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Remembering George Voinovich

At the ribbon cutting for the George V. Voinovich (Innerbelt) Bridge in November 2013, the former U.S. Senator, governor and mayor (third from left) was joined by family members, state and local elected officials and hundreds of onlookers. While in several elected positions, he was a leader in addressing transportation issues facing our region and country.

By Joe Roman

While no one leader or institution precipitated Cleveland’s decline in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, there was a man who used vision, cooperation and dedication to launch the renaissance and momentum we all feel today in our city.

George Voinovich was a true believer and avid practitioner of the so-called public-private partnership—a vital cooperative effort that he led as mayor in the dismal wake of municipal default.

I met with the former mayor, governor and U.S. senator just two weeks ago. He was, in many ways, my professional mentor and a father of sorts. Whenever I asked him for help, guidance or his opinion, I always received a prompt and thoughtful reply.

During what turned out sadly to be our final conversation, we discussed many things including his career, things he wished he would have had time to do, and his just-completed book. He was also kind enough to note what he described as highlights of my career.

But—and people who knew George Voinovich will totally get this—he spoke most of all about his incredible passion for public-private partnerships among civic, elected and business leaders.

Getting the city back on track through public-private partnership

When he stepped into the mayor’s office in 1980, he knew there was a lot of heavy lifting to do to get the city back on track, and that he wasn’t strong enough alone to do it.

So he swiftly formed his effective partnership, and it has provided a lasting foundation for Cleveland’s ongoing, multi-billion-dollar turnaround.

This was a man who was not hung up on partisan politics.

He was much more interested in getting things done. He could work across any aisle or make new paths between groups who had similar goals but who may not have always worked together to accomplish them.

He was a facilitator who didn’t have a phony bone in his body. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a man—a leader—who knew what he wanted and then set out to get it done. He was approachable, sincere and believable.

He loved Cleveland.

Vision and effort restored fiscal integrity and confidence in our city

His great vision and effort restored Cleveland’s fiscal integrity and also has helped to instill confidence in our city again. Public-private partnerships continue to be the right approach for building stadiums and museums but also for tackling education, workforce and safety issues. These partnerships can make for sustainable solutions, but they also require a lot of work.

The entire Greater Cleveland Partnership expresses deep condolences to the Voinovich family and to all of Greater Cleveland. For we all share this loss of such a unique dedicated public servant, who stepped up and succeeded when Cleveland needed him most.

Joe Roman is president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership