George Voinovich hasn’t changed much in 31 years. That’s clear from a moment in his recent Washington Post interview when he recalled his 10 years at Cleveland City Hall.
“When I was the mayor, shooting for those All American City Awards each year was a real motivator,” he said. “And it never would have happened without the private sector and urban pioneers helping us rebuild a city where Cleveland used to be.”
He’s echoing a line from his 1979 run for mayor: “I want to build a great city where Cleveland used to be.” It’s a line I quote in “The Great Divide,” my piece on Voinovich in Cleveland Magazine’s December issue.
My story describes how Voinovich realigned Cleveland politics as mayor by introducing the phrase “public-private partnership” into our vocabulary. In the 30 years since, our biggest arguments haven’t been between conservatives and liberals. They’ve been about whether you see Cleveland the way Voinovich did, especially whether you’re for or against big public-private projects downtown, from Gateway to the Rock Hall to the Medical Mart. The Post interview picks up on Voinovich’s ideology, asking him how he’ll be involved in public-private partnerships after he retires from the Senate Jan. 2.
In Washington, Voinovich will be remembered for his role as a deficit hawk and his moderate politics. He showed both streaks in this month’s climactic lame-duck session, blasting the Obama-Republican tax-cut compromise for running up more debt on one hand, and on the other, voting to allow gays to serve openly in the military and supporting the New Start arms control treaty.
At home in Cleveland, he’ll be remembered for his philosophy of partnership. Last week, when county executive-elect Ed FitzGerald created a task force of business executives to aid the transition to a new county government, his announcement explicitly referred to Voinovich’s 1980 task force that helped the city climb out of default. And the county charter calls for FitzGerald to sit down with representatives of labor, nonprofits and business to develop a new economic strategy for the region. Voinovich may be retiring, but his philosophy is written right into our new government.