Cuyahoga will have a new county executive next year. Where do the candidates stand on mass transit?
Cuyahoga voters will elect a new county executive on Nov. 8 after incumbent County Executive Armond Budish chose to retire rather than running for a third term.
The two candidates, Republican Lee Weingart and Democrat Chris Ronayne, have participated in several public forums and City Club debates to discuss their platforms and campaigns. On Oct. 14, the pair met at Goldhorn Brewery to discuss mobility and public transit at a forum held by Bike Cleveland and Clevelanders for Public Transit.
Weingart said it himself: both he and Ronayne are able to identify issues with mobility in the county, but they plan to impose different methods to address those problems.
If elected, Ronayne has said he will create a Department of Mobility and Infrastructure that will prioritize mobility and make public transportation more accessible and equitable for residents in the county without cars.
“This is what the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure is going to be all about,” he said. “It’s about working across the sectors within the county, within the private sector and with the nonprofit sector, to make sure that those who have paratransit needs get what they need.”
Residents and businesses are flocking to states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that have improved public transit and mobility, Ronayne said, and bringing similar changes to the county would mean more equitable transportation in the region.
“It’s also an equity issue,” he said. “It’s an issue that we need to do right by our citizens in Ohio, the 12% who have no cars in Cuyahoga County [and] the 60% of jobs that are transit in accessible.”
Both candidates said they will work with mayors and organizations in the county to help implement mobility and safety improvements, like complete street programs that promote safety and mobility by incorporating infrastructure including bike lanes, bus lanes, sidewalks and more.
"We cannot continue on a path where we’re in suburbs where there are no sidewalks, where there are places where there’s no way to bike to and from because you’re on a threatening street,” Ronayne said. “We’ve got to do better.”
Lee Weingart views complete street programs as a city issue rather than a county issue, and though he would work with municipalities on that programming as county executive, he said he doesn’t see the county as leading or overtaking that responsibility.
The two candidates were both in favor of appointing public transit riders to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority board. Weingart specified that he wanted two of those board members to be from urban areas, and one from suburban areas.
However, Weingart said he would not be in favor of appointing board members who would support introducing a countywide ballot measure to increase the GCRTA funding, which he said would, in turn, increase resident taxes.
“We need to live within our means, as families do right now in these times of inflation, so I’m not in favor of any tax increases, and so I will not be in favor of appointing people who want to increase taxes.”
In response to the same question, Ronayne said he is in favor of turning to the state and federal government to request more funding for equitable transit and mobility funding.
“That narrative to get some of our legislators on board has got to be about mobility,” he said. “We can change that narrative, and we can bring dollars from the state of Ohio out of that rainy day fund that just grows and grows and grows and keeps collecting interest.”
Ronayne and Weingart were both in support of expanding the County Greenways Plan of 2019, that connects and increases access to trails and waterways in the region.
Weingart said his priorities “are more basic than that.”
"We are the poorest city in America, the worst place to live if you’re a Black woman or start a business if you’re a Black person,” he said. “We have to get back to basics in this county.”
The basics, Weingart said, relates to the foundation of his campaign plan – improving Cuyahoga County’s economic development. He plans to do so by helping to make 10,000 families private home owners, creating 4,000 new, well-paying jobs and creating a $10 million fund to invest in 250 small businesses owned by people of color in urban areas.
Accomplishing that goal would be Weingart’s priority as county executive, and doing so, he said, would promote public transit ridership through, what Weingart called the triangle of living, working and riding.
“There is … a transit connect to all those things because transit doesn’t exist outside of where you live and where you work,” he said. “So, I will integrate transit into my vision.”
Both Weingart and Ronayne discussed getting funding from federal and state governments for transportation projects and improved mobility access.
In terms of police presence on public transportation, Weingart said there should be no armed officers on GCRTA vehicles and that work will be done to decriminalize those who don’t pay fares.
“As county executive, I’m going to do a top to bottom review of every private police force in this county,” he said. “They’re not accountable to elected officials, they’re not accountable to the citizens. We need to make sure that our police are accountable to the citizens.”
Similarly, Ronayne said he would commit to continue to work on officer training to address racial inequities in policing.
“As far as officer training,” he said, “we are absolutely about a process of civilian review, about making sure they have body cameras and, most importantly, implicit bias training across all police departments in the county.”
Information about the election and voting in Ohio can be found online at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website.