Cuyahoga County executive Armond Budish has been in office for more than a year, but the most powerful Democratic elected official in Cuyahoga County government seems about as newsworthy as a junior varsity lacrosse game. After defeating Republican county councilman Jack Schron, Budish took office in January 2015. After that? An occasional blip but mostly crickets.
"He's been invisible," says Jim Rokakis, a former county treasurer and director of the Thriving Communities Institute. "And that's not necessarily bad."
Real work, after all, happens quietly. "I mean, some politicians are holding press conferences, if not daily, at least weekly," Rokakis says. "My experience is I tend to be more suspicious of those politicians."
He may not be on the news every night, but Budish is already working closer with County Council than his predecessor. "Anything's better than [former county executive Ed] FitzGerald," says retired County Council president C. Ellen Connally. "The whole time I was council president, I think FitzGerald called me half a dozen times."
Even Schron speaks of a how "conciliatory" and "cordial" Budish was during budget negotiations despite disagreements. "It wasn't a contentious process," says Schron. "I think that's truly a positive."
Schron's only major qualm: Budish was slow filling four open executive positions, announcing the appointments a year after taking office, with a fifth still waiting to be filled.
Nonetheless, it seems Budish had a productive year while nobody was looking. Handed a $27 million deficit from the previous administration, his 2016-17 budget adds no new debt. After sounding the alarm of financial turmoil early in 2015 and taking measures such as making cuts across county departments, Budish put a balanced budget on the books by year's end.
"We passed a budget in a very difficult financial time, two months early, which is unheard of," says Budish. "I was in the state government for eight years. I don't think we ever passed a budget more than about five minutes early."
When asked what projects he is proud of, Budish spills achievements galore: an on-time and on-budget convention center hotel, Lincoln Electric's new welding training facility and a clean energy initiative. Other feats include $10 million for expanded pre-K, $4.5 million in loans to JumpStart to spark startups, $50 million to demolish blighted homes and $1.5 million for a new partnership to tackle infant mortality. "I mean, we've done so much stuff!" he says.
For now, his administration would rather show than tell. "We're doing the work," says Budish. "And I believe that as we get things done, people will see and feel the difference."