Cuyahoga County executive FitzGerald throws hat into Ohio gubernatorial race

Democratic challenger to Kasich visiting Toledo today, says delay not insult to city

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, with his wife, Shannon, makes the announcement at the Cleveland Hilton Garden Inn that he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, with his wife, Shannon, makes the announcement at the Cleveland Hilton Garden Inn that he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

CLEVELAND — Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic Cuyahoga County executive, on Wednesday kicked off his bid for next year’s election for governor of Ohio with a swing through the state’s three largest cities, promising a campaign that fights for the middle class.

A lawyer, former FBI agent, and former mayor of Lakewood, Mr. FitzGerald, 44, set out to take on incumbent Gov. John Kasich, the likely Republican nominee, as he made appearances in Ohio’s Three C’s — Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Toledo, Lima, and Dayton are stops on the second day of his tour aimed at making his name known to Ohioans.

The Toledo stop will be at 3:15 p.m. today at Pam’s Corner restaurant at 116 10th St.

“When the people I talk to hear John Kasich say Ohio’s economy is a miracle, they say a miracle for who? Maybe it is a miracle for the governor and his friends.

“When you talk to the workers, small-business owners, police and firefighters, the nurses and teachers, the people who really make up the fabric of Ohio, you know we’re in need of new leadership and we can’t afford to wait,” Mr. FitzGerald said to a crowd of more than 100 supporters in the Cleveland Hilton Garden Inn.

“Ohio has shown that it knows how to get things done. I’ve seen communities turned around before with the right leadership and it can happen in Ohio. I know the election is going to be tough, but we already know the people are on our side,” Mr. FitzGerald said.

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 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. He was in Bowling Green on March 30 and in Toledo on March 14, during his exploratory phase.

“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.

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’s books 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. FitzGerald 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. “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 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 just west of Cleveland, and in the 9th Congressional District, which 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.

Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat, will continue his gubernatorial campaign today with an event in Toledo at 3:15 p.m.
Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat, will continue his gubernatorial campaign today with an event in Toledo at 3:15 p.m.

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 with 2010.

State Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) said Mr. FitzGerald’s first-day itinerary to the Three C’s was an insult to the rest of Ohio.

“Just visiting the Three C’s 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 is the only known Democratic candidate for governor and is being unofficially embraced by the state party. Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said the party supports announced candidates.

“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.

Joining Mr. FitzGerald for his announcement were his wife of 19 years, Shannon, and their children, Jack, Connor, Colleen, and Bridget, ages 10 to 17.

Contact Tom Troy at: or 419-724-6058.