Wednesday, November 5, 2014

After an easy win, will Armond Budish keep his promise?

Today, at Armond Budish’s first press conference after his victory in the Cuyahoga County executive race, I asked him to name the most difficult moment in his campaign.

He had to think.

“Waking up this morning at 5 a.m. to do a television interview,” Budish said finally, “after [being up] last night and being at the polls all day yesterday.”

Before Election Day, I doubt the guy lost much sleep. Budish was the race’s front-runner from start to finish, ever since Ed FitzGerald and other key Democrats anointed him as FitzGerald’s successor in May 2013.

Jack Schron, Budish’s Republican opponent, was well-qualified and ran a visible, pretty assertive race. That won Schron 41 percent of the vote -- the best performance in 10 years by a Republican sacrificial lamb in a countywide election.

Now Budish and Schron will have to co-exist. Schron ran for executive from a safe seat on the county council, and he chairs its economic development committee. Today, Budish suggested Schron could help with a goal both men share: matching county job training programs with available local jobs.

“[Schron] talked a lot about a business he created to train workers for the jobs that exist,” Budish said. “That’s certainly an area we need to focus on. I look forward to working with him.”

Continuity, not change, was the mood of the day. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” I heard a guy, probably a county employee, say just before the press conference.

Budish’s agenda sounds similar to FitzGerald’s. Today he announced he’s forming his transition team, with three panels to take on his major goals.

An economic growth team will work on attracting new businesses to the region, supporting small businesses, aligning jobs and training, and creating “pathways out of poverty for people who want to work hard.” A regional team will explore ways to make college more affordable, advance clean energy, and deal with foreclosed homes, infant mortality and the health of Lake Erie. A third team will aim to make the government more cost-effective and responsive.

Budish said it’s too early to talk about his cabinet. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll clean house.

“We’ll look at everybody. We'll look at people who are here. We'll look at others,” Budish said. “There’s no plan at this point for making changes. We’ll make changes as needed.”

On hiring, Budish faces a test. He’s a loyal, partisan Democrat with a lot of connections.

He’s taking over five years after voters’ revulsion at patronage and cronyism convinced them to create a new county government. Now, many voters have moved on to new concerns. It’d be easier today to stack a cabinet with party loyalists.

This spring, I asked Budish if he’d root out patronage as aggressively as FitzGerald.

“Absolutely,” he said.

I asked how he’d deal with job requests from political allies.

“Nobody has been promised anything, nor will anyone be promised anything, during this campaign,” Budish said. “Anybody who is hired for any job will only be hired if they are the most qualified person for that job.”

Many people who worked hard to break up the Democratic patronage machine five years ago are nervous about Budish's election. Now that he’s hiring, it’s time for the public and press to hold him to his promise.

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