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Calfee NOW Episode 22 With Ryan Puente, Chief of Government Affairs for the City of Cleveland

On Episode 22 of Calfee NOW, Raymond Tarasuck and Daniel Reinhard, both Senior Counsel, and Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group spoke, with Ryan Puente, Chief of Government Affairs for the City of Cleveland.

Topics discussed included: 

  • Ryan's background and how he got into politics.
  • The responsibilities his job entails.
  • The top goals and target areas of progress for the Bibb administration's first 100 days.


Calfee NOW Episode 22

Watch the full episode. 



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

So, hello everybody. I'd like to welcome everyone to another Calfee [inaudible 00:00:06]. Today we have a special guest friend of mine for a long, long time who is a newly Chief appointed government of let me get this right. The newly appointed Chief for Government Affairs for new mayor, City of Cleveland, Justin Bibb. He's also the former executive director of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, Ryan Puente. Thanks for joining us Ryan.

Ryan Puente:

Thanks Mike, thanks for having me Calfee and the rest of the participants.

Michael Bowen:

Man that was a mouthful I couldn't get that out. So I want to hand it over to Dan. I need to get my coffee this morning. Go ahead Dan.

Dan Reinhard:

Good morning, Ryan, thank you for joining us. Really appreciate it today. I'm Dan Reinhard, I have recently rejoined the Calfee team. I spent a number of years with a client of ours and was anxious to get back to Central Ohio. And I am now back in Columbus working in our government relations team, but do a significant amount of work with both Ray and Mike in Cleveland.

Ryan Puente:

Welcome back and congrats on the move.

Dan Reinhard:

Thank you.

Raymond Tarasuck:

And Ryan, you remember me? Ray Tarasuck and we have known each other for years from your time at the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. So congratulations on your new role, we're very excited here. I'm very excited to working with you and Mayor Bibb going forward in the future.

Ryan Puente:

Thanks Ray. Good to see you again.

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely. So we'll get started Ryan. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into politics and ultimately ended up with the Bibb Administration?

Ryan Puente:

So I first became interested in politics. It was 2004, John Carey was running for president and there was a town hall that my dad dragged me to, I will say drag because I really wasn't interested at that time in politics. And so my dad was a reporter at the time and so he was covering the race and so I went to that town hall and it was really intriguing to watch all these folks from all over the state come just to hear one individual speak. For me, it was kind of gratifying to see how one person could impact so many lives or try to impact so many lives and just kind of how many folks put him... They believed in him and his vision. So, that moment kind of always stuck with me.

Ryan Puente:

And then it really wasn't until I was in college. I did my first internship in Senator Brown's office that was during my junior year and I was just an intern at the time, but I had the awesome responsibility of getting to talk to constituents every day over the phones. And so helping folks navigate the different levels of government and try to help them with the many pressing problems and challenges that they're going through in their lives. I found that to be extremely rewarding, not everybody likes answering the phones and getting beat up by constituents, but I actually really enjoyed it and then that also helped me get a better understanding of government as well and different agencies, different departments and how to connect with different resources. So it gave me a lot more clarity when I went back to OU graduated with a Political Science degree.

Ryan Puente:

And then after I graduated, I knew I wasn't just going to get a job right away in politics. So I actually went back for a second internship and both of them were five days a week, eight hours. And at the time the internships were unpaid so that told you how much I really had to enjoy doing it. And then I was there probably about six more months before I decided to pursue grad school. I moved to D.C. and got my masters at the MPA program at George Mason University. And then I was blessed to be able to do two internships at the White House under former president Barack Obama and that experience just really exposed me to kind of the executive side, as well as exposed to high level principal and the administration from Chief of Staff, Dennis McDonough to Valerie Jarret, who was overseeing governmental affairs.

Ryan Puente:

So when I've graduated after about 18 months, I was pretty homesick at the time I really missed Cleveland. My family was here, my then girlfriend now wife, Amanda she was back home. So the day after I graduated, I got out of plane pretty much left everything in D.C. And then I started to look for a job in politics, got involved with a local consulting firm called Burges and Burges strategist and I had the privilege of working on a lot of levy campaigns, a lot of candidate campaigns, and then special projects like the Cleveland metropolitan school districts attendance campaign, which was similar to a campaign except for trying to win votes. We were trying to get kids in school. So those experiences' kind of exposed me to the world of campaigns and politics.

