Meet Rafael

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Rafael Ortega is the Ramsey County Commissioner in District 5, representing Saint Paul neighborhoods of Downtown, Highland Park, Macalester Groveland, Railroad Island, West Seventh, West Side, Capitol Heights, and Dayton’s Bluff.

Rafael grew up in the Lower East Side of New York City and learned first-hand the importance of transit, education and libraries in providing access to everyone. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham University in New York City before coming to Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Minnesota in 1981.

Roots in Community Leadership

Rafael was a front-line social worker before becoming an Outreach Director for Minnesota Council of Churches. From 1985 to 1995, he served as the Executive Director of CLUES (Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio), a Twin Cities social service agency that grew under his leadership 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 an independent licensed clinical social worker.

Ramsey County Board

Rafael became the first member of a minority group to be elected to the Ramsey County Board and the first Latino elected to a County Board in Minnesota in 1994. He has been elected by a wide majority in every election since then. He served as Chair of the Board for five years throughout his time as a Commissioner, and has served as Chair of the Regional Rail Authority for over a decade.

Commissioner Ortega is focused on protecting Ramsey County’s most vulnerable residents, building a great transportation network in Minnesota, and making sure that Ramsey County delivers the best service in a cost-effective way. As a Chair of the Facilities Committee, Rafael took the lead on making county facilities fuel-efficient and environmentally sound. He has also become a recognized leader on transit in the metro area over his time on the County Board, particularly in his role as Chair of the Regional Rail Authority. He has frequently spoken on MPR and contributed to the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, and community papers. His work, and the work of all the communities and leaders who have been pushing for shared goals, has paid off for Ramsey County. In 2014, he received the Progress Minnesota Lifetime Achievement Award from 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.

Projects Ahead

Rafael continues to show leadership in transit with his work on various projects in Ramsey County. These include the Gateway Gold Line, Rush Line, the passenger rail to Chicago, and notably the Riverview Corridor streetcar.

His top priorities currently are to build a great Riverview Corridor streetcar line which will connect Union Depot with MSP International Airport and the Mall of America.

He is leading the site redevelopment of the 427-acre Rice Creek Commons (formerly the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant) in Arden Hills to get it back on the tax rolls for the first time in a generation.

Rafael has been a champion of the development of the Riverfront Properties since elected in 1994. This is a project that is finally coming to fruition: a recent Request for Development was submitted in November 2017. This is a nearly five-acre site located along the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Saint Paul.


Under Commissioner Ortega’s leadership, Ramsey County:

  • Opened Saint Paul’s Union Depot, Minnesota’s transportation center, in 2012, making it a state-of-the-art multi-modal transit hub serving the Green Line LRT, AMTRAK, Jefferson Lines, Greyhound and all our local bus lines.
  • The Riverview Corridor Policy Advisory Committee chose the modern streetcar from the Union Depot to the airport more or less along West 7th and across the river on or near the 5 bridge as the locally preferred alternative.
  • Built the Roseville Library, the state’s busiest, to LEED Gold Standard, reducing operating costs and preserving limited resources.
  • With mental health and chemical dependency experts and local hospitals, created “402 University”, an award-winning, first of its kind facility that delivers these critical services under one roof.
  • Remains one of only 39 counties in the US to maintain a triple-A bond rating while delivering a 0% property tax levy increase in 2014.
  • Funded the building of 4,000 units of housing, including parts of the Gateway in Highland Park, the Upper Landing on Shepard, the American House downtown, Passages on West 7th, and Homes for Learning in Dayton’s Bluff.
  • Did critical site cleanup for Sholom Home East on West 7th in Highland Park, paving the way for what the Star Tribune calls the “future of nursing homes.”
  • Merged the Ramsey County 800 Mhz Emergency Dispatch Center with the City of Saint Paul to protect the safety of the county and save taxpayers more than $6 million.
  • Merged county and city public health and jail facilities.


Rafael has lived in Ramsey County District 5 for more than 30 years.  Commissioner Ortega is the proud parent of two children; Gabriela, a graduate of the University of Saint Thomas and El Sol Director for the Northern Star Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and Emilio, a graduate of Central High School who is attending Winona State.

Boards and Commissions

In addition to his professional work, Ortega is very active serving on community and civic boards including the Greater MSP Regional Economic Partnership, the Riverfront Corporation, and the National Association of Social Workers.  He also serves on a number of transit boards and committees helping to shape Twin Cities transportation for generations to come.

Transportation Committees

Co-Chair – Gateway Corridor Commission
Corridor Partnership Executive Committee National Association of County Officials
Chair – Riverview Corridor Policy Advisory Committee

County Leadership

Chair – Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority
Ramsey County Audit Committee
Chair – Ramsey County Facilities Committee
Vice Chair – Joint Development Authority-Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP)
Association of Minnesota Counties Board of Directors
Association of Minnesota Counties District X Executive Committee

Community Organizations

Greater MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership
Northern Star Council Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors
Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project
Metropolitan Energy Policy Coalition
Joint Property Tax Advisory Committee
Merrick Community Center
Landmark Center Board
Former Member – Lifetrack Resources
Former Member – National Council of La Raza Former Member – Rainbow Research Inc. Former Treasurer – West Side Citizens Organization
Former Board Member – United Family Practice Health Center
Former Board Member – YMCA of Greater Saint Paul
Former Member-Greater MSP Regional Economic Development Partnership
Former Member-Regions Hospital Board

Prepared and Paid for by Friends for Ortega – 929 Summit Ave, #1, Saint Paul, MN 55105