George Victor Voinovich (July 15, 1936 – June 12, 2016) was an American politician from the state of Ohio and born in Cleveland. Voinovich, a member of the Republican Party, served as a United States Senator from 1999 to 2011, as the 65th Governor of Ohio from 1991 to 1998 and as the 54th Mayor of Cleveland from 1980 to 1989, becoming the last Republican to serve in that office.
Voinovich spent more than 46 years in public service – first as assistant attorney general of Ohio in 1963, and finally as the senior United States Senator representing Ohio. He is the 15th person to have served both as the governor of Ohio and as a U.S. senator and one of only two people to have been the mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio and a United States Senator; the other was Frank Lausche, who like Voinovich was of Slovenian descent. He is the only person to have served as both chairman of the National Governors Association and president of the National League of Cities.
In his 2004 re-election to the U.S. Senate, Voinovich garnered more than 3.4 million votes, nearly 64 percent.
|United States Senator
January 3, 1999 – January 3, 2011
|Preceded by||John Glenn|
|Succeeded by||Rob Portman|
|Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee|
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007
|Preceded by||Harry Reid|
|Succeeded by||Barbara Boxer|
|65th Governor of Ohio|
January 14, 1991 – December 31, 1998
|Preceded by||Dick Celeste|
|Succeeded by||Nancy Hollister|
|Chair of the National Governors Association|
July 30, 1997 – August 4, 1998
|Preceded by||Bob Miller|
|Succeeded by||Tom Carper|
|54th Mayor of Cleveland|
January 1, 1980 – December 31, 1989
|Preceded by||Dennis Kucinich|
|Succeeded by||Michael White|
|56th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio|
January 8, 1979 – November 1979
|Preceded by||Dick Celeste|
|Succeeded by||Myrl Shoemaker|
|Member of the Ohio House of Representatives
from the 53rd district
January 3, 1967 – December 15, 1971
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||Edward Ryder|
|Born||George Victor Voinovich
July 15, 1936
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||June 12, 2016 (aged 79)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Education||Ohio University (BA)
Ohio State University (JD)
Voinovich was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Josephine (Bernot) and George S. Voinovich. He was the oldest of six children. His father was of Serbian descent (from Kordun), and his mother was of Slovenian ancestry.
Voinovich grew up in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland and graduated from Collinwood High School in 1954. Voinovich was raised Catholic and was a lifelong member of his neighborhood parish, Our Lady of the Lake in Euclid (formerly Holy Cross). He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in government from Ohio University in 1958 where he served as President of the Student Body and the Men's Dormitory System. Voinovich received a law degree in 1961 from the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University. He was also a part of the fraternity Phi Kappa Tau at Ohio University.
Voinovich began his political career in 1963 as an Assistant Attorney General of Ohio. He then served as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives from 1967 until 1971. From 1971 until 1976, he served as County Auditor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 1971, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for Mayor of Cleveland against Ralph J. Perk, who went on to win the general election. From 1977 to 1978, Voinovich served as a member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners. In 1978, Voinovich was elected Lieutenant Governor of Ohio on the ticket with James A. Rhodes (the first Ohio lieutenant governor not to be elected separately from the governor).
By 1979, elections in Cleveland had become nonpartisan, and with then-Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich (D) about to enter a tough re-election campaign, Voinovich began to consider running for mayor again. Finally, on July 26, he made "one of the most difficult decisions in [his] life". He held his office as lieutenant governor until he won the election.
Aside from Kucinich, Voinovich's other opponents included State Senator Charles Butts and city council majority leader Basil Russo. As the election drew closer, The Plain Dealer announced its endorsement of Voinovich. Voter turnout in the primary was greater than that of the 1977 race among Perk, Kucinich and Edward F. Feighan. In the 1979 nonpartisan primary election, Voinovich led with 47,000 votes to 36,000 for Kucinich. Russo (who obtained 21,000) and Butts (with 19,000) did not qualify for the general election. The biggest surprise was Voinovich's showing in predominantly African American wards, where he was expected to finish last. He trailed only Butts, with Kucinich last.
