CLEVELAND -- Ed FitzGerald, Democratic executive of Cuyahoga County, launched his campaign for the 2014 election of governor of Ohio today in a tour of the state's three largest cities, with plans to bring his campaign to Toledo on Thursday.
Mr. FitzGerald, 44, a lawyer, former FBI agent, and former mayor of Lakewood, takes on incumbent Gov. John Kasich, the likely Republican nominee.
The candidate - who made promises of an administration that would cater to the middle class - was holding kickoffs in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and had scheduled stops in Toledo, Lima, and Dayton on Thursday, and more Ohio communities on Friday. The Toledo stop will be at 3:15 p.m. at Pam's Corner restaurant at 116 10th St.
Mr. FitzGerald said slotting Toledo for the second day of announcements doesn't mean Toledo has second-class priority. He said he doesn't accept the premise of "the other Ohio" - the idea that the three largest cities get more than their share of the state government's attention.
"I campaigned in Toledo before I campaigned in Cincinnati, so does that mean Cincinnati is 'the other Ohio'? It's a big state and you cannot campaign in every city simultaneously," Mr. FitzGerald said.
Indeed, Mr. FitzGerald was in Bowling Green March 30 and made his last publicized stop in Toledo on March 14.
"Toledo is a crucial part of the state and there's going to be a very Toledo-specific agenda that I'm going to roll out later in the year," Mr. FitzGerald said.
Speaking to a crowd of around 200 Democratic supporters in the Cleveland Hilton Garden Inn, Mr. FitzGerald emphasized his crime-fighting background and said Governor Kasich had sucked money out of local governments and school districts to finance "giveaways" to the wealthy.
He said Mr. Kasich used local governments as an ATM to balance the state government and that Mr. Kasich made one of "the worst decisions possible - defunding our local schools." He said the same policies undercut local spending on police, firefighters, and sheriff's deputies, and spurred local tax increases.
"I'm going to do something about it. I'm running for governor of Ohio," Mr. Kasich said.
"We can have a state with a jobs strategy based on local businesses that pay real wages that you can raise a family on instead of big corporate giveaways," he said.
In a followup interview, Mr. FitzGerald said, "We lost 20,000 jobs last month, more than any other state in the country. It's still very very tough out there for middle class families. [The governor's] celebrating it as if it's mission accomplished and I don't think it is."
Mr. FitzGerald is little known outside Cuyahoga County, as attested by a Quinnipiac University poll last week in which 76 percent of respondents didn't know him well enough to say whether they liked him.
The grandson of Irish immigrants to the Cleveland area, Mr. FitzGerald grew up in Indianapolis and returned to Ohio in the 1980s to go to Ohio State University and then to Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was a special agent for the FBI's organized crime task force in Chicago, and then an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice.
His political background includes terms as city councilman and mayor of Lakewood, a city of about 50,000 people in western Cuyahoga County - and inside the 9th Congressional District that includes Toledo. In 2010, he was elected to the newly created position of Cuyahoga County executive.
Republicans have sought to link Mr. FitzGerald with the massive corruption scandal that has put two Democratic county officeholders in prison along with many others, and which paved the way for the voter overthrow of Cuyahoga County's old row-office form of government in 2009.
Mr. FitzGerald said he rooted out corrupt practices in the county by establishing a code of ethics and an independent inspector general.
"As county executive I helped to dismantle a corrupt patronage machine that was choking our county government. The people in this county had lost faith that county government could be effective, efficient, and transparent, and honest, and we did restore that faith," Mr. FitzGerald said.
He said Governor Kasich has taken the state down a different path.
"The pay to play system in state government is as bad as it's ever been with the governor's lobbyist friends making millions," Mr. FitzGerald said.
In response to Mr. FitzGerald's announcement, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich said: "There will be a time for politics, but right now our focus remains on getting the state back on track and putting Ohioans back to work."
Spokesmen for the Ohio Republican Party characterized Mr. FitzGerald as someone who has jumped from job to job and made appointments based on politics rather than merit as county executive.
They say since Mr. Kasich took office in January, 2011, 115,000 jobs have been created in Ohio, the unemployment rate has dropped two points to 7.1 percent, and wages in the state are up $15.3 billion compared to 2010.
State Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said Mr. FitzGerald's first-day itinerary to the Three Cs was an insult to the rest of Ohio.
"Just visiting the Three Cs is a slap in the face to so many Ohioans in suburban and rural Ohio that deserve a governor that represents their interests, too," Mr. Huffman said.
Mr. FitzGerald predicted the campaign will be cheered on over the next 19 months by citizens who he said are struggling to stay in the middle class. He promised to respect unions, rather than demonize them, and criticized the failed Senate Bill 5 effort in 2011 to weaken public employee unions that was backed by Mr. Kasich.
Mr. FitzGerald is the only known Democratic candidate for governor and is being embraced by the state party.
Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the party supports announced candidates and is happy to be helping Mr. FitzGerald.
"Chairman [Chris] Redfern and Executive FitzGerald have known each other several years and have a strong relationship and the party is extremely excited for Ed's vision of putting government to work for the middle class," Mr. Kurtz said.
Mr. FitzGerald was introduced by former Democratic Cleveland U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes. Joining him at the event were Mr. FitzGerald's wife of 19 years, Shannon, and their children, Jack, Connor, Colleen, and Bridget, ages 10 to 17.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.