Cleveland likely to reelect low-key mayor who saved city from default

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When he was elected mayor two years ago, George V. Voinovich promised reporters that his tenure in office would be a quiet, low-key one, devoid of the controversy that marked Dennis J. Kucinich's two years in office.

Mr. Voinovich has kept his promise. His quiet style and the comparative quiet at City Hall appear to be the main reasons for his high standing among the voters -- an 82 percent approval rating in one poll taken this spring. Even many Democrats appear to want to keep the Republican in office rather than turn to one of their own party.

"George Voinovich has a high rating because he has established the fact he's interested in governing the city and he's not interested in confrontation," said Robert E. Hughes, the Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Republican chairman. "He's lowered the level of political noise in Cleveland by about 1,000 percent."

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While Mr. Kucinich, his predecessor, regularly fought with many councilmen, Voinovich has wooed them, taking pains to sidestep taking a stand on controversial issues that affect the council, such as the reduction from 33 to 21 members the voters approved in June.

City Council President George L. Forbes, a Democrat and one of Kucinich's most bitter enemies, has all but endorsed Voinovich's reelection, calling him a "great leader of this community" at a joint appearance at a civic luncheon in May.

After one July weekend, in which Cleveland hosted the All-Star baseball game, a professional football game, and a boxing title fight, Voinovich said, "I think it was one of the finest weekends we've ever had in terms of a good feeling about this city. I had more people come up to me and say they were really proud about this city."

Voinovich's greatest achievement, as measured by the polls and this city's leaders, had been to get the city out of the default it went into under Kucinich in December 1978. Cleveland got out of default in November 1980. Last Aug. 13 Voinovich announced that Standard & Poors, a New York investment rating firm, once again considered Cleveland's bonds to be of investment grade.

Part of the reason for that rating, a Standard & Poors executive said, was the new attitude under Voinovich's administration. Voters were willing to help the city out, he said, as evidenced by their approval Feb. 17 of a hike in the city income tax from 1 1/2 percent to 2 percent.

Voinovich generally has been immune to criticism, so much that Timothy F. Hagan, the local Democratic chairman, suggested tongue-in-check that the mayor should be canonized. At the very least, most of the city's establishment appears committed to his reelection.

It was the broad support that made it difficult for the Democrats to find a candidate against him. State Rep. Patrick A. Sweeney, who had run unsuccessfully in 1975 for mayor, eventually took up the challenge. But Voinovich is regarded as the favorite.

"The truth is for two years we've had peace at City Hall but very little progress," Mr. Sweeney said in his announcement statement. He has been especially critical of the mayor for the rising crime rate.

But the level of debate probably will not be as loud as it would have been if Kucinich, a feisty street fighter, had run again. Kucinich is completing a book on his term as mayor and has ruled out any political activity this year, but not next year.

"Life for the average Clevelander has gotten worse since I left office," he said, citing increases in taxes and utility rates.

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