On October 8, 1979, a few days after the primary, Voinovich's nine-year-old daughter Molly was struck by a van and killed. The event brought the Voinovich campaign to a virtual halt and made it difficult for Kucinich to attack his opponent. Still, he challenged Voinovich to a series of debates to be held in various Cleveland neighborhoods. Voinovich declined the invitations, saying they would be unproductive, although they eventually did meet in a debate on November 3 at the City Club. Voinovich went on to win the election with 94,541 votes to Kucinich's 73,755.
Voinovich went on to be re-elected twice by landslides. In 1981 he defeated former State Representative Patrick Sweeney, 107,472 to 32,940, to win Cleveland's first four-year mayoral term. In 1985 he defeated former councilman Gary Kucinich (brother of Dennis Kucinich), 82,840 to 32,185.
Voinovich was considered shy and a rather low-key politician, a description he adopted himself. Once elected, he met with then Ohio Governor James Rhodes, to solicit the state government's help in clearing up the city's debts. Voinovich negotiated a debt repayment schedule and in October 1980, with the state serving as guarantor, eight local banks lent Cleveland $36.2 million, allowing the city to emerge from default. Despite this, the city's economy continued to decline and federal funding was cut. Two weeks earlier, voters turned down another 0.5 percent income tax increase. The opposition was led by Kucinich, who had been keeping a low profile since his defeat in the 1979 election. Voinovich said he would resubmit the tax issue on the February ballot to avoid facing a deficit in 1981. This time the voters approved the tax increase.
By the time Voinovich was elected, Cleveland was the butt of late night comedians' jokes, where the river and mayor's hair burned, and the only major American city to go bankrupt. When Boston mayor Kevin White remarked that the city's finances had gone from "Camelot to Cleveland", Voinovich protested. White responded by saying that Boston had survived facetious remarks from a wide range of jokesters, from Mark Twain to Johnny Carson. "I am sure Cleveland will also," he said.
Voinovich took an aggressive approach. He reversed a defensive attitude projected by the Cleveland media, going to "war ... to save one of this country's greatest cities". Others soon jumped on board. For instance, The Smythe-Cramer Co., a local realty firm, tried to restore the city's former glory by running a series of ads with photographs of downtown Cleveland captioned "Take Another Look. It's Cleveland!" In May 1981, The Plain Dealer sent its Sunday subscribers bumper stickers saying, "New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a Plum." The paper also passed out thousands of "Cleveland's a Plum" buttons and also ran a huge picture of Publisher Thomas Vail, with a smiling Voinovich beside him, throwing out the first plum at a Yankees-Indians game. Sportscaster Howard Cosell hailed the city during a baseball game and Voinovich subsequently presented him with a key to the city. A survey showed 65 percent of the residents of Greater Cleveland were very satisfied with their life in the city and even 57 percent claimed to be very satisfied, even in 1978, the year of default. Also, a national poll rated Detroit as the city with the worst image, with New York City second. Cleveland was fifth-worst.
The New Cleveland Campaign, a promotion agency formed in 1978, began sending out news releases bragging about Cleveland's virtues and proudly circulating reprints whenever it got a favorable story. Unfortunately, to show how much the "new" Cleveland had improved, it had to highlight how bad the old Cleveland was. In particular, it stressed the city's 1978 default of $15.5 million short-term loans from local banks, even though New York City owed nearly 150 times as much when it received a $2.3 billion federal bailout to avoid bankruptcy in 1975.
The restoration campaign reached its peak in October with the society magazine Town and Country. "Cleveland's Come-Around" explained how "businessmen, lawyers and concerned citizens" rescued the city from "the petulant, pugnacious Dennis Kucinich". It called Voinovich's Operation Improvement Task Force under E. Mandell de Windt "the most significant undertaking in Cleveland since Moses Cleaveland stepped ashore on the bank of the Cuyahoga River in 1786". It also enticed its readers with Lake Erie and its "beautiful and exciting year-round sailing".