Ryan Puente:

And then after Burges, I went to the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party where I was executive director, as you said, and I was there about two years, and that was another phenomenal experience and dealing with candidates as you know, and some of the challenges that they're facing and running campaigns, but it also really exposed me to the world of precinct committee folks and on the ground grassroots organizing and just a wonderful group of folks that I got to interact with as well as various constituency groups and affinity group. So that's how I ended up kind of to my most current recent role, which was managing now Mayor Bibb's campaign.

Ryan Puente:

He reached out, I think it was early 2019. When he told me that he was going to be doing this, I think I had the same reaction that a lot of folks did was crazy and to his credit, he stayed on me for the better part of a year and so then I left the Democratic Party in December 2020 and managed his campaign starting in January of '21 and then we had a hell of a year together.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Ryan Chief of Government Affairs itself is a new position in and of itself. I mean, the previous administration had one individual that was Chief of Government Affairs and Communications as well and now the sole role of Chief of Government Affairs, your role is essentially a new role in and of itself. Describe for us some of the duties and your responsibilities going forward as the Chief of Government Affairs itself.

Ryan Puente:

Largely it's maintaining and building relationships with a lot of external stakeholders, particularly in government and labor. So, building and developing and on the relationships I already particularly with a lot of the state house delegation, as well as the federal delegation and being able to connect with the various resources that are available in hopes of bringing dollars back to Cleveland and then also labor. My family history I didn't mention this in the opening, but I grew up in labor. My dad was a teamster for 14 years before becoming an investigative reporter. My uncle's [inaudible 00:07:01] all my grandfathers were United auto workers. So labor's always been in my bones and I think that's the other value that I add to the administration is just continuing to kind of be the conduit in the year directly to the mayor's office for labor.

Ryan Puente:

So it's, it's largely just like I said, building relationships and maintaining those so we can connect our residents with different resources and hopefully bring dollars back, particularly right now, as you all know probably intimately well, we're going to have the state capital bill coming up. So, trying to make sure that Cleveland is getting its fair share of resources available in Columbus, as well as the federal government. Most recently, the mayor and I attended the U.S. Conference for mayors, and we were able to connect with secretary, I'm sorry, the secretary of the department of transportation, Pete Buttigieg. And just from that meeting alone, we were able to identify 40 different grant opportunities that are coming down the pike and so making sure the administration is prepared to identify and go after those opportunities. That's kind of the goal of my role.

Dan Reinhard:

Great, Ryan that's great. And I think so many people don't understand how important of an economic engine Cleveland is for the state of Ohio. And we are incredibly supportive of Cleveland's success. We're invested in the Mayor's success and taking Cleveland to that next step forward with that in mind, you identified a couple of items you're identifying at the conference of mayor's. What are some of the top goals and target areas of progress for the Bibb administration and say this first 100 days.

Ryan Puente:

I'll start with, I think the one we talked about quite a bit on the campaign and we're dealing with it firsthand as a modern and responsive city hall. How can we as an administration make it easier for residents to connect with resources or stakeholders. So if you're a business and you're trying to seek a permit, you don't have to go through five or six departments. How can we make that easier for the consumers? So, maybe streamlining the process. So you only have to go to one department, almost a one stop shop to be able to get business done. So we have, as the mayor has said, continuously throughout the campaign city hall needs to be moving at the speed of business and being able to respond fairly quickly and efficiently. So we don't lose projects or we miss out or stakeholders don't miss out on fund opportunities.

Ryan Puente:

And then also a modern responsive hall for residents. So that way, instead of having to take two or three buses to come down to city hall, can you do business in the neighborhoods at a library? Are you able to get access to those resources directly? A couple, a couple minutes walks from your home. So instead of having to have all these barriers to getting down, to do business, how can we bring government to the neighborhoods? And that's something we talked quite a bit about on the campaign, a couple other key priorities, public safety will always be the number one priority we've had the past couple years or record number of homicides. And so finding again, different resource, particularly around technology. So we can start to curb and prevent and combat some of the violence that we're seeing, not just in Cleveland, but in cities all across the country.

