Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ronayne: county executive or council?

Right after Issue 6 passed, buzz gathered around Chris Ronayne as a potential county executive candidate. The gregarious, energetic president of University Circle, Inc. got behind county reform in a big way this fall, pitching Issue 6 on the debate circuit. That fit his reputation for innovative ideas, dating back to his time in the Campbell Administration. He told reporters in November he was exploring a run for the county's new top job.

Then, last week, Ronayne told Henry Gomez he's still looking at the county executive race, but he's also considering a run for county council. That seemed significant, so I put in my own call.

"I'd like to be involved," Ronayne told me. He's assessing "which level, if any, I should go at."

Running for the 11-member council would be a less daunting leap for Ronayne. He's never run for office before, so it's unknown how voters would react to him -- or how he'd react to the pressures of a high-stakes county-wide campaign. He lives in Cleveland's Edgewater neighborhood, and campaigning in the council district there (the light green one on this map) might be a more manageable challenge. (Former state Sen. Dan Brady and former city councilman Nelson Cintron may also run in that district, Gomez reports today.)

Also, right now, much of Ronayne's appeal is in his potential. Four years at University Circle have given him executive experience. But Ronayne might be able to add to his list of accomplishments by remaining UCI's president while serving on the part-time council.

"I need to evaluate what we're doing out at UCI," Ronayne tells me. "If we have an agenda that's robust [over the next] three or four years, [joining the council is] another option to stay substantially involved."

The county executive job still appeals to Ronayne's instincts as a former city and county planner. "We have the opportunity to turn Cuyahoga County around," he says. "This job is an organizational turnaround, but it’s also a place turnaround. What interests me is turning around places."

But the council's tasks look good to him too. By overseeing budget and personnel, it can push for greater efficiency and more economic development, he says.

"Either [job] is important," Ronayne says. "You can’t have the new county system without a good county council."

He says he, like other possible candidates, will likely make his decision by March.

It looks like Ronayne will run for something. (Check out his new Facebook page, where you can "become a fan" of his.) I won't write off the possibility that he'll run for executive if the Democratic primary field looks weak or unexciting by March. But it sounds like he's tempering his ambitions a notch and aiming for the county council race.

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