Don’t call David Gilbert of Solon a cheerleader for the city of Cleveland. Perhaps a salesman or a representative.

Gilbert, who will be honored with the newly created Civic Leadership Award Nov. 2 at the Cleveland Jewish News 18 Difference Markers event, held three powerful positions – all at the same time during the summer. In addition to being president and CEO of both Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, he was the chairman of the Republican National Convention’s Host Committee.

An estimated 50,000 politicians, media and others came to Cleveland for the four-day RNC to see what the city has to offer. Many were first-time visitors.

“I’m not fond of the cheerleader term,” Gilbert said. “What I love doing is getting my hands dirty. Certainly, the jobs that I have are very much about selling Cleveland, about changing the narrative of Cleveland, about getting people inside and out more engaged in this community. But I don’t see it as cheerleading. I think cheerleading is a connotation that you’re waving your hands in the air and it doesn’t have as much substance to it.”

Gilbert grew up in the South Euclid portion of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School. He earned an undergraduate degree in business from The Ohio State University in Columbus and an MBA in marketing from Cleveland State University.

In college, Gilbert was a member of AEPi and also worked for the organization for a year after graduating college.

“I didn’t have a very significant, overall Jewish upbringing,” Gilbert recalled. “I had a wonderful upbringing. We didn’t belong to a synagogue. After my bar mitzvah, I really wasn’t very active. It was when I went to college, joining a Jewish fraternity was for me in many ways, a real turning point. 

“It gave me a strong recognition of the value of being around other Jewish people and the comfortability of that, and from there I got very involved in Hillel. That’s where I met my wife, at Hillel at Ohio State. I went on an Israel trip in college. College was a great time for me really discovering my Jewishness.”

Gilbert was like most children growing up. He wasn’t contemplating his future.

“Not in the least,” he said. “I’m not sure at that point I knew what I wanted to do other than go out and play. Even in college, I didn’t really know these specific jobs necessarily actually existed. I think I did develop early on a real love for Cleveland and with a couple of college internships, worked on some big events downtown, and that really started me on a path. But I wouldn’t say at that point I had this in mind specifically.”

Gilbert said the demands of his two positions have kept him from becoming more involved in other areas, such as the Jewish community.

“There are such high demands time-wise with my job and a lot of civic commitments related to that,” he said. “There are other things I do wish I had more time in which to dig in in the Jewish community, but there are just literally not enough hours in the day. That is part of the sacrifice of this set of positions.”

Gilbert said he awakes early and because of his different electronic devices, he’s always working. But when he finds time to relax, he enjoys running, mostly through the Cleveland Metroparks, and cycling, such as along Chagrin River Road and in Geauga County. He also cherishes spending time with his family.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily great at relaxing, overall,” he said.

– Bob Jacob

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