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Published: Thursday, 8/7/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

FitzGerald admits to driver’s license mistake

Dem failed to get permit for decade

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
FitzGerald FitzGerald
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A spokesman for Democratic governor candidate Ed FitzGerald apologized on his behalf Wednesday for going a decade without getting a permanent Ohio driver’s license — a period when he was the mayor of Lakewood and county executive for Cuyahoga County.

According to public records, Mr. FitzGerald’s license expired in 2002. He obtained a temporary permit in 2008, which he renewed twice before gaining a permanent license in November, 2012.

“He apologized, he acknowledges it was a serious mistake,” spokesman Lauren Hitt said. “It was an unacceptable lapse on his part and he has apologized.” She said that Mr. FitzGerald made several attempts after his license expired in 2002 to take the driver’s test but that he canceled because “things came up.”

“He’s aware there’s not really a good excuse,” Ms. Hitt said.

Mr. FitzGerald, 46, of Lakewood, a former FBI agent and former Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, is running against Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich in the Nov. 4 election. He was elected Lakewood mayor in 2007 and Cuyahoga County executive in 2010. He and his wife of 23 years, Shannon, have four children, ages 14 to 20.

The miniscandal over his driver’s license followed the revelation last week that he was in a car at 4:30 a.m. in a secluded parking lot in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake with a woman in 2012.

Mr. FitzGerald has vigorously denied that anything improper took place. According to Mr. FitzGerald, he was driving a woman from an Irish delegation, Joanne Grehan, back to the delegation’s hotel and he got separated from another vehicle carrying other members of the Irish delegation, so he stopped to map the route. Police issued no charges.

Mr. FitzGerald had a temporary permit that allowed him to drive with another licensed driver in the car. If Ms. Grehan had a valid Irish driver’s license at the time, it would have been legal for Mr. FitzGerald to drive with her in the car. But if Mr. FitzGerald dropped Ms. Grehan off at her hotel and drove home or anywhere else by himself, he would have broken the law, a minor misdemeanor with a maximum $150 fine.

Terry Casey, a state Republican strategist and former Franklin County GOP executive director, said the two episodes together are a blow to Mr. FitzGerald’s credibility with voters.

“If you’re on the down-ticket this is devastating news because wherever FitzGerald goes he’s going to be asked about 4:30 in the morning with an attractive woman from Ireland or why did you go 10 years with only a learner’s driver’s permit,” Mr. Casey said. “How are you going to talk about any other issues when you can’t answer either of those.”

Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook said Mr. FitzGerald’s campaign flops are good news for local Republican candidates.

“The [Republican] ticket is so strong with John Kasich at the top of the ticket that even candidates in the county that are in down-ticket races will have an opportunity to win,” Mr. Stainbrook said.

State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said Mr. FitzGerald’s mistake is embarrassing, but not as serious as what he sees as Governor Kasich’s “failure to protect” Toledo’s water supply, Lake Erie.

“It is embarrassing. That’s why he apologized for being a terrible procrastinator and not taking care of an obvious thing that needed to be taken care of. Lucas County voters will ask whether these kinds of oversights are equal to allowing Lake Erie and Toledo drinking water to essentially collapse,” Mr. Redfern said. “He has embraced policies that have been harmful to Lake Erie and to this day continues that effort.”

Mr. Redfern said there was no discussion of having Mr. FitzGerald step down. The deadline for him to resign in time for another to take his place was Tuesday.

In response, Connie Wehrkamp, spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said about the Toledo water emergency, “We got through this by working together, which we realize is a foreign notion to him, but the way forward is with teamwork, not by trying to leverage a public health issue for political gain.” She said Mr. Kasich has taken “many, many actions” to address long-running water issues.

Steven Steel, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said he’s been more focused on Toledo’s water crisis and didn’t know enough about the FitzGerald license controversy to comment.

Driving on an expired license doesn’t have to be fatal to a politician’s career. In 1993, Carty Finkbeiner was cited for driving with an expired license after he was involved in a traffic accident on Aug. 31, 1993, while campaigning for mayor, a contest he won. His license had been expired since his May 30 birthday. Mr. Finkbeiner said Wednesday he believes he renewed his license immediately after being cited.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.



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