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Cuyahoga County executive's race now has third candidate as Warrensville Hts mayor announces bid

Cuyahoga County Administrative Headquarters
Posted at 7:25 PM, Jan 05, 2022

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — Longtime Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers announced that he will be entering the 2022 race for Cuyahoga County Executive, joining fellow Democrat and former University Circle Inc. president Chris Ronayne and former county commissioner Lee Weingart, a Republican. All three men are seeking to replace Armond Budish, who announced last year that he will not seek re-election.

Standing before a podium with a backdrop comprised of red and gray campaign signs bearing his name, Sellers spoke of his tenure as mayor and economic development director of Warrensville Heights. He touted the financial and psychological turnaround of the predominantly black east side suburb under his tenure. Sellers said he “changed the game” for his community and vowed to do the same for the county.

“Cuyahoga County residents want, need and deserve more good things happening for them. They should expect a county government that can get the job done,” Sellers said in his campaign announcement Wednesday afternoon, held virtually because of the pandemic. “We’ve been getting the job done in Warrensville Heights even though most people said we couldn’t.”

Comprised of 59 cities, villages, and communities, Cuyahoga County’s population over the recent decade has largely remained stagnant, according to the most recent census. Growing the county, enhancing its economy, and tackling the behemoth that is the possible construction of a new county jail is likely to be major issues over the course of the campaign.

Sellers, a former professional basketball player prior to his time in city government, said county government and its $1.5 billion budget has much to improve upon.

“We have to deliver on health and human services. You have to. That’s the backbone here. I will tell you there is room for improvement. It’s not denigrating anybody. There is room for improvement,” Sellers said. “If you have ever been caught up in the system, you know what I’m talking about.”

Lee Weingart, a former county commissioner, was more direct in his critique of county government; it’s broken, he said. Announcing his candidacy in February 2021, Weingart has the advantage of having a head start on his campaign and necessary fundraising. Although he will be on the republican ticket, Weingart said he is running on his platform and not necessarily party affiliation.

In an interview Wednesday, Weingart said the primary focus of his campaign will be to help families build, generate and maintain wealth, which will translate to getting families lifted out of poverty and hunger.

“I have an initiative called 10,000 Homes for Cuyahoga County, which will help 10,000 families build, buy, renovate or repair their home,” Weingart said. “Secondly, we’ll have targeted economic development that will move jobs to our urban core, which is where most unemployed people live, and thirdly entrepreneurial initiatives to help grow small businesses.”

Weingart also highlighted the county’s tax climate as a focus of his platform, vowing to hold the line on taxes while also creating opportunities and new jobs. He has also provided specifics in his desire to see the size of county government reduced, highlighting the fact that the county has more employees than Franklin County, which has a higher population.

“Through a voluntary early retirement program and through attrition, I will shrink the size of county government and take the savings and invest it in nonprofit organizations in our neighborhoods to create wealth in our neighborhoods,” Weingart said.

Democrat Chris Ronayne officially stepped down from his post as president of University Circle Inc. on Oct. 1 to begin campaigning full-time for the county executive’s position. At the helm for the community service organization for more than a decade, Ronayne has been credited with injecting new life into University Circle, which is one of Cleveland’s most important business, cultural and educational hubs. Prior to his tenure at University Circle Inc., Ronayne was the chief of staff under former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.

“It’s time to rethink our economy but we have a base to build on. We have a medical community here. We have an incredible manufacturing community and we have an incredible lakefront in front of us to leverage more waterborne resources and do more with our Great Lakes,” Ronayne said on Wednesday. “Our communities have to be fiscally solvent. They have to be safe. They have to be ones where people can find jobs in their future. The worst story is when you hear of a student that graduates and can’t come home to Cleveland because they can’t find a job.”

The future of the Cuyahoga County jail may potentially be one of the fault lines in the 2022 county executive’s race. Although Sellers mentioned the jail as a priority, he did not provide specifics as to his position on the proposed construction of a new jail facility.

Weingart said the current jail proposals, which could be well in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars, are too exorbitant and, instead, money should be invested in building up the county’s pre-trial diversion programs.

“I would be more much more aggressive in diverting non-dangerous arrestees and those that have mental health and addiction challenges to our diversion center,” Weingart said. “I would expand it from 50 beds to 150 or 200.”

Ronayne said preventative programs and diversion strategies must be considered.

“I think we need to have a conversation about how do we help people avoid the front door into the jail… with preventative programs, divergent strategies, with working with our myriad community organizations that are here to help,” Ronayne said.