Campbell, the daughter of former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches Joan Brown Campbell, and retired partner at Squire, Sanders and Dempsey Paul Barton Campbell, was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She attended Shaker Heights High School and earned her undergraduate degree in American History at the University of Michigan and a Master's in Urban Studies at Cleveland State University. She married urban planner Hunter Morrison, who is the head of Youngstown State University's Office of Campus Planning and Community Partnerships and is currently redeveloping Youngstown, Ohio through its Youngstown 2010 renewal plan. Campbell and Morrison have two daughters, Jessica and Catherine Campbell-Morrison. The couple divorced in 2008.
Prior to elected office, Campbell began her early career by holding leadership roles in several community organizations and advocacy groups. In 1975, she founded WomenSpace, a coalition of women’s organizations that, in addition to promoting the creation of Ohio’s first shelter for battered women, helped identify and promote women for community and government leadership.
Soon after in 1979, she worked as National Field Director for ERAmerica in Washington, D.C., coordinating national support for state coalitions supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. In the early 80s, as the executive director of the Friends of Shaker Square, a neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, Campbell managed economic development, organized security patrols and expanded the historic district.
Campbell's political career began in 1984, when she was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. She was reelected five times, and chosen by her colleagues as the majority whip and later the assistant minority leader. Legislative leaders across the country elected her to serve as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures in 1996. Campbell authored numerous laws that included tax incentives for economic development, financing for Cleveland Browns Stadium, Gateway complex (now Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena), authorizing prosecution of abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled people, creating a statewide review of child deaths, reforming juvenile justice, and establishing child support guidelines and penalties.
Campbell was also appointed to work with the Clinton administration on a small intergovernmental group made up of governors, mayors, county officials, and state legislators on the Welfare Reform effort of the mid 90s.
In 1996 she was elected Cuyahoga County commissioner, a position to which she was reelected in 2000. As commissioner, she transformed the county welfare department into Cuyahoga Work and Training, the agency charged with implementing the federal welfare reform law. This reformed agency assisted over 20,000 families in moving from welfare to work between 1997 and 2001. Campbell also brokered a new public–private alliance for workforce training, and developed training academies at Cuyahoga Community College to provide job training to dislocated workers. She also led the drive to create Cuyahoga County’s first Brownfield Loan Fund in conjunction with seven local banks to redevelop abandoned industrial and commercial sites. To date, this fund has generated over $50M in private investment.
While serving as commissioner, she continued her national involvement, presiding over both the Welfare Reform: Next Step Task Force for the National Association of Counties and the association’s Human Services and Youth committee.
In November 2001, Campbell won the Cleveland mayoral election with 54% of the vote, defeating former Clinton administration official and attorney Raymond Pierce, who received 46% of votes. She took office on January 1, 2002, becoming the city's first female mayor.
In office, Campbell inherited a $60 million budget deficit and a city government in financial turmoil. In just one year, she stabilized the city's budget without a tax increase;; however, some city services endured cutbacks and the following year she had to lay off many city employees in order to maintain financial stability.
One of her political accomplishments was bringing the Lakefront Plan to the forefront of regional awareness, a plan that emphasized Lake Erie as the region's most valuable asset and a vital element for revitalization in Downtown Cleveland.
Throughout her four years, Campbell worked with other levels of government and the private sector to initiate nearly $3 billion of investments for urban development and redevelopment projects. By 2005, several of these projects were underway, including Steelyard Commons (a Brownfield-turned-shopping center, opened Sept. 2007), Gordon Square Arts District, Battery Park (redeveloped Eveready Battery Plant), The Avenue District, Fourth Street redevelopment, and Euclid Avenue rapid transit corridor.
Also under her administration, Ohio's first state of the art Emergency Operations Center was built, and in 2004, Cleveland became the first city in the country to host the International Children's Games.
Ethics of the city government dominated the headlines for much of Campbell's term. During Campbell’s mayoralty, the federal corruption investigation continued of the prior city administration, resulting in subsequent convictions of two of the former Mayor’s confidantes.
In 2005, Intel named Cleveland as one of the "World’s Digital Communities" in 2005, after Campbell set the stage for using technology as a platform for innovative economic development.
On October 4, 2005, after serving one term as mayor, Campbell came in second to Frank G. Jackson, president of Cleveland City Council, in a field of seven candidates in the non-partisan mayoral primary. Only 16% of Cleveland's population participated in the primary, the lowest voter turnout in the city's history. In the November 8, 2005 general election, Jackson defeated Campbell by 55% to 45%. At 11:25 pm (EST), she conceded to Jackson, who became the city's mayor on January 2, 2006.
After leaving office, Campbell accepted a short-term position at Harvard University as part of a fellowship with the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her teaching covered issues in city governance and Ohio politics. She taught at the school during the spring of 2006.
From 2006 to 2009, she served as managing director of public-private partnerships for Colliers Ostendorf-Morris, in Cleveland’s Colliers International office.
In January 2009, it was announced that Campbell would become chief of staff to Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Campbell is now the Director of the Washington Office of the National Development Council (NDC), and President of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP).