The Ohio Democratic County Chairs Association convened Wednesday night at Ohio Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Columbus, where President of the Association Tim Burke (Hamilton County) presided over a gathering of 70-plus attendees including public officials and party staff.
Credentialed media gathered to see and hear the man who appears to be the odds on favorite to be Gov. John Kasich's next Democratic challenger, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
Watch Ed FitzGerald on 60 Seconds Ohio.
Ed FitzGerald's vita includes Congressional staff member, FBI Special Agent, Assistant County Prosecutor, City Councilman, Mayor of Lakewood, Ohio, and now County Executive for Ohio's most populous county, Cuyahoga, where winning big can help you win your election. And he's been a Democrat his entire life, he said Wednesday night, because Democrats stand up for workers while Republicans protect the rich.
Gov. Kasich, who defeated Ted Strickland in 2010 by only two percentage points in a less-than 50 percent voter turnout election, learned this week that he won't have a grudge match with Ted Strickland, who announced he won't be the party's standard bearer in two years.
That announcement cleared the field for the other prominent Democratic Party contenders—Ed FitzGerald of Cleveland, Richard Cordray whose interim appointment as director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau expires in six months or Congressman Tim Ryan of Niles, or an outlier, former Congresswoman Betty Sutton of Copley Township—to decide if they want to confront John Kasich, who learned from his alter-egoed Wisconsin governor's re-call election and proved again in the General Election for president, that third-party, 501c funds will flow to help him win the message war any Democratic gubernatorial candidate will have to make.
FitzGerald all but announces he ready to run
FitzGerald, who worked his way through Ohio State University and graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, spent less than ten minutes all but announcing his candidacy to challenge Gov. John Kasich in 2014.
When reporters who gathered in the lobby of Democratic headquarters asked FitzGerald whether he'll take on Gov. Kasich, the fair-haired 44-year old said, "I'm very, very serious about it."
In his short talk to the county party chairs, FitzGerald highlighted some accomplishments in the Northeast region that will define him to Ohio voters, who even he acknowledge had little to no knowledge of him, as an honest man of action-through-cooperation, whose range of social vision necessarily includes the plight of middle class families and believes budgets can be balanced without raising taxes and without taking funds away from local governments to do so, as he said he did in Cuyahoga County, which contrasts sharply with the record of Gov. Kasich, who in his first biennial budget balanced at the state level by withholding billions of funds from local school districts, cities and counties, forcing them to raise taxes or cut services.
He noted that he stood up to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted last year, when an issue about how to encourage people to vote in the state's most populous county and elsewhere surfaced. After weeks of negotiations, FitzGerald agreed in September not to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications to county voters if Secretary Husted would send applications to voters in all 88 counties for the 2012 presidential election.
FitzGerald talked about Gov. Kasich's flawed plan to bond Ohio Turnpike revenue, stressing that his call to local officials along the turnpike to work together—"raising hell in a coordinated way"—forced Gov. Kasich to back away from statements on his plans for the turnpike.
Ending his remarks, FitzGerald said, "I can't think of a greater honor that I can possibly have than to some day be the candidate of the Democratic Party as governor. I just cannot do that without your assistance and your help." Telling the county chairs he'll be speaking with them and others around the state soon, he told reporters that for purposes of campaigning against John Kasich, it would be better for the Democratic candidate to announce earlier rather than later in order to avoid a contested primary, which would present a weakened candidate to a well-funded Kasich campaign.
Cleveland Plain Dealer politics writer Henry J. Gomez reported what Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chairman Rob Frost said would be a glimpse of what Team Kasich will say contra FitzGerald. A proponent of the voter-approved county reform measure that dumped county commissioners and replaced them with an executive and council, Frost reminded Gomez that FitzGerald lined up against the ballot initiative that created his current office.
"When you talk about reform, remember you're talking about a guy who opposed the county reform," Frost told Gomez. "He [FitzGerald] fought reform and stood for keeping Cuyahoga County running the same way it did under Jimmy Dimora," the disgraced ex-Cuyahoga County commissioner convicted on corruption charges. "To now claim the mantle of reform when it's convenient is quite self-serving," Frost said.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who following a spell of not being in the Ohio House again won a seat in the people's chamber last November, said party rules allow him to call a meeting of the executive committee, if a pre-primary endorsement is needed.
As he's done before, Redfern underscored Gov. Kasich's low approval ratings as validation that he can be beat, and that the Ohio Democratic Party, as the strongest state party in the nation, is up to the task.
Speaking before Ed FitzGerald was recently elected and sworn-in Ohio Supreme Court Justice Ed O'Neil, who became the first Democrat election this century to the high court. Justice O'Neil joked with his audience, saying he won despite experts like Redfern and others telling he couldn't win a statewide campaign without money.
With few funds, the former NBC 4 news cameraman, thanked Ohio Republicans for running negative ads against him because it helped his name recognition with voters. "I'm Justice William O'Neil. I'm here because you put me here."
In other news, Janet M. Carson, Chair of the Geauga County Democratic Party was elected ODCCA chair. She replaces outgoing President Tim Burke of Hamilton County.
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