So confident was Voinovich, that during election season, he even attracted presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to debate in Cleveland. "Cleveland is making a comeback," Time declared at the close of 1980, "During the past year, convention business has flourished, school desegregation has proceeded peacefully, and a modest construction boom has begun.... Most impressive of all, the city dug itself out of default."
In order to accomplish more, Voinovich felt that the terms for mayor and Cleveland City Council ought to be extended. He offered a referendum to voters to extend them from two to four years and additionally asked voters to approve cutting down the number of council members from 33 to 21 in order to help ease the city's strained economy. They approved both requests.
Throughout the Voinovich years, neighborhoods began to see some improvement starting with the Lexington Village housing project, $149 million in Urban Development Action Grants, and $3 billion of construction underway or completed. In particular, the neighborhoods of Hough and Fairfax, then two of Cleveland's worst east side neighborhoods, began to see new houses built and lesser amount of criminal activity. Voinovich also quietly moved to reconcile the warring groups of the 1970s. He made peace with business leaders and even posed with them in photographs that ran in New Cleveland Campaign ads in business magazines, captioned with the Voinovich slogan: "Together, we can do it." He refined the neighborhood groups, which, with the breakdown of the Democratic Party, became the most potent political force in the city. He also extended his hand to unions as well, in particular the Teamsters truck union.
As mayor, Voinovich was a member of the National League of Cities and was elected President in 1985. Voinovich also oversaw a huge scale urban renaissance downtown. Sohio (purchased by BP America in 1987), Ohio Bell, and Eaton Corporation all built new offices downtown (most notably the BP Building). Brothers Richard and David Jacobs astonished the city by rescuing its troubled Indians franchise, ultimately turning it around for the better. The two also improved the desolate area located by the Erieview Tower and turned it into the glass-roofed Galleria at Erieview. Voinovich also enticed Society Bank to build the Society Center, the largest skyscraper in Cleveland and the 15th largest in the nation (since renamed Key Tower). In addition, the National Civic League awarded Cleveland the All-America City Award three times in five years (1982, 1984, 1986), in addition to its first, won in 1950.
One of the key issues surrounding the previous Kucinich administration was canceling the sale of Cleveland Municipal Light (today Cleveland Public Power). Kucinich's insistence on saving it from being absorbed into the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) led the business community to force Cleveland into default. Voinovich's successful negotiations reversed this action when he first assumed office as mayor. However, Voinovich's pro-business attitude did not change CEI's position on the issue, as they persisted in making efforts to buy out Muni Light and pressuring Voinovich into giving them the right to do so. Voinovich resisted. Early in his tenure, he arranged for capital improvements to strengthen the operation of Muni Light and by 1982, it was able to compete with CEI. He asserted that the company was making attempts to cripple Muni Light by lobbying council against much-needed legislation. "We still have a battle going on," Voinovich said, "They [CEI] are as dedicated as ever to laying away the Municipal Light system."
The rebuilding process began through Voinovich's administration and improvements were made throughout the company including equipment upgrades and increased wages for all employees. To properly reflect all of the positive change in the company Municipal Light officially changed its name to Cleveland Public Power (CPP) in 1983. In 1984, the company received the Scattergood Award from the American Municipal Power Association for outstanding system operation and achievement.
In 1988, Voinovich ran for the Senate seat of Howard Metzenbaum, in what was a hard-fought and negative campaign. Voinovich accused Metzenbaum of being soft on child pornography, charges that were roundly criticized by many, including John Glenn who recorded a statement for television refuting Voinovich's charges. Metzenbaum won the election by 57% to 43%, even as George H. W. Bush carried the state by 11 percent.
