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Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish will not seek reelection to a third term

Cuyahoga County
“As the first two-term executive, I want to set the right precedent,” Budish said in a YouTube video announcing his decision.

Updated: 4:01 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish will not seek reelection to a third term.

In a YouTube video released Tuesday announcing his decision, Budish cited the need to set a term-limit precedent and a desire to spend time with his family.

“I respect the limits of public service. And leaders must know when it’s the right time to step aside and pass the torch to new leadership with fresh ideas,” he said in the video. “It should never be about us. It should always be about the people we serve.”

Budish was elected to the county’s top leadership position in 2014, succeeding the county’s first executive Ed FitzGerald who ran for governor during his first term. Residents voted in 2009 to change the county’s government structure to an executive and council, replacing the board of three commissioners.

“Two terms, eight years. That’s the right amount of time to serve as county executive,” Budish said. 

But, Budish added, he still has work to do in the remaining 14 months of his administration, including launching a utility department to build microgrids that keep the lights on in specific business districts if the larger power grid goes down. The idea was originally included in the region’s bid to attract Amazon’s new headquarters in 2017.

Budish also plans to focus on attracting businesses and workforce to the region. He said he would invite candidates for his position to meet with him to discuss the county’s future.

“Leadership means serving in a way that promotes the best interests of the community both today and tomorrow,” he said. “I want to make it as smooth a transition to the next executive as possible.”

Last month, Democrat Chris Ronayne stepped down from his leadership position at University Circle Inc. to launch his campaign for county executive. He joined Republican Lee Weingart, a lobbyist and and political consultant who served as Cuyahoga County commissioner from 1995 to 1997. Weingart announced his candidacy in February.

The 68-year-old Budish earned his law degree from New York University and specialized in elder law at a firm he founded in Beachwood.

In his YouTube video, he said once his term as county executive ends, he plans to spend time with his wife Amy, his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve devoted myself to community service for the last 15 years working seven days a week, nights and weekends,” he said. “And now is the right time to rebalance my priorities.”

The Budish administration

Budish, a Democrat, entered politics in 2006 when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. He rose to the rank of Speaker of the House just three years later.

He won the county executive seat in 2014 with 59% of the vote against Republican County Councilman Jack Schron. Four years later, he was reelected with an even larger share of the vote – 67% against Republican Peter Corrigan.

Budish’s tenure has not been without controversy, including criminal indictments against county employees and mismanagement at the county jail.

In January 2019, a grand jury indicted three county officials following a year-long corruption investigation. A month after the indictment, state and federal officials raided Budish’s office seeking files on the county jail and any evidence of extortion, obstruction and other crimes, according to a search warrant.

Budish denounced the raid as “without justification.”

An investigation into two county IT projects led to the indictment of former IT general counsel Emily McNeeley for telecommunications fraud, tampering with records, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and other offenses. McNeeley pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors, including dereliction of duty, in 2020.

Prosecutors accused the county’s former chief talent officer Douglas Dykes of improperly converting moving expenses into a signing bonus for a new hire and then allegedly lying about receiving approval for the bonus. Dykes resigned from the county last year.

Last month, former Cuyahoga County jail director Ken Mills was sentenced to nine months in jail for falsification and dereliction of duty. Mills had been charged with five counts related to overcrowding and insufficient medical care at the county jail. Under his watch, eight people died while in county custody.

In 2017, Budish had sought to consolidate jails across the county and bring all inmates to the Downtown Cleveland facility. The plan led to overcrowding and understaffing as documented in a 2018 U.S. Marshals report, which found “inhumane” conditions at the jail.

The county is in the process of building a new county jail and Budish recently proposed extending the life of a 0.25 percent sales tax to pay for the new facility.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Annie Wu is the Deputy Editor - Digital for Ideastream Public Media.