In 1978, the city of Cleveland became the first American city to default since the Great Depression. The economy was in disrepair and its disenfranchised citizens were frustrated with the mayor’s office. People began to call on George V. Voinovich, a successful and nationally known politician from Cleveland, to save his city. In November of 1979, he secured his new position as mayor and began to formulate a plan. He came up with an aggressive restoration campaign to rebuild Cleveland’s image, economy, and quality of life. He did so through a highly-organized plan that aimed to broadly rehabilitate the city of Cleveland, called the Operations Improvement Task Force (OIT).
Through the OIT, Voinovich would form a program that merged the ideas of both the public and private sectors and distinguished itself as nonpartisan. Instead of approaching the situation with “across-the-board budget cuts” (Ohio Operations Improvement Task Force, 1979, p. 1), Voinovich wanted to seek out the problem areas that could be decreased without harming the livelihood of the people of Cleveland. However, Voinovich had to assemble a large and encompassing task force that wouldn’t draw from taxpayer money. Through his aggressive campaigning style and open communication, he managed to unite a multifaceted group of professionals who were “on loan” from their current company (Ohio Operations Improvement Task Force, 1979, p. 2). The employees were then placed in a highly-organized branch system, along with varying consultants which would help to oversee the project and keep it objective. All this information was widely available to the public due to multiple faqs, press releases, and statements from Voinovich. Every step he took in forming the OIT mirrored that of an air-tight campaign plan, in which “good plans divide responsibility, integrate work, and present a step-by-step blueprint” (Burton, Miller, & Shea, 2015, p. 4).
Outside of “on loan” employees, Voinovich worked to secure countless donations that helped to propel the program to success, along with “more than 300 people [donating] more than 150,000 hours” (Voinovich Collections, 2010, p. 17). Not only did Voinovich secure money to help launch his plan, which is an integral part of campaigning, he did so with low cost to himself and the city. He did so by understanding “why individuals and groups might give to political campaigns” (Burton, Miller, & Shea, 2015, p. 126). Voinovich knew that the desperation for a comeback was felt among many people who lived in Cleveland and that a shared passion would propel greater donations towards the OIT.
While the OIT was busy researching recommendations for reasonable budget cuts, Voinovich was also working to revitalize urban neighborhoods and the community resources adjacent to them. This included investing more so in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Museum, and North Coast Harbor. Through his work of lifting the living standards in urban areas of Cleveland, he also cut crime rates by 14% overall (Voinovich Collections, 2010, p. 18). After many months, the OIT ended and presented Voinovich with the final report which cited how the project “expanded communication between private and public sectors” and “task force members have developed a better understanding of the complex problems of municipal government management” (Ohio Operations Improvement Task Force, 1980, p. 3).
While it took a few more years that the OIT estimated for Cleveland to pull out of default, it finally happened in 1987. It is difficult to estimate whether it would have taken longer or not without the presence of Voinovich’s Operations Improvement Task Force, but it still is a great example of what strong campaigning looks like. George Voinovich managed to pull off a year’s long action plan in three short months, with little cost to his citizens, and rehabilitated the way of life and the reputation of Cleveland.
Burton, M.J., Miller, W.J., & Shea, D.M. (2015). Campaign craft: The strategies, tactics, and art of political campaign management. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Cleveland (Ohio). Mayor, Krizman, Gregory, and Voinovich, George V. , 1936-, “Press release from the Office of the Mayor announcing the Operations Improvement Task Force, December 11, 1979,” Voinovich Collections, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www. voinovichcollections. library. ohio. edu/items/show/607.
Ohio Operations Improvement Task Force, “City of Cleveland / Operations Improvement Task Force final report, July 1980,” Voinovich Collections, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www. voinovichcollections. library. ohio. edu/items/show/580.
Ohio Operations Improvement Task Force, “Fact sheet, Operations Improvement Task Force, City of Cleveland ca. December 1979,” Voinovich Collections, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www. voinovichcollections. library. ohio. edu/items/show/608.
“U. S. Senator George V. Voinovich: ordinary man, extraordinary public service,” Voinovich Collections, accessed June 18, 2018, https://www. voinovichcollections. library. ohio. edu/items/show/88.