Lee Weingart, the president of the lobbying firm LNE Group, hopes to win over voters and become the next Cuyahoga County executive. He’s up against Democrat Chris Ronayne; both are vying for the position formerly held by Armond Budish for two terms. Weingart, the Republican candidate, has faced an uphill battle in a county that overwhelmingly votes blue.
But the former county commissioner held out hope, leaning into his Cuyahoga 2030 plan — involving housing, workforce and criminal justice initiatives — throughout his campaign.
In July, Weingart listed his top five priorities and issues in an interview with Cleveland Magazine. The list included freezing property taxes for seniors on fixed incomes and promoting urban investment — two topics that continue to take focus in Weingart’s campaign.
We touched base with Weingart — as well as Ronayne, whom you can read about here — ahead of the Tuesday election to hear more about his approach to the job:
1. What is the county executive’s most important role?
I think the most important role for the county executive is economic development, spreading economic opportunity throughout Cuyahoga County. I've got at least three ideas to do that. The first is my 10,000 homes for Cuyahoga County initiative: to help 10,000 families that have not been able to buy homes, move into homes that they own. It’s a $600 million program, targeting families in the urban core of the county — so, Cleveland and the first ring suburbs — helping them get the first home that they own. Secondly, I’ll focus on creating 4,000 good-paying jobs in the urban core, [where] people can walk and take the bus to work. I define that as $25 per hour minimum plus benefits, and not all requiring a college degree. And then thirdly, a $10 million urban entrepreneurship fund to help form and grow 250 new urban-based minority-owned small businesses. By focusing on new private home ownership, job development and small business creation and growth, we can create wealth that starts and stays in the urban core of Cuyahoga County.
2. What does Day One of the job look like for you?
Day minus-one, looking at the transition, we’re putting together a team that reflects Cuyahoga County in every respect, beginning to put in place programs we talked about on the campaign trail that I just mentioned to you. In addition, my initiative to freeze property taxes for seniors on fixed incomes, and to begin the process of going to the ballot to ask the voters to consolidate local income taxes under Cuyahoga County and RITA (Regional Income Tax Agency) once and for all in Cuyahoga County. From Nov. 10 until Dec. 31 is planning the programs, the administration and picking the team. Then on Jan. 1, it’s hitting the ground running, developing the plans we made in the campaign and in transition, and delivering in the first 100 days significant, substantial results for the voters around those key programs.
3. What is the most important issue facing the 1.2 million people of Cuyahoga County today?
I think the most important issue is economic opportunity. When I was county commissioner back in the mid-1990s, Cuyahoga County was the biggest county in Ohio. We were adding population and adding jobs. Over the last 25 years, we’ve slipped to be No. 2 in Ohio behind Franklin County. We’re losing population and we’re losing jobs. We need to get Cuyahoga County back on the road to prosperity and success that hits all people in the county; not just the suburbs but the urban core, the city and the first-ring communities. That is my focus as county executive: to bring that prosperity back to the county, to make us number one in Ohio again, and to get us growing population and adding jobs.
4. What does the future of Cuyahoga County look like if you’re county executive?
At a minimum: 10,000 more families living in homes that they own; 4,000 new good-paying jobs, putting our folks back to work in the urban core; 250 new successful small businesses growing in the urban core; property tax relief for seniors on fixed incomes so they can stay in their homes longer and stay healthier in their homes; and eliminating RITA and the unfair double local income taxes, fixing that with a single county income tax, which will make tax preparation easier for all our citizens in Cuyahoga County. We’ll make sure our cities have the revenue they need to deliver critical public safety services. It’ll make our county more competitive so we can draw more employers and more jobs to employ our people in Cuyahoga County.
5. What do you love about Northeast Ohio the most?
This’ll sound crazy, but the weather. I really enjoy the four seasons that we get in Northeast Ohio. The fact that we don’t have tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, that it’s a stable place to live, raise your family. A great place to go on long runs. I’m a runner, so I run over 1,000 miles a year, and I love the chance to run downtown, run in my neighborhood, run all over the county.
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