It seems like a natural question to ask of Jon Pinney, the attorney and behind-the-scenes dynamo who authored Cleveland's successful bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention: So is he a Republican?
Long pause. Pinney chuckles, hedges. "To be honest, it's a very closely guarded secret."
A secret because over the near decade that Pinney has worked to bring a national convention to town, he's managed to avoid any appearance of preference toward securing the Democratic or Republican event.
"I never thought about politics unless it helped us win a bid," says Pinney, managing partner at legal firm Kohrman Jackson and Krantz. "I don't even know [2016 Host Committee president and CEO] Dave Gilbert's party affiliation. ... I don't think I asked anyone in the process."
You'll hear a similar refrain from other key players who participated in the bid effort: This wasn't about partisanship. This was about creating a national stage where the Cleveland of today could shine.
Chances are no one put more work into making that happen than Pinney, a Boardman native who's never gone far from home — from Cardinal Mooney High School to John Carroll University to Cleveland State University for law school.
Pinney's involvement in the process started back in 2006, when Mayor Frank Jackson — just a few months after his inauguration — received an invitation to bid on the 2008 Republication National Convention.
At the time, Pinney was just 30, a rising star at Kohrman Jackson and Krantz who counted the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County as clients. Jackson decided to go for it, and Pinney and Valarie McCall, Cleveland's chief of government and international affairs, were charged with doing the legwork of bid preparation.
"[The firm] said, 'We're in,' " Pinney recalls. "We never even asked how we would get paid."
Although Cleveland lost that bid and one to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Pinney hoarded every bit of information collected along the way. "It became a little bit of an obsession," he says.
Pinney poured the results into last year's 347-page winning proposal, requiring about 1,000 hours of work, the support of 10 staffers, seven color copiers and three nights sleeping in his office.
"I've been around politics in this town a long time, and I've never seen a community effort like this," says Pinney, who is now the secretary, treasurer, co-director and general counsel of the Host Committee.
But not long after the thrilling high of the RNC win came a tragedy for Pinney. On Dec. 28, while standing in his closet of the Hunting Valley home he shares with his wife, Amanda, and two young sons, he received a call that his closest mentor and managing partner of his firm, Marc Krantz, had been killed in a skiing accident in Wyoming.
"I just collapsed on the floor," Pinney recalls.
Talk of firm succession had already begun prior to Krantz's death, but any leadership transition was years off. Just a few weeks after, Pinney was named as Krantz's successor in the 100-employee firm.
"He always remained calm and levelheaded under difficult circumstances," Pinney says of Krantz. "I can't say I was calm in this situation — it took about a week, then: How do you move the firm forward?"
Pinney turned 40 in June but has kept the appearance of the youngest guy in the room even if he isn't. It bothers him when he is.
"I'm constantly looking for the next young group of leaders in Cleveland, and it's hard to find them," he says. "I'm looking forward to the day when I am surrounded by people in their 20s and 30s."
Next July, after the last confetti rains down in The Q and the Republican National Convention closes, his decadelong obsession will end.
Job creation will probably be his next challenge, Pinney says. He expects any plans will include Host Committee compatriots Gilbert and McCall. When the convention ends, Pinney says, "I'm probably going to be asking David and Valarie, 'What's next?' "