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A new era could dawn in Northeast Ohio on Tuesday, when Cuyahoga County voters decide whether to sweep out the three county commissioners and make room for the kind of leader not seen in these parts in decades.

A Cuyahoga County executive would survey a wide domain. Not since 1950, when Mayor Thomas Burke led a Cleveland of nearly 1 million people, has a single person represented so large a constituency in Greater Cleveland.

The plan to drastically restructure county government — one in a series of reform efforts going back nearly a century — has aroused armies of critics and supporters, as well as a corps of wishful thinkers. Politics aside, it’s the utopian quality of Issue 6 that excites imaginations and that has people wondering, “What if?”

What if a reform plan does what its designers imagine and produces a smart, ethical, visionary leader who works for the betterment of the whole region?

And what if it doesn’t? Simply redesigning government does not guarantee good governing. The dream could fade fast if voters elect a weak or corrupt executive or if the new structure proves ineffective, as its detractors contend it will.

Still, the chance for profound change has never been greater. Historically, the mayor of Cleveland stood as emissary of a region of nearly 3 million people. But the mayor’s stature has faded with the city, which might slip below 400,000 in the 2010 census.

Cuyahoga County has 1.3 million people, 700,000 jobs, the largest economy in the state, property valued at $87 billion.

The Cuyahoga County executive would stand upon the most populous, most productive, most valuable chunk of real estate in Ohio.

Representing 55 municipalities, he or she could become the regional catalyst that the region has long gone without.

The right person in such a well-resourced position, experts say, could make Greater Cleveland a national player again.

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