Cleveland-pride has been at an all-time high lately. With our excelling athletic teams, quality music halls, and growing cultural scene– we Clevelanders have plenty to celebrate! However, we often forget the leaders that helped Cleveland rediscover itself and emerge as the thriving city that it is today. George Voinovich, who served as mayor, governor, and senator was one of the most impactful leaders in Cleveland history. Keep reading to learn more about Voinovich and how his time as mayor changed Cleveland history forever.
Born on July 15, 1936 in Cleveland, Voinovich was the oldest of six children. His father, George Voinovich, and mother, Josephine Voinovich, raised their children in the Collinwood neighborhood. A devout Catholic family, Voinovich was a member of Holy Cross parish in Euclid, OH (now called Our Lady of the Lake) where he remained to be a lifelong member. Graduating from Collinwood High School in 1954, Voinovich continued his education by attending Ohio University where he earned his degree in Government. In 1961, Voinovich received his law degree from The Ohio State University. After receiving his law degree, it didn’t take Voinovich long to begin his 46-year tenure as a public servant.
Take a deep breath and get ready for this packed resume:
Starting in 1963, Voinovich served as Assistant Attorney General of Ohio; 1967 he served in the Ohio House of Representatives; 1976 he served as County Auditor of Cuyahoga County; 1978 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. All are quite notable achievements, but Voinovich was merely beginning his career. In 1979 Voinovich was elected as the 54th Mayor of Cleveland, a position that would launch Voinovich’s leadership to new heights.
Voinovich’s appointment as mayor occurred just as Cleveland had reached its lowest point in years (i.e. the burning Cuyahoga river). Cleveland was often compared to Detroit and mocked for being the only major city at the time to file for bankruptcy. Needless to say—Voinovich had his hands full! Now, while Voinovich was considered a very shy and reserved politician, he fought this negative view of Cleveland with vigor, going to great lengths and spending time strategizing how to reposition Cleveland as an evolving city. Voinovich worked closely with local business owners, Cleveland citizens, as well as the Governor of Ohio at the time, James Rhodes, to spark what would later be called the “Urban Renaissance.” Numerous buildings and new businesses sprouted up, city debt was reduced, and public satisfaction sky-rocketed. All of this resulted in numerous nominations and awards for Cleveland, ranging from small neighborhood acknowledgements to national awards such as the National Civic League’s All-American City Award (won by Cleveland three years in a row.) Voinovich was credited for much of this improvement, so it came as no surprise when he was nominated for Governor in 1990.
After winning his seat as governor of Ohio in 1990, Voinovich was able to take the momentum he gained in Cleveland and applied it to the state of Ohio as a whole. During his time as governor, unemployment fell to a 25-year low, and a 1.5 billion state-wide deficit was recovered. Voinovich served two terms as governor, resulting in Ohio (much like Cleveland previously) to be granted several awards and recognitions. Due to term limits, Voinovich ended his time as governor in 1998, when he turned his attention to running for an open U. S. Senate position.
Needless to say, Voinovich had the experience and approval ratings to make his election to a Senate seat rather smooth. His first term began in 1999 and when it became time for him to run for reelection in 2004, he defeated his opponent by a landslide, winning all 88 counties in Ohio and breaking the record for the highest amount of votes in U.S Senate race in Ohio at 3.5 million. During his time as a U.S. Senator, Voinovich served on countless committees, and helped passed legislation on various topics regarding national security, climate change, healthcare, and national budgeting.
FUN FACT: Voinovich is one of only two people to have served as the Mayor of Cleveland, Governor of Ohio, and a United States Senator. The other is Frank Lausche. Both men were devout Catholics and are buried in the Cleveland Catholic cemeteries. Read about Frank Lausche here.
Many applaud Voinovich for his selfless political nature, as he always put the needs of voters above his own political intentions. Instead of following a political party, Voinovich was considered rather moderate, and was documented working with both Democrats and Republicans in an effort to do what was best for the American people, progressing the country as a whole. After retiring from the Senate in 2010, Voinovich took time to spend with his family. On June 12th, 2016 Voinovich passed away in his sleep, and he was buried at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, OH after family and friends celebrated Mass at his home parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Euclid. Several notable figures attended the funeral, including Senator Rob Portman, Mayor Frank Jackson, and U.S. Representative Tim Ryan.
Voinovich is a special example of someone who was able to not only balance his career and his faith, but was able to incorporate his faith into his career. His strong passion for making this country a better place was constantly guided by his moral principles founded upon his Catholic faith. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind!