Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald isn't exactly a familiar face in southeast Ohio, but he plans to change that as he runs for governor of Ohio over the next year-and-a-half.
"I'm going to be back quite a bit," the former FBI agent, assistant county prosecutor and Lakewood mayor told the audience at Friday's Washington County Democratic Party spring dinner. "We're going to have a dialogue with you ... what do you need to see out of state government?"
FitzGerald has been considered a likely gubernatorial candidate for some time, but he made it official Wednesday with events announcing his run in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He said he's been to nearly 50 counties in the last two months, including Friday's previously scheduled stop as the keynote speaker for the local Democrats' dinner.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
From left, state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany; Meredith Tucker, communications and new media director for Precision New Media; Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald and Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz chat after the Washington County Democratic Party’s spring dinner Friday at American Legion Post 64 in Marietta.
"Let's start laying the groundwork right now," he said to the enthusiastic crowd. "We all know people who say there's no difference between the parties. We know there's a big, big difference."
FitzGerald attributed his decision to run to values his parents taught him, including "if you see something wrong, you should try to do what's right."
The wrongs FitzGerald said he's seen during the tenure of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, included Senate Bill 5, the voter-rejected overhaul of state union rules; the diversion of funds from local governments; privatizing the Ohio Turnpike and liquor sales; and Kasich's proposed tax plan that would have made up an income tax cut by extending a reduced sales tax to a variety of services not currently covered.
Running for: Governor of Ohio.
Current job: Cuyahoga County executive.
Experience: FBI special agent, assistant county prosecutor, mayor of Lakewood.
Family: wife, Shannon; two sons and two daughters, all teens.
Source: Times research.
"I haven't forgotten what it's like to work for a living, and that's who I want to represent," said FitzGerald, suggesting Kasich is more concerned with wealthy campaign donors.
After his speech, FitzGerald contrasted his record with Kasich's, saying he balanced county and municipal budgets without raising taxes and invested in education while Kasich cut schools' funding.
FitzGerald's campaign website, www.edfitzgeraldforohio.com, touts his election as Cuyahoga County executive in the wake of a massive public corruption scandal and his efforts to restore "the public's trust by putting in place some of the toughest ethics laws in Ohio and significantly reducing the size of the government." On the day he announced his candidacy, Republicans attempted to tie him to that same corruption, noting he was listed as "Public Official 14" in the probe. The Associated Press reports he was never a target and was not charged.
FitzGerald said Friday that it will be hard to make an ethics case against a former prosecutor and FBI agent who actually investigated government corruption.
"It tells you they're very, very worried, because if you have an opponent you're not worried about, you ignore them," he said.
FitzGerald was introduced by state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, who county Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Varner credited with helping to get FitzGerald to speak at the dinner.
"We're glad that he's here and we think he's showing a very serious commitment to our part of the state," Gentile said.
Gentile and state Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, both told the crowd the atmosphere in Columbus is getting worse, with Phillips citing a recent debate over the inclusion of a prohibition against teachers endorsing "gateway sexual activity" in the recent budget bill. Although the amendment was later removed, Phillips said the House spent time debating the term, undefined in the legislation, instead of focusing on health care, education and tax policy.
Former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison took a few moments to memorialize former state representative, senator and Congressman Charlie Wilson, who died April 14 following complications from a stroke. She recalled advice Wilson gave her when she made her first run for the House.
"Follow your gut and remember, you know your community better than the people in Columbus do," Garrison said. "He helped me, not because I could help him, but because he believed we were all in this together."