Next week, voters in Cuyahoga County will choose the Democratic Party’s nominee for county executive. Six Democrats are vying for the chance to succeed Ed FitzGerald. By several measures, State Rep. Armond Budish stands above the others: He has raised the most money, by far, more than all other Democrats combined. A lot of influential endorsements came early on – most party leaders in the county, nearly two dozen mayors, unions, FitzGerald -- and more recently, The Plain Dealer. A Cleveland Magazine headline referred to Budish as “the anointed one.” So, how’d he get so far out front and what would he do if he wins? ideastream’s Nick Castele put those questions to Budish earlier this week.
This piece is part of a series examining the candidates for Cuyahoga County executive. Listen to a piece on Shirley Smith and Bob Reid here, and a piece on Thomas O'Grady, Tim Russo and Walter Allen Rogers Jr. here.
Armond Budish is known as a methodical, disciplined and persistent politician -- and his front-runner status in the county executive’s race reflects that. While others toyed with the idea of running, Budish quietly started lining up support well over a year ago.
"I’ve done what I have done historically, in this election as well. I work very hard," Budish says. "In the election I have been out there every day and every night, speaking to groups, knocking on doors, meeting with people."
First elected to public office in 2006 as a state representative, Budish rose to the position of speaker of the house by 2009. Part of his appeal was the ability to raise money, not just for himself but for other Democrats. When Republicans retook control of the House, Budish became minority leader.
He’s no firebrand. Cordial, smooth, smiling are terms more often used to describe him -- and a certain personal charm, along with a passion for seniors.
"Hello, I’m Armond Budish, welcome to Golden Opportunities."
That’s the way Budish introduces his weekly TV show that’s aired on the NBC affiliate in Cleveland since 1998.
Applying his experience as an attorney specializing in financial and health planning for seniors, Budish interviews healthcare professionals -- frequently from MetroHealth, the public, county-run hospital.
Some see it as a public service, others as an infomercial. The hospital subsidizes some of the show’s production costs in exchange for appearances on the program, according to a contract obtained by Cleveland.com. MetroHealth has not yet provided a copy of the same contract to ideastream in response to a public records request.
Budish says there’s nothing inappropriate about this arrangement.
"If and when I am successful in winning for election for county executive….At that point I will no longer have a relationship with MetroHealth," Budish says. He later added, "As I've said multiple times, I do not take a penny out of the show. Period….Nobody in my law firm has gotten a penny."
He has taken a leave from the show.
If elected, Budish says he’ll focus on making Cuyahoga County “an economic powerhouse” – through talent recruitment and education that’s tied to job training.
"In a region that has as high unemployment as we have, we need to – that’s unacceptable," he says. "We can’t have that kind of dis-alignment between the training and education and the jobs that are open."
It’s a problem many businesses and officials have long wrestled with. Budish says he’d bring schools together with employers and unions to train workers.
Budish supports many of FitzGerald’s initiatives -- such as offering kindergarteners $100 for college and spending $50 million to knock down vacant houses. He says he’ll ask the state and federal governments for more money to address blight.
"Otherwise, if we have this scourge of abandoned homes in our communities," he says, "it will make it very hard for our communities to come back to their historic strengths."
Beyond the talking points, Budish is short on specifics. He prefers the broad brush, saying his main agenda is helping people – particularly seniors and veterans and others in need.
If he wins the May 6 primary, Budish will face Republican Jack Schron in November. He seems confident. He hasn’t spent much of the $600,000 he’s raised but, according to Cleveland.com, has another fundraiser planned the week after the primary.