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In a time of polarization, we’re asking Ohioans what matters and searching for what connects us.

The sole Republican on her city council, Michele Weiss focuses on understanding

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Lauren Green
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Ideastream Public Media

These days it can feel like politics - and politicians - are more divided than ever, but an interesting thing is happening in University Heights.

A largely liberal city, where over 70 percent of residents voted for President Biden, elected Republican Michele Weiss to city council. Then, her colleagues, most of whom are Democrats themselves, elected her - the only Republican on city council - to be their Vice Mayor.

And many of those Democratic colleagues genuinely like and admire her.

“We work so well together, we talk several times a week,” Democrat John Rach told The Ohio Newsroom. “We’re on the same page. We kind of complete each other’s sentences because we all have the same goal on the city so she’s been tremendous to work with.”

“She’s amazing, Michele is really quite amazing,” is what another Democratic colleague, Barbara Blankfeld had to say. “She is someone who will ask those questions of will that sometimes you will have an ah-ha moment that you didn’t look at it that way before.”

And Weiss feels just as warmly about many of her Democratic colleagues.

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Ida Lieszkovszky
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Ideastream Public Media
Michele Weiss

“I have had no issues with anybody, we get along wonderfully, everyone is respectful of each other’s views on council,” she said.

Now, Weiss is a no-apologies Republican. She voted for Donald Trump, twice. She’s on the Executive Committee of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party. She’s a fiscal conservative, a fan of capital markets who thinks government should stay out of free enterprise’s way. Religion is very important to her - she’s Orthodox Jewish.

But on many issues, she lands somewhere between the right and the center.

Take, for instance, gun rights.

“I believe that people have the right to carry, I don’t think anyone should have a machine gun,” she said. “That’s just a perfect example of coming together in the middle.”

She also supports things like federal Title 1 funding for schools. Education, in general, is a top political concern of hers - she is the controller for the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland. She also sees the value of some social safety net programs to help low-income families since believes private enterprise isn’t enough, though she feels they ought to be short-term to help folks get on their feet. And she has no problem with government paying for infrastructure - who else is going to do it?

All that makes her, she says, a moderate Republican - one that has lots of friends who are Democrats.

“We can debate, and we agree a lot,” she said. “I’m not going to say 100 percent but it’s a respect and I think the national politics have lost that respect for each other.”

“People have to remember they have to be kind to each other, and I think that’s also kind of missing in some of our politics. You have to be human, you know that element is missing a little bit unfortunately.”
Michele Weiss

Talking without agreeing, being open to someone else’s point of view, is exactly what she wishes more politicians would do.

“You’re elected to be a representative of your constituents and I think people have kind of gone rogue on both sides and are not listening to their constituents because it seems like a lot of people are moderate,” she said.

Weiss’ disappointment with politicians increases the higher up the chain they get. Local government is largely functioning, she believes. On the state level, she’s a fan of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine; she said he handled the pandemic particularly well. But she seems disillusioned with the folks in D.C. She said it often seems like they are trying to “manipulate situations to get ahead” instead of working on the problems their constituents face in the current moment.

She is one of those people who truly believes that if you sit a group of people down at a table and let them talk things out, they can come to some sort of consensus.

“People have to remember they have to be kind to each other, and I think that’s also kind of missing in some of our politics,” she said. “You have to be human, you know that element is missing a little bit unfortunately.”

Her advice to national politicians is to go back home and meet the people they’re supposed to be representing.

“You know your job is to serve the people so you need to understand what your people are doing,” she said.

For her part, she plans to continue serving her own small city, working with people on the other side of the aisle, in the hopes that she can “make the world a little bit of a better place” than when she arrived.

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Disconnected Democracy is a collaborative project of the Ohio Newsroom. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the project. Send us an email.

The Ohio Newsroom is a formal collaboration of Ohio’s network of public radio newsrooms that creates a sustainable model for statewide news coverage, including stories that may not have otherwise been told.

Ida Lieszkovszky is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland, Ohio. She covers an array of topics, including politics, education, and the environment. You can find her on Twitter @Ida_in_Cle.