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Saturday, December 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 8/16/2014

COMMENTARY

Wreck of Ed FitzGerald entirely of his own making

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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Gordon Lightfoot sang in his hit song that the “gales of November” doomed the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.

But hubris sank another FitzGerald. Self-inflicted wounds doomed the campaign of Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, who is running for Ohio governor.

Initial impressions about the Democratic nominee were positive. He was the squeaky-clean former FBI man who rehabilitated a thoroughly corrupt government in Ohio’s most populous county.

Sure, name recognition outside of northeast Ohio was poor. But that could be remedied. Opponents of Gov. John Kasich had high hopes.

They were tempered when Mr. FitzGerald stumbled at the starting gate. He picked a running mate with tax problems who had to be dumped as a liability.

But the FitzGerald gubernatorial campaign could still recover. November was months away.

He fumbled again. His nominee for Cuyahoga County treasurer had to be withdrawn after improprieties with the nominee’s rental properties were revealed.

Candidate FitzGerald’s questionable judgment was beginning to raise some eyebrows. But Ohioans were mostly indifferent.

Conventional wisdom says voters don’t dial in to political campaigns until after Labor Day. To attract summertime attention, a politician really has to fall on his face.

People notice when powerful people engage in remarkable stupidity. They finally noticed Ed FitzGerald, but for all the wrong reasons.

Ohioans who never heard of the Cuyahoga County Democrat before now know more than enough to vote for the incumbent Republican governor. The boyish-looking challenger has sunk any chance of defeating a foe of progressives.

He was politically reckless at his own peril. He behaved with the swagger of invincibility that often blinds the self-important.

Mr. FitzGerald was a presumptuous politician who feared nothing. Until he got caught.

Then he felt victimized by a smear campaign. But Mr. FitzGerald did himself in.

He, not his Republican adversaries, cast himself in the worst political light with poor choices. He considered himself above personal scrutiny and above the law.

He, a married father of four, thought nothing of being with another woman in a parking lot in the wee hours of the morning. He, a former law enforcement officer, thought nothing of flouting state law by driving for nearly a decade without the required license.

To deflect the mounting bad press about their candidate, the FitzGerald-Neuhardt campaign released a statement heralding positive health news about one of the FitzGerald children whose cancer appears to be in remission. The attempt backfired.

Critics derided publication of the medical update as a shameless political ploy. Mr. FitzGerald was widely denounced for using his son’s travails to mitigate his own missteps.

The campaign sent a subsequent news release in which Mr. FitzGerald apologized “once again for any mistakes I made, which took the focus off the crucial issues Ohio is facing.” In the statement, he acknowledged his “carelessness” and vowed to move on to “the real challenges facing our state.”

But the gales of November came early for the FitzGerald gubernatorial campaign. It lies in wreckage. Polls suggest scant hope of recovery.

Mr. FitzGerald displayed conduct that can’t be ignored. Avoiding even the perception of impropriety should be a foregone conclusion for the politically ambitious.

Driving for years without a license wasn’t careless, as Mr. FitzGerald says. It was irresponsible and illegal.

The Democrat was always an underdog in the race for governor. But he was all that was standing between Ohioans and a second Kasich term.

Now there is nothing. It was Mr. FitzGerald’s job to expose what’s wrong with state leadership that works against progress in critical areas such as energy, education, and collective bargaining.

But instead of making a compelling argument for change, the bungling FitzGerald campaign made a convincing case for retaining the status quo. How disappointing and how unfair to Ohioans.

We deserve vigorous discussion and debate about the state moving ahead — not backward. Those expectations have been dashed by the only candidate who could make a difference in 2014.

Governor Kasich can sit on his immense war chest. The battle was over before it began.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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