In 1990, Voinovich was nominated by the Republicans to replace Governor Richard F. Celeste, a Democrat who was barred from running for a third consecutive term. Voinovich went to defeat his opponent Anthony J. Celebrezze, Jr. 
During his first four years he pulled Ohio out of a $1.5 billion deficit and was a led efforts toward welfare reform and eliminating unfunded mandates. In 1991 Voinovich served as the Chairman of the Midwestern Governors Association. In 1994, Voinovich was re-elected to the governorship, defeating Democrat Robert L. Burch Jr. with 72% of the vote, the largest percentage of the vote of any governor up for election that year and the largest margin of victory for any Ohio governor in the 20th century. During his second term, Voinovich appointed Nancy Hollister, the state's first female lieutenant governor, and Cincinnati mayor Kenneth Blackwell, the state treasurer who became the first African-American to hold state office in Ohio.
Voinovich's tenure as governor saw Ohio's unemployment rate fall to a 25-year low. In addition, the state created more than 500,000 new jobs, the Medicaid growth rate had been cut by more than two-thirds, and enrollment in welfare had been cut in half. Under Voinovich, Ohio was ranked #1 in the nation by Site Selection Magazine for new and expanding business facilities.
Voinovich's second term was quite productive and in 1995 he was named Public Official of the Year by the National Journal. He is credited with leading efforts to create a public voucher plan which used public funds to pay tuition at church affiliated schools. After significant litigation over the voucher program, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5–4 decision that the program did not violate the constitutional prohibition against promoting religion in public schools. By the end of his second term, Ohio led the nation in percentage of eligible children participating in the Head Start Program.
When the state legislature wanted to close Central State University, Ohio's only historically black state supported college, Voinovich stepped in by appointing a new board and convincing John Garland to become president.
As both mayor and governor, Voinovich helped to advertise Cleveland as the true birthplace of rock and roll. Beginning in 1985 Voinovich, the City of Cleveland and the State of Ohio began lobbying for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to be built in Cleveland. The Rock Hall eventually opened in 1995. As a nod to his efforts, the main atrium of the Rock Hall was renamed the George V. Voinovich Atrium.
In 1996, Voinovich was the first governor to endorse U.S. Senator Robert J. Dole's bid for the Republican Presidential nomination. Later, Voinovich was among nine candidates asked to submit to background checks as potential vice presidential running mates with Dole.(subscription required) However, Voinovich withdrew his name from consideration, reiterating his desire to run for the U.S. Senate in 1998.
In 1998, barred from running for a third term as governor due to term limits, Voinovich ran for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by long-time incumbent Democrat John Glenn, eventually defeating Democrat Mary O. Boyle. Voinovich was briefly succeeded by Nancy Hollister upon his resignation as governor and before he entered the Senate. Hollister was succeeded by the newly elected Bob Taft in January 1999. It was the first time a Republican governor in Ohio had been succeeded by another Republican governor since 1904. 
When Voinovich came to the Senate he was as prepared as anyone having previously been; Mayor of Cleveland, President of the National League of Cities, Governor and Chairman of the National Governors Association. Making clear that he was not intended on becoming the orchestra leader in the Senate but rather the 1st chair in a couple of sections, Voinovich picked out several committees where he would make his mark. Particularly in his first years in the Senate, Voinovich was opposed to lowering tax rates. He frequently joined Democrats on tax issues and in 2000 was the only Republican in Congress to vote against a bill providing for relief from the "marriage penalty".
In November 2004, in his bid for re-election, Voinovich defeated the Democratic nominee, Ohio state senator and former U.S. Representative Eric D. Fingerhut, in an unprecedented victory. With 64% Voinovich won all 88 Ohio counties and won the largest amount of votes ever in a U.S. Senate race in Ohio – 3.5 million.
