Chris Ronayne Is Officially Running for Cuyahoga County Executive

The UCI president will run for county executive - Chris Ronayne Twitter
Chris Ronayne Twitter
The UCI president will run for county executive

University Circle Inc. President Chris Ronayne quietly announced over the July 4th weekend that he is indeed running for Cuyahoga County Executive.

How quiet was the announcement?

He simply tweeted a picture from the Parma holiday parade where he, his family and some friends were wearing campaign shirts.

Lamenting the direction of the county under two-term executive Armond Budish β€” who ran for re-election in 2018 unopposed, hasn't announced whether he'll seek a third term, and whose incumbency is a liability, not a strength β€” Ronayne told Scene over the weekend his decision was motivated by the scandals and shortcomings dotting Budish's tenure and his belief that he's the right choice at the right time.

"From my engagement this weekend with constituents β€” I'm getting a whole lot of feedback solicited and unsolicited β€” there's a feeling we're punching below our weight. Change doesn't happen without a change in leadership," he said. "I'm somebody who's not into politics for the advancement of the seat, I just want to get work done. I've been enjoying public service from a different perch these last 15 years at UCI, after being planning director for the city, and it's community building. It's what I do. This is an opportunity to scale what we've been doing across a broader landscape. I humbly believe I could do a good job. Everything's timing, and the timing is good for me right now, and I think for the county, the time is now."

While the campaign is in its infancy β€” Ronayne will work on establishing his platform as the 2022 primary season approaches β€” he's focused on some obvious topics to start, including bettering the region through basic competency, collaboration and transparency from the region's highest office.

"When talking to municipal leaders, there's pent-up frustration with the county as a partner," he said. "I see from younger residents a desire to be in a region that's on the move, whether it's quality of life advances, transportation, innovation and jobs, or whether it's about better climate practices. People are looking around at other parts of the world and saying, 'Why not here?'"

As the county continues its planning for a possible new jail facility, which could come with a $500 million pricetag, and as it enters into lease extension negotiations with the Cleveland baseball team for Progressive Field, which will likely be the subject of taxpayer-funded upgrades, Ronayne declined to stake a position on either topic but said the conversation starts with county government being honest with its residents.

"There's been inconsistent information about where we stand as a community with the county treasury, and I think there's been confusion about whether we have bond capacity or debt capacity, and we don't, or we do," he said. "I think we need transparency in our tax collection office and we need to really build a system openly so that we can prioritize our choices that'll get you down to conversations about jails and stadiums. We have to have a conversation with constituents about what we have and a dialogue about what we need or might want. And we need to take a step back and see how to seek revenue streams that aren't on the backs of taxpayers. We keep hearing about rainy day funds growing, not being depleted, and we need to talk about what our share of the pie should be."

On the jail front, though, Ronayne said the county's future plans need to reflect and respond to the conversations about race and justice that dominated 2020.

"There's an understandable friction after a year of reckoning, a conversation many years deferred, and we're having the conversations we should have been having decades ago β€” we should have had them here in the 1960s β€” and this is an important moment in time," he said. "I always personally believe the operative is what's best practices and how are we training for that. I want to deeply explore and execute on the idea of partnerships in public safety β€” it's not all badges and guns. It's also mental health experts and those that work in the world of preventative tools. The homework wasn't done years ago on the transfer of the jail from the city to the county. And it makes me nervous thinking about how it was acquired and looking forward to what's going to be built. Are we starting from the basic premise of justice and how we should be building a system that puts less people behind bars?"

In his own slice of Northeast Ohio, as UCI president Ronayne responded to a ProPublica investigation into racial disparities in traffic stops and citations by UCI police and hospital police from UH and the Cleveland Clinic by bringing implicit bias training to his staff and spurring the creation of a civilian review board, which was recently presented to UCI leadership.

Since the FBI corruption investigation that put Jimmy Dimora, Frank Russo and associates of the commissioner-led Cuyahoga County government of old behind bars, Northeast Ohio's transition to an executive-led structure hasn't been entirely smooth. Ed FitzGerald had barely gotten into office before announcing his candidacy for Ohio governor (and had barely gotten his bearings on the office and the campaign before a scandal dropped on his desk), and Armond Budish's tenure has been marked by gruesome jail deaths, an ever-escalating IT debacle, another county corruption investigation, and generally anemic leadership among other minor and major failures.

"We need to talk about what county government is," said Ronayne. "Everyone uses it by their needs. There's a huge social safety network, there's also bridges and sewers in communities everywhere. We need a more robust dialogue about what this county is, what do the people want."

He points to cities and counties like Akron and Summit and Pittsburgh and Allegheny where cooperation and collaboration between executives and mayors have put their regions far ahead of where Cleveland and Cuyahoga County currently stand.

"That's hopefully the future," he said.

And, in county council, he sees the type of leadership and decisions that have been absent from the executive's officer.

"I've seen a council that seems to be the body that's willing to take bold steps," he said. "A body that's picked up the ball where it's been dropped by the administration.

Ronayne, who during his time with the city worked on the Waterfront District Plan and who has long served for or worked with organizations such as Canalway Partners, has transportation and the environment on his mind as his platform comes into focus.

"I just got done with a bike ride from Edgewater, up through Wendy Park to Ohio City, and it's a microcosm of the county," he said. "With some wind in the sails, we could really make magic happen. Just that stretch, you see infield reinvestment and new connectors, you see dreams deferred in public housing next to injustice on the river channel that should be a priority moving forward, with dust literally causing breathing problems."

Cleveland will welcome a mayor not named Frank Jackson for the first time in 16 years, and Ronayne sees a region ready for change not just in the city, but across the region.

"People want change, and they're aware that doesn't happen without a change in leadership," he said. "I want what everyone wants β€” an enhanced quality of life for my kids and the future generations. You only have so many bites at the apple, and this is the right job at the right time for the right reasons, to catalyze the assets we have for a vision of the future that puts us further as a region."

Republican Lee Weingart, the onetime Boy Commissioner of Cuyahoga County, last year announced that he's also running for county executive in 2022.

About The Author

Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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