Lerner positions self as outsider in Summit County commissioner race
September 8, 2016
Editor's note: This is the first installment in a five-part series on candidates entered in two Summit County commissioner races. Look for additional installments in each of the next four Friday editions of the Summit Daily.
Summit Cove resident Jonathan Lerner was recently at a meeting when a man approached him and asked what the first thing he would do if elected to the position of county commissioner.
"My answer made him upset," said the 52-year-old Lerner. "Because I said, 'Nothing.' I want to listen, I want to see how it works, I want to learn more about what the issues are instead of going in there and saying, 'All right, I'm here, now we're going to do this.' I'm not going to go in there and start messing stuff up or changing things. So he didn't like my answer."
The nine-year resident of the county is running as an independent for the District 2 seat currently held by incumbent Thomas Davidson, a Democrat seeking his third and final term. Lerner also faces fellow independent challenger Bill Wallace, who previously held the commissioner position as a Democrat from 1997 to 2007 before running for county treasurer and public trustee because of term limits.
So in a race of experienced officeholders, Lerner brands himself the "non-politician," an outsider who since July is running for office for the very first time. In the hopes of having people engage him directly, he asks that they visit his website and email him directly to inquire about his campaign platform.
The self-described "Jersey boy" is an East Coast native, views himself as somewhere on the political spectrum between Libertarian and "conservatarian" and runs the gamut with life and career experiences. After graduating from Glassboro State (now Rowan University) in his home state with a bachelor's degree in economics, he became a Wall Street staffer before making the leap into the Air Force as a services officer. "I realized I didn't want to sit at a desk," he said, "I actually preferred to be out and about with people and doing things."
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After three years stationed in Texas and Washington state following time training in the ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, Lerner became a private business owner in Colorado's neighboring state, opening a drum shop after playing the instrument since age 12. The venture lasted a decade and Lerner still owns the commercial building there, but he found his way to the Rocky Mountain to pursue his other primary childhood passion — skiing.
The upcoming season will mark his 10th anniversary as an instructor at Keystone Resort. In that time, he also helped open Lowe's Home Improvement in Silverthorne in August 2012, working in customer service, and has been a board member of his HOA for more than eight years.
Through time in the Air Force and, more recently, time spent navigating residents' minor disputes, Lerner believes he is set up well to be one of the county's next consumer relations liaisons. That, he says, is at the core of the job.
"At certain points," said Lerner, "the county employees are customer service agents. They provide the service for the people that pay them. I think sometimes people forget that, and I want to be there and say, 'Hey, how do we help the customers — the taxpayers of the county — get better service?' That's the critical link for me. They will always tell you what was right and what was wrong, and if you listen you can make things better. You can make things more efficient."
Lerner is running on a campaign of restoring some balance to the decision-making body for the county. With a voter base registered as one-third each of Democrats, Republicans and those unaffiliated, and of those he said he's spoken to, they don't feel they're being adequately represented according to that distribution. It's also why he prefers to run under his long-held independent tag, rather than as a Republican — the party he caucused for at the state level during the 2008 general election.
"I don't want to be under anyone's thumb," he said. "When you get backing from someone, you typically have to somewhat abide by their wishes. The people who pay the bills are the people that matter to me most, and the way their money gets spent. I'm the guy that's not a politician. I'm the one that still feels like I'm part of the community."
Lerner believes he'll have broad-based appeal and support come November, from conservatives, liberals and those like him who don't think any one party encapsulates their political perspective. Ultimately he thinks local government should allow the private sector and the open market to play their traditional roles and come up with the answers to issues in the community, from workforce housing and business development through a reduction in taxes and managing regional health-care costs.
If elected, Lerner also intends to advocate for a mental-health facility in the county, an assisted-living center for its elderly and for raises for local law enforcement, specifically the county's jailors. What he doesn't want to see is the county acting as a landlord and trying to solve the housing crisis on its own.
"I don't want the county government or any government owning any housing, period," said Lerner. "I don't want to see the county collecting rent and knocking on doors. I just don't see that as a government position. So if they have property they can sell, or that they can give to private developers for those things, I would like to facilitate that."
And if he has to unnerve a few individuals with the lack of precise action on how he'd switch things up on the county board, so be it. Lerner said he's at least willing to hear their perspective through an open-door policy that he doesn't feel currently exists.
"That's really what matters most," he said. "I'm unbiased and fair. I hold honor and integrity as a paramount characteristic. When it comes to it, I want the rules to apply the same to everyone."
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