Voinovich gained national attention when he gave a speech tearfully opposing the nomination of John R. Bolton, who was selected for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, at Bolton's hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Voinovich remarked, "I don't feel comfortable voting today on Mr. John Bolton." As a result, the committee recessed without a vote and thus stalled the nomination. Democrats refused to invoke cloture and end debate on the Bolton nomination – the first time, Voinovich voted to end debate, the second time, he joined Democrats in voting to extend debate and urged Bush to choose another nominee. Voinovich later amended his views and determined that Bolton did a "good job" as U.N. Ambassador, praising him by saying "I spend a lot of time with John on the phone. I think he is really working very constructively to move forward."
In January 2007, Voinovich expressed concern to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the President's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq would not be effective. Voinovich did not share President George W. Bush's optimism. "At this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen." As a moderate Republican, Voinovich was viewed as one of few that could potentially influence the President. Five months later, Voinovich requested to Bush in a five-page letter that the U.S. begin pulling troops from Iraq and asking that the Iraqis start taking care of their own territory, calling for a "comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement from Iraq".
On April 7, 2008, Voinovich departed from Republican party platform and stated at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the war in Iraq: "We've kind of bankrupted this country" through war spending. "We're in a recession ... and God knows how long it's going to last."
When Michigan became the eighth state to accede to the Great Lakes Compact on July 9, 2008, Voinovich was one of the leading legislators in supporting the interstate compact's passage in Congress.
On January 20, 2009, Voinovich was appointed to the powerful Appropriations Committee. His appointment marked the first time an Ohioan served on the coveted Senate committee following Mike DeWine having lost his 2006 re-election bid. In accepting the appointment, Voinovich relinquished his seat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
On July 22, 2009, Voinovich opposed a measure that would have allowed people to cross state lines with concealed weapons.
Voinovich voted in favor of the Matthew Shepard Act.
As the Senate's leading debt-hawk, Voinovich introduced the Securing America's Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act in every Congress in which he served in beginning in 2006. The measure proposed the establishment of a national commission to examine the nation's tax and entitlement systems and present long-term solutions to place the United States on a fiscally sustainable course and ensure the solvency of entitlement programs for future generations. In January 2010, Voinovich met with President Obama to relay the urgency of the nation's fiscal crisis. Four days later, Obama publicly endorsed the Conrad-Gregg statutory debt commission, which was modeled after Voinovich's SAFE Commission. Obama announced during his 2010 State of the Union address that he would create the debt commission by executive order because it had failed to pass the Senate.
Called "the Senate's leading Balkan expert" and a "leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate crime against all groups," Voinovich was a key voice on the Foreign Relations Committee about the OSCE and the relationship between the United States and countries in Eastern Europe in particular.
He played a leadership role in strengthening and enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and was the only member of Congress in the room at the 2002 NATO summit in Prague where membership was formally extended to Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Voinovich was an active participant in the annual Brussels Forum from its inception in 2007, and served as chairman of the U.S. congressional delegation to the conference in 2010.
As senator and a prominent member of its Foreign Relations Committee, Voinovich consistently supported measures to strengthen Israeli security while promoting Middle East peace efforts. In addition, Voinovich devoted himself to combating anti-Semitism, especially through involvement in the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
Voinovich authored the National Infrastructure Improvement Act, which established a commission that would provide concrete recommendations for current and future infrastructure needs.
He was the main sponsor of five-year reauthorizations of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in 2002 and 2008, which fostered economic development in the 13 Appalachian states and in Ohio's 29 Appalachian counties.
The Herald Star noted that "He considers the impact of his votes...choosing carefully without regard for what the political impact might be on him personally" ("Voinovich setting good example" from July 26, 2007). Government Executive praised him saying, "no matter what anyone thinks of George Voinovich or Daniel Akaka's politics in general, no one can deny that they know their federal employee issues cold."
