COLUMBUS-Yvette McGee Brown was not immediately on board when Gov. Ted Strickland's team first approached her about joining the Democratic ticket as his No. 2.
But then Mr. Strickland asked Ms. Brown, the president of a Columbus nonprofit organization targeting child abuse and former juvenile court judge, what it would take to get her excited about filling the void created when Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher began his U.S. Senate bid.
"I already had a $30 million budget," she said. "I had 400 employees. I had already built an organization from the ground up. … But then I started thinking about the cities."
She said "yes," wanting to be Mr. Strickland's city czar, focusing on the economic, education, and crime problems of Ohio's urban centers. "My focus on cities is really about providing opportunity like I was given," she said. "That's infrastructure, economic development, public education, health care. All of the states' policies can have a direct impact on people's lives."
Ohioans don't directly choose their lieutenant governors, who run with the top of the ticket.
The daughter of an unwed teen mother, Ms. Brown credits the sacrifices her mother and grandmother made to put her on the path to college, law school, the bench, nonprofit work, and a shot at a job that would put her within a heartbeat of leading the nation's seventh-largest state.
"So many of our kids are born into situations they didn't ask for," she said. "I was one of the lucky ones. I could have been a statistic. When I was born in 1960, all of the demographics surrounding my birth say there's no reason that I'm in this place. …
"My grandmother was a constant in our life," Ms. Brown said. "I always say that I got lucky, because my mom was 18 when I was born, unmarried, and poor. My grandmother demanded that my mother take care of me."
After law school, Ms. Brown went to work at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and then became chief legal counsel to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and then the Department of Youth Services.
After seeing children behind bars, she took aim at Franklin County Common Pleas Court's juvenile court division in 1993, defeating the appointed Republican incumbent. But after eight years on the bench, the wife and mother of three felt close to burnout and ready for a change.
"I wasn't able to turn it off when I got home," she said. "I couldn't forget some of the horrific things that I saw or heard. I had parents who'd murdered their 2-year-old and buried them in the floorboards of their kitchen or children who'd been violently raped, or innocent people who'd been killed because they'd got in the middle of a gang war.
"It was really hard to come home at the end of the day and just take that off and go into your own life."
She said she was eager to become the founding president of Nationwide Children's Hospital's new nonprofit Center for Child and Family Advocacy in 2002.
"They had a plan," she said. "They wanted to create a one-stop for child abuse, because many child abuse victims ended up sitting in the emergency room for six, eight hours waiting on police officers or children's services to arrive. …
"Like that old proverb in the Bible, instead of being downstream pulling kids out of the river, I was going to be upstream to see who was throwing them in."
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