Rafael E. Ortega, District 5
Serving residents of the following communities:
Saint Paul neighborhoods of Downtown, Highland Park, Macalester Groveland, Railroad Island, West Seventh, West Side, Capitol Heights and Dayton's Bluff.
Commissioner Rafael E. Ortega is a progressive champion for Ramsey County who is working to build a better transit system in Saint Paul, redevelop key properties to create jobs, housing and regional centers, and protect and improve the lives of our most vulnerable residents. He grew up poor in the tenements of New York City, got a master’s degree and served as a social worker and nonprofit leader for more than a decade before serving as a county commissioner. He is driven by a passion to make our community even stronger and more vibrant, building partnerships with the nonprofit and business communities, and with other government agencies.
Since 2020, in the face of the worst health and economic crisis in a century, he has chaired the Ramsey County Food Security Committee; efficiently spending $9 million in federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) money providing meals for children no longer attending school and isolated adults suffering from COVID-19. He and the Ramsey County team were also able to provide critical income for culturally specific restaurants while making sure residents had access to beloved, healthy food. Commissioner Ortega and the Food Security Team also provided a food resources map for residents.
Another monumental challenge of 2020 in Ramsey County was homelessness. Scarce housing, high costs and increased unemployment worsened an already urgent problem. Ramsey County leadership checked every homeless encampment every day and when winter hit, were able to move hundreds of people into safe shelters. Rafael worked with county leaders and community partners to open two large homeless shelters in his district, the former Bethesda Hospital near the State Capitol, and the Provincial House near the campus of St. Catherine University.
Commissioner Ortega’s history
Rafael never forgets his youth in the tenements of New York City and that shapes his understanding of people’s fundamental needs and dreams to live successful, happy lives. This understanding and ability to listen to the issues of people struggling in the poorest neighborhoods in Saint Paul gives him invaluable insight. Rafael was a front-line social worker before becoming an outreach director for Minnesota Council of Churches. As founder and later CEO of CLUES, (Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio), he grew this Twin Cities social service agency from a $100,000 organization to one with a $3 million budget serving more than 15,000 clients that is thriving today. Rafael is still a licensed independent clinical social worker.
Rafael became the first member of a minority group to be elected to the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and the first Latino elected to a county board in Minnesota in 1994. He has served in almost every leadership position at the board.
Commissioner Ortega is recognized as a leader on transit in our metro area throughout his time on the county board, particularly in his role as Chair of the Regional Rail Authority which led the major investment in light rail and the Union Depot hub. He has spoken on MPR and contributed to the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and community papers about transit and economic development.
Rafael served as a co-chair on both the Green and Blue Line committees and is currently working to build the Riverview Corridor streetcar connecting the Union Depot to the airport and the Mall of America, the Gold Line to Woodbury, the Rush Line to White Bear Lake and get a second passenger train from Chicago.
County Commissioner Ortega received the Progress Minnesota Lifetime Achievement Award from the Finance and Commerce newspaper for his work on job creation, business development, and the overall economic health of the Twin Cities and the entire state. He is deeply involved in building a vibrant Saint Paul, even as we still battle COVID-19.
Rafael is the champion of the Riversedge development project on the Mississippi between the Wabasha bridge and the Science Museum. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity on the nearly five-acre site which will provide needed housing and office space and increase affordable housing in the region.
He is also working to redevelop the 427-acre Rice Creek Commons (formerly the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant) in Arden Hills to build more crucial housing and job centers and get it back on the tax rolls for the first time in a generation, spreading taxes more equitably across the county and proportionately decreasing the tax burden on other residential and commercial properties.