Cleveland mayor, Ohio governor, U.S. senator: That triple crown has been won only twice, by Frank Lausche and then George Voinovich, separated by a generation and by party affiliation, although each was famous for earning the esteem of peers on both sides of the aisle. As a Republican running for statewide office, Voinovich had the advantage of being a Clevelander. Voters in Ohio’s bluest region were already acquainted with him when he ran for governor in 1990, and most were sufficiently impressed with his character and competence to make an exception and vote for the candidate with an R after his name. A rule of thumb in Ohio politics is that Democrats need to win Cuyahoga County with at least 60 percent to carry the state; in his first run for the U.S. Senate, in 1998, Voinovich kept his opponent at 53 percent there. He won every county when he ran for reelection in 2004.
In Washington, Voinovich served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sounded the alarm about anti-Semitism at home and abroad, and advocated that NATO membership be extended to several Eastern European countries (it was). In Columbus, he eliminated the state deficit. In Cleveland, he succeeded the charming but irresponsible Dennis Kucinich and applied strong doses of fiscal conservatism to reel the city back from the brink. John Cranley, the mayor of Cincinnati, tweets that Voinovich told him that “being mayor was his favorite job!”
How fitting that Voinovich’s last public appearance was at Cleveland City Hall, where he spoke on Friday, to commemorate Slovenian Independence Day. On Sunday, he died in his sleep, at age 79. R.I.P.