June 15, 2016- Cleveland Plain Dealer
By: Phillip Morris
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was recalling George Voinovich’s handling of the deadly 1993 Lucasville prison riot, when a woman shyly approached him Monday afternoon at a downtown Cleveland coffee shop.
“Mr. DeWine, excuse me. I just wanted to thank you for the work you do on behalf of domestic violence victims,” said the woman who identified herself as a former police officer, currently employed by the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center.
DeWine is accustomed to being recognized whenever he ventures into Cleveland. Other than Greene County (where he lives in the village of Cedarville), he says he spends more time in Cuyahoga County than any other Ohio county.
His current office requires that he constantly travel the state. But he has developed a particular respect for Ohio’s largest media market. It wasn’t always that way.
He credits his easy familiarity with the wide diversity of Ohio to his friend and long-time political colleague Voinovich, who died Sunday morning at the age of 79.
“People often forget that when I first ran for governor in the (1990) primary against (Bob) Taft and Voinovich, I didn’t have any kind of urban presence to speak of. I represented a fairly rural congressional district, and didn’t really have experience navigating Ohio’s cities. That is one of the many things (Voinovich) taught me,” DeWine said.
Headed toward certain defeat in that gubernatorial primary, he decided to accept Voinovich’s offer to join the ticket as his running mate. He said he knew the opportunity to serve as lieutenant governor would afford him a bird’s-eye view of how Voinovich, a big city Republican, operated. In addition, he knew the office could expand his political profile throughout Ohio.
“I knew that if I were ever to achieve my goals of becoming a U.S. senator (he did in 1994) or Ohio governor (he announced his candidacy last month), I would need to become more familiar with the state and how to manage it. Voinovich was very instrumental in helping equip me to seek those goals.”
As DeWine reflected on the leadership lessons he learned from Voinovich, he wistfully recalled an awful Easter 23 years ago. That was the April morning when the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville exploded into one of the deadliest prison riots in modern American history.
When the 11-day siege ended, Robert Vallandingham, a corrections officer, was dead, along with nine prisoners, each killed by inmates during the violence. The prison itself sustained nearly $40 million worth of damage.
“That was one of our most trying moments. But, I watched as Gov. Voinovich methodically gathered information in the midst of the crisis and made strategic decisions based on that information.”
Although DeWine, a former Greene County prosecutor, was responsible at the time for all state agencies involving law enforcement, there was no mistaking who was in charge of managing the prison crisis.
“I learned valuable lessons from watching George’s leadership during the riot. His patience and attention to details was remarkable. He made the correct decisions that helped prevent an awful situation from becoming even worse.”
Although DeWine and Voinovich later served in the U.S. Senate together, with DeWine serving as the senior senator, it is clear that he considered Voinovich somewhat of a political mentor.
“A lot of people were familiar with George’s ability to manage, but what was less obvious was his ability not to micromanage. He was diligent about selecting the right people for the right jobs and allowing them to do their work. That was a big part of his effectiveness.”
Voinovich recently shared with DeWine that he had been working on his book. He was hoping to produce a guide that would detail the valuable leadership lessons he learned during his rich and highly successful political odyssey.
It’s not clear how close to completion the book was before his death. This much is certain, though: The Book of Voinovich would include numerous public servants who owe him a debt of gratitude.
Or, as DeWine could have said:
The city boy taught the country boy important lessons about leadership.
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