You may not know Ed FitzGerald now, but you will

Mar 17, 2013

If you are a voter in southwest Ohio, chances are you are more likely to know about the SS Edmund Fitzgerald than Edward FitzGerald of Lakewood, Ohio.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the freighter ship that sank to the bottom of Lake Superior in a storm in 1975, with all 29 crew members lost; and inspired probably the best-known song by folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.

Edward FitzGerald, on the other hand, is the Democratic county executive of Cuyahoga County who wants to be your next governor – not to be confused with the more famous Edward FitzGerald, the 19th century English poet who wrote “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.”

This week, FitzGerald, a 44-year-old former FBI agent and former mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, became the first of a group of Ohio Democrats with gubernatorial ambitions to come out and actually do something about it – he announced the formation of an “exploratory committee.”

Forming an “exploratory committee” is the political equivalent of sticking your toe in the bath water to see if it is too hot.

“If you’re tired of state government taking its cue from the wealthy and well-connected instead of Ohio’s middle class, join me,’’ FitzGerald said in a press release. “If you are tired of a status quo that passes the buck to local communities, while you get nickled and dimed to death, join me.”

And he has a website where, if you are so inclined, you can do just that –
There are other Democrats out there who are said to be mulling over a run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2014, looking for a chance to take on Republican incumbent John Kasich.

There is U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, former state treasurer and attorney general  Richard Cordray, who now works in the Obama administration; and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, who was defeated for re-election last fall after the Republicans in the state legislature threw her into a more Republican district.
And there may be more. But they haven’t done a thing yet to make themselves known to the voters of Ohio as candidates for governor.

FitzGerald has.

FitzGerald came to the forefront a few years ago when Cuyahoga County voters, disgusted with a massive corruption scandal that saw dozens of people indicted and convicted and a county commissioner, Jimmy Dimora, sent to prison for bribery and corruption, changed to a charter form of government.

That charter government is headed by an elected chief executive, who is, in effect, the mayor of Cuyahoga County. Fitzgerald, who was mayor of Lakewood, was elected to that job.

He’s become a household name in Cuyahoga County; and most of northeast Ohio.

Outside the boundaries of that Cleveland media market, he is still a virtual unknown, except to the extreme Ohio political junkies of both parties.

Last month, when the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute polled 1,011 registered voters,  80 percent of those polled said they did not know enough about FitzGerald to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. For Kasich, the percentage who didn’t know was 17 percent.

But that same poll showed that Kasich’s job approval rating had topped 50 percent for the first time since he became governor in January 2011. He’s at 53 percent approval, while 32 percent disapprove of his job performance.

But Kasich, who seems to be on something of roll lately, holds six to 10 percentage point leads in head-to-head matchups with Fitzgerald and the other aforementioned potential Democratic candidates. In a head-to-head with Fitzgerald, Kasich has 45 percent to 35 percent for Fitzgerald.

Which means absolutely nothing.

At this point before the November 2010 gubernatorial election, then-governor Ted Strickland held a lead over Kasich of about 30 percentage points. The Democratic governor ended up losing his bid for a second term by about two percentage points.

The Ohio Republican Party knows that big leads 20 months before an election can evaporate over time.
So they created a website called, so named because FitzGerald was so identified in an FBI wiretap of a phone conversation with Dimora about a local businessman who wanted to run the ice rink in Lakewood, where FitzGerald was mayor. Dimora’s pal got the government contract to run the ice rink and gave FitzGerald what the GOP calls a “sizeable” campaign contribution.

It’s an attempt to tie FitzGerald to the county corruption scandal that led to the change of Cuyahoga County’s form of government.

Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke called the GOP website “ridiculous.”

“There were dozens of people indicted and convicted in that scandal, and if there was any hint that Ed FitzGerald was involved in something illegal, the feds would have indicted him too,’’ Burke said. “But they didn’t. It’s ridiculous to think that because FitzGerald talked to Jimmy Dimora, who was a county commissioner and county party chair, he is somehow guilty of a crime. I talked to Jimmy Dimora many times. Am I guilty of a crime too? It’s nonsense.”

In the meantime, FitzGerald appears to be ignoring the attacks; and is out raising money and traveling the state to make himself better known to Democratic primary voters.

He’s running against Kasich’s massive cuts in state funding to public schools and local governments in his 2011 budget; and to the present Kasich budget that is before the legislature, which would lower income taxes but create a state sales tax for a myriad of goods and services that were never subject to sales taxes before.

And, for the time being at least, he has the whole field to himself to broadcast his anti-Kasich message.

Chances are he will have company soon, but, for now, he’s the only game in town for Ohio Democrats.