Not since Election Night of 2010, when he squeaked to a narrow win over Gov. Ted Strickland, has first-term Gov. John R. Kasich had someone campaign against him. That political luxury ended Wednesday, when Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a former FBI agent, small town mayor and county prosecutor, announced he will run for Ohio Governor.
The handful of reporters who showed up at Columbus Community College this afternoon to hear what the former Mayor of Lakewood would say about his run for state CEO were issued badges from the Ohio Democratic Party with the words “It’s On” emblazoned on a silhouette of Ohio.
And on it is, as FitzGerald stepped forward today in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati to articulate his view of the current political landscape and what he’ll do to change it if voters chose him over Gov. Kasich, 18 months from now, in November 2014.
“As I’ve traveled across our state these past few months, I’ve listened to what people are saying. I’ve found that everywhere I go, from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, in cities, suburbs, and small towns- people are frustrated. They’re struggling. Too many are barely hanging on by their fingernails to the middle class. And when you talk to the workers, the small business owners, the parents, the cops, the nurses, the firefighters, and the teachers who make up the fabric of Ohio, you know that we’re in need of new leadership,” he said in prepared remarks to a room of about 100 fans, backers and interested parties.
Watch Ed FitzGerald in Columbus
What FitzGerald has done in the past, as described by campaign communicators, was brought down corrupt public officials, cleaned up government and fought to make government work for the middle class.
“The challenges may be daunting, but Ohio has shown the world before how to get things done. This is a state that knows how to invent things, build things, and grow things. We are one of the world’s leaders in manufacturing, technology, medicine, and agriculture,” he said, with his wife and four children standing behind him at today’s announcement venue, Columbus State Community College.
FitzGerald has work to do to better inform voters about who he is, in light of a Quinnipiac University poll released last week showing 76 percent of those polled couldn’t say whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of FitzGerald because they haven’t heard enough about him.
He framed his pitch based on education, jobs and workers. “We can have a state that actually invests in early childhood education, instead of cutting back on education. We can be a state that has a real jobs strategy, that is transparent and is based on small and medium-sized businesses that pay real wages, instead of big corporate giveaways. We can be a state that respects all of its workers, public sector and private sector, union and non-union alike, instead of demonizing them,” he said.
Calling for a better partnership with counties, townships, and cities, who Gov. Kasich withheld billions from in order to balance the state budget without resorting to increasing state taxes, FitzGerald, said he’ll stop using them as an “ATM machine for the state budget.”
“We can be a state that honors and treasures and respects our sacred right to vote, instead of suppressing it. We can be a state that believes women are fully equal and must have real equality when it comes to wages and health care choices. We can be a state that has a governor who every day makes it his mission to make it easier for Ohio families to get in the middle class and stay in the middle class. That’s why I’m running for Ohio governor.”
Governor Peter Shumlin, Chair of the Democratic Governors Association, offered words of support for FitzGerald’s decision to take on Gov. Kasich, who political pundits across the board agree has many advantages over a politico who is little known outside Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s most populous county.
“In Ohio, Democrats will nominate a strong candidate to contrast with John Kasich’s record of fighting for giveaways for the wealthiest and well-connected at the expense of the middle class. As an FBI agent and county executive, Ed FitzGerald’s career has been defined by rooting out corruption, restoring integrity in government, and promoting policies focused on job creation rather than corporate giveaways. Given John Kasich’s record, he clearly would be a strong candidate next November,” Shumlin said in a statement.
It came as no surprise when Republican Governors Association Executive Director Phil Cox had nothing good to say. “After failing to recruit a more experienced candidate, Democrats are now stuck with Ed FitzGerald’s brand of pay-to-play and corruption politics,” Cox said in a statement.
FitzGerald will continue his statewide announcement schedule Thursday, when he meets with a local small business owner in Dayton, then travels north to Toledo, where his call to protect middle class jobs and workers, including union workers, will likely gain traction.
In preparing for FitzGerald’s first days on the campaign circuit, Republicans lobbed pipe bombs designed to cripple the candidate before he gets his legs under him.
“Democrat Party bosses’ last pick for governor, Ed FitzGerald, traveled to Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland today to announce his 2014 intentions. This marks the beginning of a 20 month tour where FitzGerald will try to distract voters from the real issues and the fact that our state has seen significant economic growth and job creation under Governor John Kasich,” GOP operatives said.
With 18 months to go, county Democratic Party officials are confident FitzGerald will introduce himself to voters in all 88 counties. One published report noted the corruption buster and former county prosecutor has already been to Southwest Ohio four times since April 1.
FitzGerald, 44, grew up Indianapolis, the grandson of Irish immigrants to the Cleveland area, where much of FitzGerald’s extended family lived. FitzGerald said he spent summers in Cleveland and he “always considered the Cleveland area to be my home,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s no surprise that FitzGerald, an Irish Catholic, has pointed to Robert F. Kennedy as an inspiration.
He attended Ohio State University and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He worked as a special agent for the FBI’s organized crime task force in Chicago, where he helped convict leaders of a corrupt political machine and the Boss of the Capone Cicero Syndicate, according to the Chicago Tribune. He subsequently served as assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor and a private practice attorney.
He won the mayor’s race in Lakewood, located in Cuyahoga County west of Cleveland, by a margin not seen for 20 years. In 2010, he won the election for Cuyahoga County executive, a new position in a new political structure that includes an 11-Member council.
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