Ryan Puente:

And that was another wonderful part about being able to go to the U.S. Conference for mayors, we were able to exchange ideas with other cities, other mayors around some of the things that they're doing. So hearing about, for instance, in Shreveport, Louisiana. They have a real time crime center that's not only tracking crimes as they occur in real time, but using that resource also for, for a legal dumping and to curb that issue as well. So aside from that, another priority is going to be high quality education. So not just what happens inside the school, but what happens outside the school when students leave that school setting, what opportunities are available for them? So that way we're keeping students busy, they're still learning outside the classroom. And, also connecting back to the modern and responsive city hall, even just pool times are, are the pool times aligned with the school year calendar so that when students are out for the summer or our pools open at kind of nine, 10:00 AM just like they are in the suburbs instead of not opening till almost 1:00 PM.

Ryan Puente:

So changing things like that and then also these [inaudible 00:11:40] that are coming down the pike, making sure that we're leveraging those resources. Like other cities are too to get, lack of a better term, more bang for our buck. So how do we leverage those dollars and work with our state partners and our federal partners? So those dollars can go a lot farther to addressing some quality of life issues that we're seeing. So those are just a couple of the key priorities, but we're going to be dealing with the whole host of issues and challenges, but trying to put people in neighborhoods first as the ethos of the campaign was.

Dan Reinhard:

Great.

Raymond Tarasuck:

Ryan, I want to pivot back for a second back to your role in the administration. And Dan's question was directed towards the first 100 days of the administration's goals. Talk a little bit about your goals for your role over the next 100 days, the first 100 days of the administration.

Ryan Puente:

Right now, the biggest project that I'm taking on, along with my colleagues The mayor, he started a task force around COVID 19, as we're seeing the Omicron Variant spread rapidly throughout the community. It was important for the mayor to show leadership, visibility, and public engagement on COVID 19. So this task force is made up of nearly 40 individuals through all different sectors throughout the community. So I'm helping lead that task force organizing it. And the biggest part that we're going to roll out fairly soon is an aggressive public education awareness campaign. So what resources are available for residents? Where can you go get testing done? Where can you go to obtain a vaccine right now we're at 45% of the city that has been fully vaccinated. So the mayor set a goal similar to the county that we would like to see that more increased at almost 60%.

Ryan Puente:

So, that's one of the bigger projects and then like I mentioned before, the state capital bill is going to be coming down the pike. So working with a lot of different stakeholders to identify what projects are a priority for them, and then working with our county and state delegation to really drive a unified, as well as our business partners to identify and drive a unified agenda. That's something I think has been missing in Cleveland for quite some time. And you hear about it quite a bit. So instead of everybody submitting, 20 to 30 different project priorities, how can we work together to identify what are some of those top five or top 10 and hopes that we can bring back real resources? So that's some of the stuff I'm working on right now, as well as continuing, just to build relationships throughout the community and my new role, particularly with one of my counterparts and different sectors as well, healthcare business, philanthropy, nonprofit, that's been the bulk of my first, first couple.

Michael Bowen:

Well, this has been great Ryan, I've known you for years and I've known you've had a master plan this whole and it ended up working. And so I want to say thank you from behalf of Calfee congratulations on behalf of Calfee, to you and Mayor Bibb and to reiterate kind of something Dan said earlier, we're fully supportive of the Bibb administration and looking forward to new Cleveland. So with that being said, is there anything final you want to say? Obviously our clients are going to see this business news is going to see this Calfee now interview, is there any partying words you want to leave with us?

Ryan Puente:

Just that it's funny, Mike, I think Friday is the Young Dems they're going to give the mayor and myself an award and you and I started that organization four years ago, and to see kind of where we both are now, it's been quite a remarkable journey and so-

Michael Bowen:

Its been a ride.

Ryan Puente:

It's been a ride so. But I'm really grateful for the opportunity to talk a little bit about the administration myself and I also look forward to being a valued partner on behalf of The Mayor and the administration

Michael Bowen:

And being said, I want to thank everybody for tuning to our latest Calfee now.

Dan Reinhard:

Thank you.

Ryan Puente:

Take care everybody.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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