Voinovich long championed the need for a 'Second Declaration of Independence' – referring to the nation's energy situation. He was long been a voice for clean air legislation, ("Voinovich has idea on clearing the air", The Dayton Daily News, April 30, 2002) and argued for nuclear-energy development because it "provides a dependable, continuous stream of electricity, supports thousands of jobs, and does not emit any greenhouse gases". ("Depoliticizing decisions", The Columbus Dispatch, June 12, 2010) He served as the Chairman and ranking member of the EPW Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, introducing legislation that helped to pave the way for applications for new nuclear power plants in the U.S.
Voinovich sponsored legislation aimed to protect the Great Lakes from foreign species and preserve "our ultimate jewels, the five Great Lakes". He lobbied his colleagues in the Senate as well as Great Lakes governors and administration officials to take real action. Working with Senator Carl Levin, legislation was introduced to ratify the Great Lakes Compact, a bipartisan agreement among the Great Lakes states to protect the Great Lakes through better water management, conservation, and public involvement.
In a press conference in January 2009, Voinovich announced he would not be seeking a third term. He stated that, "I must devote my full time, energy and focus to the job I was elected to do, the job in front of me, which seeking a third term – with the money-raising and campaigning that it would require – would not allow me to do." Voinovich also stated after 44 years in public office it was time to relax and spend time with his wife Janet and his family. Pundits indicated that he would have been successful had he decided to run against the Democratic nominee Lee Fisher.
After Voinovich announced that he would retire from the Senate in 2010, The Columbus Dispatch wrote, "After decades in an arena that has sullied so many, Voinovich's personal integrity remains unquestioned. He has never been afraid to work across the aisle, and has never forgotten that tax money comes from the wallets of hard-working people."
After retiring in January 2011, Voinovich was named a Senior Fellow at Cleveland State University at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, and Ohio Visiting Professor of Leadership and Public Affairs at the George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University. In 1998, Ohio University renamed the Institute of Local Government and Rural Development to the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs and in 2007 the Ohio Board of Regents voted to rename the center to a school. Since being honored in 1998, Voinovich had remained committed to the success of the school.
For the United States presidential election in 2016, Voinovich endorsed fellow Ohio Republican John Kasich, the state's current governor. On June 10, 2016, Voinovich delivered public remarks at the 25th Slovenian Independence Day event at Cleveland City Hall. He was to be a delegate to the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Voinovich has been honored several times in his hometown of Cleveland by having prominent landmarks named after him, including Voinovich Bicentennial Park in the city's North Coast Harbor district, and the George V. Voinovich Bridges spanning downtown Cleveland.
The Voinovich Livestock Center at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair in Columbus, Ohio, is named in honor of Voinovich. The lawn in front of the center is the site of a sculpture called "Spountain", by Barry Gunderson . It is also the site of the Farm Bureau Memorial tree, which was planted in soil from all 88 Ohio counties in 1976 during the Ohio Farm Bureau Bicentennial.
Voinovich married his wife, Janet (née Allan), in 1962. They had four children: George, Betsy, Peter, and Molly, as well as nine grandchildren. Molly, their youngest child, was killed at age 9 after being struck by a van as she walked home from school.
|1979||Mayor||Dennis J. Kucinich||73,505||44%||George Voinovich||94,407||56%|
|1981||Mayor||Patrick Sweeney||32,940||23%||George Voinovich||107,472||77%|
|1985||Mayor||Gary J. Kucinich||32,185||28%||George Voinovich||82,840||72%|
|1988||Senate||Howard Metzenbaum||2,480,038||57%||George Voinovich||1,872,716||43%||*|
|1990||Governor||Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr.||1,539,416||44%||George Voinovich||1,938,103||56%||*|
|1994||Governor||Robert L. Burch||835,849||25%||George Voinovich||2,401,572||72%||Billy Inmon||Independent||108,745||3%||*|
|1998||Senate||Mary Boyle||1,482,054||44%||George Voinovich||1,922,087||56%||*|
|2004||Senate||Eric D. Fingerhut||1,961,249||36%||George Voinovich||3,464,651||64%||*|