefore more approachable to others. She also said her status as, in her words a “minority minority”, bridges various demographics in new ways.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a lot of different people on a lot of different levels, and I think the fact that I continue to stay very visible in the community gives people an ease to be able to talk to me about different situations,” she says.
“They may feel like they can be a part of some of the solutions where maybe they didn’t have that feeling in the past. I think that that’s a humungous opportunity for people to feel like they have a voice.”
Last year’s mayoral contest was significant on multiple fronts, and not just for the outcome. Smith-Creer’s run against Republican Bill Luther was amiable throughout and provided a foreshadowing of the type of community-building she wants her mayoral tenure to represent.
“If you just looked at us at face value, we couldn’t be any more opposite,” she says. “But we worked together well before we decided to both run for mayor. We both maintained that no matter who won, El Dorado would get an amazing mayor,”
“[Luther] has since taken on the role as president of our local chamber, so with economic development, he and I continue to work together. That has been a great asset to our city to have both of us still in those leadership roles.”
As the hubbub of the historic win died down, Smith-Creer settled into the often-unglamorous business of running a city, fixing streets, planning utilities. She says growth is the beacon by which she is setting the course for City Hall, growth that goes beyond the high-profile Murphy Arts District that continues to transform this town built on oil.
“Our Murphy Arts District is a great tool, it’s a great benefit to the city. And, of course, it works well with the city,” she says. “But there’s also that piece where sometimes when something’s in your hometown, you don’t support it as much as you should. There’s so much more to El Dorado than our award-winning downtown and the Murphy Arts District. There are a lot of small businesses that aren’t downtown that we have to be mindful to support.”
Housing and education are other priorities for Smith-Creer, things that sometimes get overlooked because of the health of Main Street and the presence of the groundbreaking El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program which guarantees every local high school graduate a college education. The mayor said these tools represent opportunities for individuals, but it’s up to city leaders to leverage these individual outcomes for the good of the city as a whole.
“We have the El Dorado Promise, something that has been very beneficial to our city. We have a community college. We have the education in place,” she sys. “Sometimes we need to be shining a bigger light on that and making sure that we’re doing the things after that to make sure they come back.”
“As far as housing is concerned, we have all of these amazing things to get people here, but they have to have some place to live once they get here. So that’s huge as well. And, you want to make sure that people are living in a standard that depicts what we want our city to represent. I believe as far as housing is concerned, it’s not just having somewhere to live, but making sure you can take pride in that community.”
Smith-Creer’s margin of victory was just 87 votes – 2,447 to 2,360 – and winning with just 50.4 percent of the vote, it’s perhaps not surprising that not everyone has completely embraced the new era her election ushered in. Two-thirds of the way into her first year in office, she said she’s experienced “a little bit of all of the above” as far as working relationships in the community.
“I cannot say that everyone is happy for me being mayor, but I’m everyone’s mayor,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what part of town you live in, I take great pride in the fact that I try to show up and be very visible at events no matter who it is, no matter where it is, no matter what the function is.”
“Whether you voted for me or not, I’m still your mayor and I still want to do a good job for everyone.”
Image courtesy of Veronica Smith-Creer