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COLUMBUS — Ohio's 88 county Democratic Party chairmen got a chance Wednesday to briefly size up the man who could be their choice to do battle with Republican Gov. John Kasich next year — Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
Little known outside the Cleveland area and Democratic inner circles, Mr. FitzGerald, 44, has worked for a year to position himself for a potential gubernatorial run, a move seen as more likely now that the presumed frontrunner, former Gov. Ted Strickland, has announced he will not seek a rematch. The 88 chairmen were in Columbus to elect officers for their statewide association.
Mr. FitzGerald worked the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last September, and he took the unusual step of issuing his own Internet video reaction to Mr. Kasich’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa a week earlier
Sounding a lot like a candidate, he told The Blade that he will make up his mind about whether to run sometime soon. He said he’s not worried about recent polls suggesting he and other potential Democratic candidates have low name recognition statewide among registered voters.
“The fact is the last two people to be elected governor did not have great name recognition—Ted Strickland and John Kasich,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to get that. Whoever the Democrat is who runs for governor will be quite well known by the time of the election. That takes care of itself.”
Mr. FitzGerald, former FBI special agent and Lakewood mayor and city councilman, has served two years as Cuyahoga’s first county executive after it revamped its form of government in the wake of widespread local corruption.
Also mentioned as potential contenders are Tim Ryan, a Youngstown area congressman; Betty Sutton, a former Akron-area congressman, and Richard Cordray, Ohio’s former attorney general and treasurer now serving as President Obama’s director of consumer financial protection.
After speaking to the party chairmen, Mr. FitzGerald told reporters that it's important the party avoids a contentious and expensive primary fight, particularly since Mr. Kasich is expected to announce later this month that his campaign already has banked $2 million.
"I think unfortunately campaign finance spending in America has gotten out of control, but it's a fact that we have to live with," he said. "Any candidate for governor has to raise money quickly and aggressively, and the Democratic candidate will have to compete with an incumbent. That's doable, but to try to do that and try to have a competitive primary at the same time is a very tall order."
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called the gubernatorial election a great opportunity nationally given Mr Kasich's weak poll numbers.
"There is no question that this race in 2014 will attract the most attention because of the importance going into the presidential cycle of 2016," he said.
One of Mr. FitzGerald’s perceived strengths is that he hails from the heavily populated and Democratic-rich Cleveland area. Mr. Kasich, a former Columbus-area congressman, has also been playing up his own Cleveland credentials recently, talking about his partnership with Democratic Mayor Frank Jackson in 2011 to enact legislation reforming city schools.
“I think he recognizes that it’s the largest population center," Mr. FitzGerald told The Blade. "I don’t think he will do well in re-election here. The reason for that is the positions he’s taken on most issues are contrary to what people in the Greater Cleveland area believe.
“His opposition to the auto rescue and support of Senate Bill 5 are just two examples where he was out of step with the vast majority of people,” he said. “Another was when he talked about privatizing the turnpike. I see most of what he’s done in greater Cleveland as public relations.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.