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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Cuyahoga County official speaks at fund-raiser

FitzGerald decries Kasich ideas

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Cuyahoa County's top elected official, Ed FitzGerald, left, speaks to Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada, left and county administrator Peter Ujvagi at a Democratic Party fund-raiser at the home of Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter. Cuyahoa County's top elected official, Ed FitzGerald, left, speaks to Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada, left and county administrator Peter Ujvagi at a Democratic Party fund-raiser at the home of Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter.
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Ed FitzGerald, the elected executive of Cuyahoga County and a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, criticized the policies of Gov. John Kasich to a Democratic Party fund-raiser Monday evening.

Mr. FitzGerald was the guest speaker of a $75-per-ticket party fund-raiser in the Oregon home of Lucas County Clerk of Courts Bernie Quilter.

He didn't spend much time talking about the reorganization adopted by Cuyahoga County voters in 2009 that has made him one of the highest-profile elected officials in Ohio.

A nearly identical plan is making its way to the Nov. 6 ballot for Lucas County voters. If adopted, it would abolish 10 countywide offices, all of which are now held by Democrats, and replace them with an elected county executive and a nine-person county council.

Mr. FitzGerald said Mr. Kasich sketched out his plans for taking on public employee collective bargaining in a meeting in early December, 2010, before either one of them took office.

"He said, 'I've got good news for you because we're going to pass something that's going to give you so much leeway about how you negotiate with your employees you're going to save so much money that you won't need as much help from the state.'

"And he started describing to me what later ended up being Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2," Mr. FitzGerald said.

Mr. FitzGerald said he told the governor, "Thanks but no thanks," saying he would achieve cost-savings in Cuyahoga County through the normal process of negotiations with the county's unions.

"We can negotiate with our unions without putting them out of business," Mr. FitzGerald said he told the governor-elect.

Senate Bill 5 was introduced in February, 2011, by state Sen. Shannon Jones (R., Springboro), and passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. Democrats and unions teamed up to put it on the ballot for repeal, and it was rejected by Ohio voters in November.

Mr. FitzGerald also took issue with the governor's proposal to privatize the Ohio Turnpike and predicted that the feasibility study contracted by the governor's office will tell the governor what he wants to hear.

He said the northern Ohio counties would benefit from the sale of the turnpike but on a one-time basis.

When that money runs out, "you're back to where you were before but you've lost your revenue stream and you have no asset." He said 18 northern Ohio counties are talking about forming a coalition to pay for their own study.

Mr. FitzGerald also accused the governor of balancing the state budget by pushing the costs of government onto local governments.

Reached for reaction, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the turnpike privatization plan is a way to address $1.6 billion in needed infrastructure improvements.

"We're not going to ignore an under-utilized asset. We don't find that to be prudent," Mr. Nichols said.

Mr. Nichols defended the governor's budget that he said cleared up an $8 billion deficit. He said cutting spending rather than raising taxes was the route to making Ohio "economically relevant again."

Mr. FitzGerald declined to endorse county reform for Lucas County.

"Every county has to go through their own deliberative process with that," Mr. FitzGerald said. "We were in a very unique situation in Cuyahoga County where you had an extremely inefficient form of government and you had corruption issues that were just crippling the function of government. In my opinion that's the only reason it passed."

He said opinion polls have shown strong public approval of the activities of the new Cuyahoga County government, even among Republicans.

A federal jury in March convicted former county commissioner Jimmy Dimora of racketeering and 32 other corruption-related charges. The public corruption scandal that began in 2007 resulted in charges against nearly 60 elected officials, county workers, and contractors.

Mr. FitzGerald is the first county executive under Cuyahoga County's new form of government that was adopted in 2009. A former FBI agent and former mayor of Lakewood in Cuyahoga County, Mr. FitzGerald was elected in 2010.

Several elected county officials were present for the fund-raiser in the home of Mr. Quilter and his wife, Michelle, among about 45 people who stopped in during the 5-7 p.m. event.

Bob Reinbolt, one of four people leading an effort to place the county charter issue on the ballot, said about 60 people, some of them paid, are collecting signatures for the county reorganization ballot question. He said they need 14,500 valid signatures and have a goal of about 22,000 as a cushion and a June 29 deadline.

"We feel very committed to push this as far as we can and get it on the ballot if at all possible," Mr. Reinbolt said.

Mr. FitzGerald said he's thinking of running for governor but will not make a decision until after this year's election.

State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern was also on hand. He predicted a FitzGerald candidacy sometime in the future.

"I can tell you Ed FitzGerald frankly is going to be one of those people that will play an important role in the lives of Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans," Mr. Redfern said.

Mr. FitzGerald promised Cuyahoga County Democrats would live up to their role as "the largest Democratic source of votes in the state."

"The terrible scandal that we went through was the worst in our history but it also hurt Democrats all over the state," Mr. FitzGerald said. "These were a group of guys who were supposed to be Democrats but they were really all about themselves."

"We've got to pull our share," he said. "In this campaign coming up in the fall of this year we're going to really try to do our part to help the rest of the state."

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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