Stanley Aronoff, former Ohio Senate president, dies at 91

  • Stanley J. Aronoff, a Republican with nearly 40 years in the Ohio Legislature, has died at 91.
  • Aronoff, known for his negotiation skills, is known for championing public funding for the arts.
  • The lawmaker’s commitment to the arts is why the downtown Columbus skyscraper houses an art gallery and two theaters.

Stanley J. Aronoff, a Republican who spent nearly 40 years in the Ohio Legislature, including eight as the powerful Senate president, has died. He was 91.

Aronoff died peacefully Wednesday evening, said Tina Donnelly, managing partner at the law firm Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt. “At the ripe old age of 91, he lived a good life,” she said.

The Harvard-educated lawyer from Cincinnati was known as an artful negotiator for Republican interests at a time when Democrats controlled the Ohio House and, for part of his tenure, the governor’s office. He also championed public funding for the arts with legislation that endures today.

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One example of Aronoff’s finesse with a deal involved a 1992 campaign finance bill.

Ohio Statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse is seen in Columbus on Dec. 18, 2023. Stanley J. Aronoff, a Republican who spent nearly 40 years in the Ohio Legislature, including eight as the powerful Senate president, has died. He was 91. (Maddie McGarvey/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Democratic House Speaker Vern Riffe sent the legislation to the Senate with limits on individual campaign donations important to Republican candidates. Aronoff held up the bill in the GOP-dominated Senate until the House begrudgingly conceded to also limit contributions by labor unions, which were heavy givers to Democrats.

“Stanley Aronoff was the carrot to Vern Riffe’s stick,” said Brian Perera, a former longtime Senate finance director.

Aronoff and Riffe were the last powerful legislative leaders of Ohio’s pre-term-limits era, and both left under the cloud of an ethics scandal involving speaking fees that many viewed as emblematic of how strong the men had become.

Both were caught up in the 1995 scandal, in which they accepted fees that were less than $500 from more than one source for speaking at the same event to get around a $500 fee limit, a maneuver called “pancaking.”

Aronoff pleaded no contest to accepting $4,500 in fees from organizations tied to Ohio-based retailer The Limited. His community service sentence required him to lecture to student groups on ethics in government.

With term limits looming, Aronoff opted not to seek what would have been his final term in 1996. He founded Aronoff, Rosen & Hunt and later worked as an attorney at Strategic Health Care, a consulting firm.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who served with Aronoff in the state Senate, said the Ohio Statehouse renovation, completed in 1996, was among projects he championed.

“Stan was a driving force behind the restoration of the Ohio Statehouse, making sure that there was adequate funding and long-term vision to bring the Statehouse complex, including the Senate Annex, back to its original Greek-revival style with the functionality for use in the modern era,” he said in a statement expressing condolences to Aronoff’s family.

Aronoff began his Statehouse career as in 1961 as a state representative, moving later to the Senate. He ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 1974 and for Congress in 1978. He was chairman of the Council of State Governments, a nonpartisan policy and advocacy group, in 1996.

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An aficionado of music, theater and fine arts, the dapper and always finely coiffed Aronoff spearheaded Ohio’s Percent for Art law. The law, which took effect in 1990, requires that all new and renovated public buildings that cost more than $4 million must dedicate 1 percent of spending to acquiring, commissioning or installing works of art.

Aronoff’s commitment to the arts is one of the reasons the downtown Columbus skyscraper named for Riffe houses an art gallery and two theaters, Perera said.

“There’s a reason the Riffe building is the Riffe Center for Government and the Arts,” he said.

There are two arts centers named for Aronoff, one in downtown Cincinnati and one on the main campus of the University of Cincinnati. The biological sciences lab at the Ohio State campus in Columbus also bears his name.

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