Republican Lee Weingart delivered a confident—at times even stirring
—address at the City Club of Cleveland Wednesday, pitching himself as the best candidate to succeed Armond Budish as Cuyahoga County Executive and smack talking Democratic front-runner Chris Ronayne.
Weingart said that unlike Ronayne, he wouldn't merely offer "a series of bromides, generalities and platitudes" to voters, but instead would provide a clear roadmap for his vision for fixing a county mired in corruption and incompetence.
Though Weingart had released his "Cuyahoga 2030" platform months ago, he described its four pillars in detail, highlighting his focus on wealth building and entrepreneurship in the urban core, public safety reform, reduced county administrative spending, and honest, transparent governance.
His flagship program is something he calls the 10,000 Homes Initiative. He wants to invest $100 million in county money (leveraging as much as $500 million in additional spending) to build wealth through home-ownership for 10,000 families primarily in Cleveland's urban core and the inner-ring suburbs. He said that injecting wealth into poor neighborhoods would have a host of positive ripple effects, including crime reduction. He also wants to incentivize companies to locate and expand in the city of Cleveland.
In the arena of public safety, Weingart said he wants to increase funding for the county sheriff's department to hire more officers who would be tasked with investigating major crimes countywide in partnership with local departments. He also feels very strongly about returning to an elected sheriff, and said he would campaign personally for a ballot measure.
Weingart is particularly exercised over what he sees as wasteful county spending and a recklessness with county tax dollars. Cuyahoga County is among the most heavily taxed counties in the United States, he said, and he committed to not raising property taxes during his time in office. He also proposed a "roll back and freeze" property tax program for seniors, rolling back home valuations to pre-2021 levels and freezing it there until the property is transferred. This would promote aging in place, Weingart said, and provide relief for seniors. The roll back and freeze program would affect roughly one in five county homeowners.
Drawing a sharp fault line between he and Ronayne, Weingart criticized the debacle of the Medical Mart / Global Center and said he would do everything in his power to sell that facility and the Hilton Hotel, which the county also owns. Nearly 10% of the county's massive budget, he said, goes toward debt service on those two buildings. "That's money that could be going toward services for children or families in crisis." (Ronayne said he supported spending additional money on the Global Center and would not
sell it, as he views it as a public asset.) Weingart also said he thinks the county is putting the cart before the horse with respect to planning a new county jail. In his view, more resources should be devoted to centralized booking, bail reform, diversion and treatment, all of which would reduce the total capacity and cost of a new facility.
Though a Republican, Weingart said he was running on "ideas, not ideology" — his campaign has been informed by the likes of The Color of Law, Evicted
and The New Jim Crow!
— and often presented as a political progressive, with policy priorities targeted at improving the lives of children, the elderly, the incarcerated and the addicted.
In general, he said he was running to "fix" a Cuyahoga County that had run off the rails since his leadership as a County Commissioner in the 1990s. During that 25-year interlude, Weingart was keen to note, the county had been under one-party rule.
"We are beset by corruption," he said. "The flame of Cuyahoga County burns low today, yet I am optimistic that our best days are ahead of us... We have all the ingredients we need to be successful again. We lack only for visionary, vigorous and competent government. It's Cleveland against the world, after all. If we focus county resources on its citizens once again, we will reignite the flame, and make Cuyahoga County a great place to live for all of us. "
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