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Mighty Kasich at the bat should benefit from FitzGerald big loser 'win tax' idea

With money, talented staff, and only 147 days until Buckeyes vote, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in the catbird seat for the fall election.
With money, talented staff, and only 147 days until Buckeyes vote, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in the catbird seat for the fall election.
John Michael Spinelli

Ohio's party-endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, Ed FitzGerald, has from the beginning had a steep uphill climb to defeat a strong incumbent Republican governor like John Kasich, whose money raising prowess and seasoned political team has shown that, barring some unforeseen, cataclysmic campaign stumble, the November election in just 147 days is his to win or lose.

By virtually everyone with the possible exception of paid FitzGerald staffers, Kasich is expected to cruise to victory in an off-year election cycle when Democratic voters, history shows, tend to fall asleep and stay home compared to GOP voters who dutifully turn out in sufficient quantities to win the day.

Such was the case in 2010 when the former 18-year congressman from central Ohio deposed a first-term Democratic governor by only 77,127 votes statewide when fewer than half of the state's registered voters bothered to vote. In that election four years ago, Republicans not only won all the statewide offices on the ballot that year, but reclaimed the Ohio House, a tremendous gain, one that enabled Gov. Kasich to request and receive virtually everything he asked for including a private and obscure version of the formerly public and transparent development department.

FitzGerald, the first elected executive for Cuyahoga Count, Ohio's most populace county where history shows Democrats can win big over Republicans, has yet to air a TV spot introducing him to the bulk of Buckeye voters who know little of him at this point in the race for chief executive. Trying to earn free media, FitzGerald has proposed a program for all-day pre-kindergarten. In another attempt to shake up Ohio media that appears too enamored of Gov. Kasich's narrative of being a sometimes wayward Republican from a working-class background who likes to shake it up, speak his own mind and generally let the chips fall where they may regardless of partisan politics, FitzGerald proposed using a portion of taxes generated from cigarettes and alcohol as an incentive for Cleveland's three professional sports teams to win more games.

As much as Republicans relished the proposal as another example of why FitzGerald is not ready for prime time as Ohio's next governor, not a few Democrats chaffed at the idea. State GOP officials sent reporters Monday a list of who has been saying what about FitzGerald's so-called "Win Tax." The consensus for Team Kasich is the idea is a big loser.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, a Democrat who endorsed FitzGerald, said the sin tax was designed to protect public assets, namely, the three stadiums being serviced by taxpayers. There was a legitimate assumption during the campaign, Jackson said, that the proceeds would be split evenly between the three public facilities to meet the capital improvement obligations for all three.

One member of the Cuyahoga County Council, C. Ellen Connally, said voters were promised that tax dollars would be used to fix the facilities. "I'm not sure the winningest team ... I don't think that's in the conversation right now," she said. Former Democratic State Senator Dale Miller said, "I think the sole criterion should be how to best facilitate proper maintenance. That's what the taxpayers want. They want us to use this money effectively so that these facilities last for a long time."

"Tying funding allocations to team performances takes these stadiums out of the hands of the people and places them in the hands of private entities," Jack Schron, a member of the County Council and candidate for FitzGerald's job, said. The big three sports teams are not the only entities to utilize the stadiums, nor are they the only entities to create jobs and generate revenue as a result of their activities in these facilities," he said, adding, "Any funding allocation should consider the value of the facility itself and the economic impact it has the potential to provide."

From the sport radio and news sector, Bruce Hooley on 850 WKNR said, "I don't want government interference in how my sports teams are run. You've hit on a perfect grandstand play for a political candidate, because everyone wants to say, well I'll hold the teams accountable ... But you're talking about telling billionaires how to run their business when you guys have enough stuff to do."

Hooley wondered if Fitzgerald really purports to employ a $2.6 million axe as threat over the necks of Dan Gilbert, whose net worth is $3.3 billion and climbing with every pull of a slot machine and roll of the dice at Horseshoe Casinos in Cleveland, Detroit and Cincinnati? Why would he do that, GOP communicators relayed in an email blast today, "when it's safe to say Cuyahoga County has more serious issues that could perhaps benefit from Fitzgerald's attention? "He's just wasting our time with a political grandstand play that is a "Win Tax" in name only."

At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the areas hometown newspaper, Kevin O'Brien asked, "If it's true that the Browns are considering the addition of cheerleaders, FitzGerald's idea could provide some material for them: 'Sin tax, sin tax - that's our goal! If we don't win, we're in the hole!' Or maybe, 'Fitzy, Fitzy - he's our man! If this nakedly populist pantomime of holding Cleveland's perennially losing sports teams 'accountable' can't win him a few more votes in the gubernatorial race, nothing can!' How about just figuring out which facility needs what from year to year and making a sensible priority list? I know: not political enough."

Even venerated syndicated columnist Thomas Suddes had to pause at FitzGerald's proposal. "With all due respect, the two words that come to mind about this proposal are 'publicity stunt,'" he wrote. "Ultimately, the sin-tax money is for the maintenance and improvement of three taxpayer-owned investments -- an arena, a ballpark, a football field. So, it appears that if the Browns didn't win more games, the FitzGerald plan would mean stinting the amount of public money going to (in this case, FirstEnergy Stadium) to maintain and repair the stadium -- a property in which taxpayers have invested millions of dollars. How does not maintaining the value of your own property 'incent' that property's tenant? It's more likely to provoke the tenant into moving."

Sharon Broussard seemed incredulous at FitzGerald's proposal for an advisory committee populated by sports fans. "A fan advisory committee? Extra construction money for winning teams? Really? This sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" skit and it's just about [as] comical. But here's the sad part: I am losing heart nearly every time FitzGerald opens his mouth these days."

Joe Roman, President of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, weigh-in, too. "Team performance on the field was not an issue presented by the campaign to the voters. We know the teams want to do well on the field, and we don't want any of these publicly owned buildings to fail to receive adequate funding for much-needed repairs."

Up by as few as a handful of votes or as many as 15 percentage points, if the latest Quinnipiac Poll is to be taken seriously, Gov. Kasich is playing with a full deck while FitzGerald barely has a pair of deuces. The might Kasich is at the bat, and unlike fictional baseball great Casey, who struck out to the horror of hometown fans, Kasich is already pointing to center field where he hopes to knock this election our of a the park he built.

Later this week former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at the annual dinner and fundraiser put on by the Ohio Democratic Party. Even with positive words from the former president, whose wife Hillary is expected to run for president in 2016, Ed FitzGerald is so little known that voters may not be voting for him as much as against Gov. Kasich who is widely known, and whose policies and programs may be a problematic for the average Ohioans as FitzGerald's "win tax" is for him.