The people’s choice: Cameron Smyth

FILE PHOTO Mayor Cameron Smyth puts on his old letterman's from Hart High School at the end of the State of the City Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

There are few people who know Santa Clarita as well as Cameron Smyth.

He was raised in the Santa Clarita Valley, attending all local schools, including “the” Hart High School, as he calls it.

Smyth knew the city before it was officially a city, learning about the area’s politics from his dad, Clyde Smyth, who served as the Hart district’s superintendent, and later as a city councilmember.

Against his will, Cameron Smyth was dragged to the city’s first ever council meeting as a high schooler. He would have rather been anywhere else, likely sporting his letterman’s jacket around town, touting his spot as wide receiver on the football team.

Though he couldn’t have cared any less at the time, Smyth was building his portfolio of Santa Clarita knowledge that would later come in handy as a three-term city councilman.

And, he’s become the community’s all-time favorite member of the council, according to a recent anonymous survey issued by The Signal. Smyth received twice as many votes as the person who came in second place.

“A homegrown guy,” one respondent said, “really connects with the community and knows the issues.”

Getting his start

Smyth didn’t consider politics, or even like them, until he returned home from graduating college to help his dad work on his father’s City Council campaign.

Though, the competitive aspect of running for office reminded him a bit of sports.

“Election day is just like game day,” he said. “You get those pre-kickoff jitters right before the polls close.”

His interest in politics happened organically. After his dad’s campaign, he worked as a field representative for Congressman Pete Knight.

Cameron Smyth then served a term and a half on the city council from 2000-06 before being elected to the State Assembly, where he served from 2006-12, and sat as the chair of the Local Government Committee.

When he was first elected in 2000, he was the youngest ever to win a Santa Clarita City Council seat, and he didn’t have any children, yet. Back then, he said he was much more politically driven, but having a family shifted his priorities.

“I am much more interested in the policy issues and just truly getting things done for the city,” Smyth said.

The Smyth clan personifies a large portion of Santa Clarita’s demographic of young families, which was part of Smyth’s motivation for running again in 2016.

“I thought it was important to have someone who could provide that perspective and is living the life of the majority of Santa Clarita residents,” he said.

Because he is raising his family, Smyth knows the importance of parks, recreation, schools and safety, according to former Mayor Laurie Ender.

“Cameron has a heart for families and the community,” Ender said. “He has been outspoken about controversial issues, and is not afraid to take a stand for what he believes is best for the entire community.”

Of the current council members, Smyth is the only one with a full-time day job. His role as associate vice president of state affairs for Molina Healthcare company requires him to regularly travel across the country.

He couldn’t maintain his position on the council, with all the events and meetings that go with the role, if he didn’t have the support of his employer and family, he said.

“He advocates for family and community perspectives,” another survey respondent said. “He’s reasonable, approachable and active in community events.”

Having an impact

Smyth cites his proudest council accomplishment as combatting Blue Barrel trash service over allegations of overcharging residents, during his first term.

At the time, the council voted to grant the company a 10-year contract. The Signal’s staff later investigated and found taxpayers were being overcharged tens of millions of dollars.

When the issue came back to the council, Smyth cast the deciding vote that stopped the overcharging.

“Cameron cast the difficult deciding vote,” said Leon Worden, who at the time served as The Signal’s city editor. “As a result of our investigative reporting and Cameron’s leadership, the city was able to save the taxpayers $30 million.”

Smyth loves this element of having a direct impact on the people who live in the city, varying from big issues like the contract or other areas of change, whether it be parks, roads, the Aquatic Center or Veterans Historical Plaza.

“In local government, what you see is the impact of your decision,” he said. “I love that degree of accountability.”

This year, Smyth has been instrumental in founding the city’s ad hoc committee on homelessness, which seeks to bring community members and service providers together to decide on best steps for attaining needed funding and ultimately eliminating homelessness.

The hardest part of his job on the council is telling people “no,” he said, so he always listens to someone’s perspective in hopes he can give them a “yes.”

“As long as people feel they were heard and you gave them an opportunity to present their position, even if you disagree, they might not be happy, but they can’t deny that at least you were open to hearing about it,” Smyth said.

Ultimately, the councilman hopes he conveys his sincerity. He learned to be authentic from his dad and to be empathetic from his mom, he said.

But the signature humor he uses to lighten each council meeting is his own, he said.

“Sometimes, bringing humor into the job enables people to be more receptive to your message,” he said. “While I take the job very seriously, I don’t take myself as seriously.”

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