“Ideological differences aside, it is necessary for us to have good working relationships if we are going to get anything done for the people who elected us. And I know it is possible from my personal experience.” – Senator George Voinovich, Senate Farewell Speech, December 15, 2010
Senator George Voinovich was able to overcome massive challenges and push for incredible change during his time as a public servant, however, he did not accomplish these achievements on his own. Rather, Senator Voinovich’s focus on partnerships, both private and public, was what made his leadership style so strong. In his new book, Empowering the Public-Private Partnership: The Future of America’s Local Government, Senator Voinovich reiterates how he was able to utilize relationship building to complete initiatives and serve the public in the best way possible. While the book focuses on Public-Private Partnerships, it also discusses “Public-Public Partnerships” and their importance when addressing public needs. Senator Voinovich worked to develop his own relationships with those outside his administration and party, such as George Forbes, the former Democratic president of Cleveland City Council, and Vern Riffe, the former Democratic Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. These two partnerships represent his drive to collaborate during his time as Mayor, Governor, and Senator, even when the relationship was strained or difficult to develop.
A prime example of Senator Voinovich’s desire to bring groups together to promote positive change was when he was first elected Mayor of Cleveland in 1980 and the city was on the verge of collapse. At this time, the entirety of Cleveland City Council were democrats and the president of city council was George Forbes, the most powerful democratic president in the city council’s history (Senator Voinovich’s Farewell Speech, 12.15.10). While Forbes originally opposed Senator Voinovich’s run, Senator Voinovich made it a priority to ensure Forbes was involved in the process of addressing Cleveland’s issues: “I immediately communicated to him my belief that the mayor’s office and the city council had a symbiotic relationship and that only by working together could we move the city ahead…The bottom line was that George and I were a team” (Empowering the Public-Private Partnership, 47). They worked together to pass the Cleveland Fair Housing and Police Review Commission, increase diversity in the police and fire departments, and later address racial profiling in the Senate (George Forbes 50th Annual Freedom Fund, 5.20.09; Letter to George Forbes, 3.31.04). By the end of their work together, Cleveland was beginning to turn around as a city and they were fondly referred to as Big George and Little George (Voinovich and Forbes: The Era of Good Feelings, 11.19.12).
This type of relationship building across ideological differences continued when Senator Voinovich was elected Governor in 1991 and began working with the democratic Speaker of the House, Vern Riffe who had been speaker for 22 years (Senator Voinovich’s Farewell Speech, 12.15.10). At this time, Ohio was in the midst of a budget crisis and the only way to appropriately address the issue was through bi-partisan cooperation (The Burden of a Budget Deficit, 6.27.17). While building this relationship was difficult, Senator Voinovich made as many compromises as possible, and the legislature did the same, including major spending cuts and tax increases (Vern Riffe Tribute, 4.4.95). Senator Voinovich and Speaker Riffe would continue to work together on their projects, like addressing the Lucasville Prison riots, and reforming Workers’ Compensation (Vern Riffe Tribute, 4.4.95; State Service for Vern Riffe, 8.4.97). The two built a strong working relationship and while they did not always agree, their drive to help the state of Ohio and their constituents continued to push them to work together.
Senator Voinovich continually reiterated the importance of cooperation and collaboration in order to have successful leadership. While in any office, Senator Voinovich worked to meet his opponents in the middle, to build those working relationships, and ensure that the needs of constituents were put before political fighting. Senator Voinovich’s slogan “Together We Can Do It” was truly his leadership model and he exemplified it throughout his career.