COLUMBIA — Pam Forbes is familiar with struggle.
She’s worked as a waitress. She’s worked as a cashier. She’s worked at a hotel. All as a single parent supporting her daughter.
“There were times when my daughter ate and I didn’t,” Forbes said.
And there were times when she simply couldn’t find a job.
“It was awful,” she said. “I was living on the edge of town when I ended up being unemployed, and I would get on the only bus into town and fill out applications.”
Eventually she found employment at Schneider Electric as a toolmaker in 1978, sending her daughter to day care while she worked.
Forbes doesn’t complain, though. In fact, she views her life experience as an opportunity to help others.
“I have a heart to help people, to serve people,” she said. “And maybe that can be seen, I don’t know. But if I see an injustice, it’s like an inclination I have to help people.”
Forbes said she sees those inequalities every day in the First Ward. Her life experience and natural affinity for helping people gives her a unique opportunity in her community.
She is one of four candidates on the April 5 ballot for the First Ward City Council seat being vacated by Paul Sturtz.
“I know the history of some of the issues, and I have experienced some of the problems that people of low income and fixed income have,” she said.
Her first political action was opposing the nuclear plant in Callaway County in 1984. She and others felt the plant was dangerous and needed to be responsible for its nuclear waste. Forbes said she helped with Proposition B on the November 1984 ballot to prevent electric companies from charging customers for the plant’s electricity costs until a disposal site was built.
Although the proposition failed with 70 percent of voters, it triggered a series of community projects for Forbes.
In 2004, she broke her leg when she fell off a scaffold while painting as a volunteer. Confined to a wheelchair and cooped up in her house, Forbes again felt the need to get involved.
“I was home for three months, and during that time there was a presidential election, and I rolled my wheelchair into the Democratic Headquarters and told them I wanted to help,” she said. “They put me on call lists, so I just made phone calls for probably two months.”
Forbes’ personal and past political experiences compelled her to try to make a change in city government by running for the First Ward council seat.
For Forbes, First Ward problems are manifested in public safety and infrastructure.
“As far as crime is concerned, it’s my personal belief that we need to start with the kids as young as we can and get them mentors, get people who will be in their lives," she said. "And it’s not saying parents aren’t doing their jobs, but when you’re a single working parent, it’s hard to know everything that’s going on in your child’s life.”
Forbes is also running on a platform to improve infrastructure. As a member of the Community Development Commission, she’s seen flaws in development projects.
“I’ve seen infrastructure is a problem in the First Ward,” Forbes said. “And the fact that those issues have been neglected while we’ve been advancing developers’ interests and the university’s interests and the people that make money off the city while ignoring the sewers and streets is not right.”
Forbes wants to make it right.