Ohio is a better place because of Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, whose April 17 death ended a life dedicated to the state’s children. Widely liked and respected at the Statehouse, Tenenbaum focused on advancing a cause to which she dedicated her life.
Enveloping her was an aura of kindliness and good will, regardless of a public official’s political leanings. She seemed to have a simple lobbying philosophy: If it was good for kids, it was good with Gayle. And it didn’t hurt that Tenenbaum had a healthy sense of humor in dealing with the broad array of … personalities … that makes up Ohio’s Statehouse deciders.
Tenenbaum died of natural causes, at age 79. A range of illnesses had afflicted her in recent years. But never did she falter in her quest to improve life for Ohioans, and not only for the young: She was also an early advocate for Ohio’s PASSPORT program — which provides at-home Medicaid care for older Ohioans rather than consign them to nursing homes.
Personally liberal, Tenenbaum ran in 1972 to be a Democratic National Convention delegate on an at-large statewide slate of Ohioans supporting George S. McGovern for president.
Her quiet persistence for children’s welfare won Tenenbaum attention and respect among Republican as well as Democratic officeholders. And she was nonpartisan in her regard for public officials who shared her priorities. They reciprocated:
“Gayle was a determined, visionary, and well-respected advocate for Ohio’s children throughout her career,” Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said. “She was willing to work with anyone who shared her belief that all children matter and deserve to grow up and reach their God-given potential.”
Tenenbaum earned a master’s degree at Ohio State’s College of Social Work. She served for a time in the 1980s as executive assistant for human services to Democratic Gov. Richard F. Celeste. Earlier, she’d helped establish the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. She joined its staff 1986 to lead its policy and lobbying work.
For almost 30 years, Tenenbaum was the association’s Statehouse face. She fought fiercely but with quiet effectiveness to improve services for children and to prevent the neglect and abuse she had suffered at the hands of her own adoptive parents.
More recently, Tenenbaum was associated with Greater Cleveland’s Center for Community Solutions as a visiting fellow for children and youth. At various times she taught, or was a visiting fellow, scholar, or resource person, at Ohio State; at Case Western Reserve University’s Schubert Center for Child Studies; and at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service.
Ultimately, Gayle Channing Tenenbaum’s Statehouse lobbying client was the public interest. And nobody in recent memory served it — and Ohio’s children — better.
A memorial service is being planned. Two daughters, Carin Channing and Rachel Channing, survive. Tenenbaum’s husband, Milton D. Tenenbaum, died in 1997. Once Cuyahoga County’s deputy administrator, he was later deputy director of the Ohio Department of Human Services (now Job and Family Services) and the state Health Department’s chief of staff.
MEANWHILE: Four former governors — Republicans Bob Taft and John R. Kasich, Democrats Celeste and Ted Strickland — have told the GOP-run General Assembly that it’d be wrong to make it harder for Ohioans to amend the state constitution. The Senate has already moved to require 60% voter approval of amendments,
For eons, the requirement for voter approval of state constitutional amendments has been 50% plus one. GOP legislators’ aim is to stymie ratification this fall of an abortion rights amendment proposed by petition: That’s what passes for democracy in Columbus these days.
Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org