The PJ Tatler

Ohio Dem Gubernatorial Candidate's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

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Brent Larkin, former editorial director at the Plain Dealer wrote on Tuesday:

Not only will Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald lose the election for governor by a huge margin, he’ll probably take the entire statewide ticket down with him. At this point, not even a scandal in the administration of Gov. John Kasich would prevent the Republicans from sweeping all five administrative offices.

That’s a pretty serious indictment, and it’s one that hardly anyone would disagree with after the week the Democrat candidate for governor Ed FitzGerald has had.

His campaign for governor was already on shaky ground. According to a recent Quinnipiac poll FitzGerald trailed Gov. Kasich by 12 points, with 65% of voters not knowing enough about him to form an opinion him less than 100 days before the election. Now, his name ID has likely increased significantly, but for all the wrong reasons.

On August 1, news broke about a 4:30 a.m. brush with police in 2012 in the parking lot of an industrial complex after an electrician working nearby called to report what he thought was suspicious activity in a car in the middle of the night.

“I don’t know if they’re having sex in the parking lot or what they’re doing here,” Casey Hager told a dispatcher. “I don’t know if they don’t notice all my lights inside … but all I keep seeing is like something going back and forth, and I’m like, eh, you know what, this is a little fishy. And I know the owner here wouldn’t really want this here.” Hager later said he saw two people climb into the back seat of the vehicle.

Westlake police who responded to the call found FitzGerald — the Cuyahoga County executive at the time — in the front seat of the car with a woman who was not his wife. The woman turned out to be Joanne Grehan, who was visiting Cleveland with a trade delegation from Ireland. According to FitzGerald, the two had been at a restaurant with a group and he offered to drop her off at her hotel. He said they got lost trying to find her hotel and pulled into the industrial park to figure out how to get to their destination. According to the police report, FitzGerald and the woman were just talking and no charges were filed.

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FitzGerald’s explanation might have been almost plausible (except for the part about the county executive being lost in his own county) and it might have ended there, but as it turns out, he didn’t have a valid drivers’ license at the time of the incident. In fact, the Plain Dealer reported,

For at least a portion of the three years he served as mayor of Lakewood, Ed FitzGerald had keys for a city-issued car.

FitzGerald, now the Cuyahoga County executive and Democratic nominee for governor, had no license to drive at all between 2002 and March 2008, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported Tuesday. FitzGerald was elected mayor in November 2007.

And FitzGerald drove on temporary learner’s permits, meaning he could drive legally only when a licensed driver was with him, from March 2008 until November 2012, when he obtained a full license.

As mayor of Lakewood, FitzGerald was also the city’s safety director and had access to a city-issued vehicle for which he received mileage reimbursements in 2008.  Between 2009 and 2010, when he would have been required under Ohio’s graduated licensing law to travel with another licensed driver in the passenger seat, FitzGerald frequented the city’s filling stations, using over $1500 worth of fuel. He didn’t obtain his full licence until after the incident in the Westlake parking lot.

“I apologize, and since 2012 I have had a valid driver’s license,” FitzGerald said in a terse statement released Monday.

Kasich

The drama of FitzGerald’s horrible week took an even more sordid turn when former county executive candidate Tim Russo accused FitzGerald of misconduct related to his relationship with former Westlake prosecutor Andrea Rocco, a Republican he appointed to be the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts four months after the 2012 Westlake parking lot incident. Russo, a registered Democrat and participant in the Occupy Cleveland movement who spent time in prison after he solicited a teenage boy for sex, alleges that Rocco “was recently reported missing for 5 days by her husband, Philip Palmer, and that she reappeared soon after the missing persons report was filed.” Russo says that numerous reporters have been trying to track down the missing persons report, to no avail. “The City of Westlake and Cuyahoga County are in full on clamp down, and to this point both have successfully evaded public records requests regarding the sitting Clerk of Courts Andrea Rocco,” Russo said.

While it’s tempting to dismiss Russo’s allegations (considering the source’s past history of erratic behavior) the Plain Dealer reported on August 1 that several reporters as well as the Republican Governor’s Association, (which is providing support for Gov. Kasich’s re-election campaign) have requested records from the Westlake Police Department that included “Andrea Rocco’s calendar, phone logs and emails and text messages with Ed FitzGerald” in addition to her key card swipes. FitzGerald’s key card swipes documenting his comings and goings at the county garage have been the source of an ongoing battle between the Democrat candidate’s campaign and the Ohio Republican Party. Last month Ohio Republicans filed a lawsuit to try to force FitzGerald to release the information. FitzGerald has so far refused, citing security concerns.

FitzGerald’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week is just an extension of a very bad campaign that launched last fall and almost immediately imploded when revelations surfaced that his running mate, state Sen. Eric Kearney, had unpaid business taxes and and a mountain of debt. Kearny was eventually jettisoned from the campaign, but the failure of the Ohio Democratic Party to vet Kearny and indeed, to vet FitzGerald, point to a serious credibility problem and a failure of Ohio Democrats to demonstrate integrity — or even basic competence.  No amount of #WaronWomen rhetoric will likely be able to change that perception, at least not this election cycle.  As a result, Gov. Kasich can focus his attention on shoring up his assets for a potential president run as the state anticipates four more years of single-party rule.

And the next time a Democrat mentions the Republican Party’s propensity for choosing poorly vetted candidates, the answer from here on out should be: FitzGerald.