When Ed FitzGerald jumped into the race for governor in April, there was a strong argument to make that he moved too soon. The thinking wasn’t that he should have waited until summer or fall. Rather, it went that the former Lakewood mayor (for less than one term) shouldn’t have launched a candidacy at all. He had a rare opportunity in Cuyahoga County, where a massive scandal moved voters to erect a charter government, FitzGerald elected as the county executive, with the authority to push for constructive, even dramatic, change.
Spend two terms advancing the county, plus the region, and he could develop the record and experience of a formidable statewide candidate.
Unfortunately, the past three weeks, FitzGerald has reinforced the argument against his entering the race. He botched badly the choice of a running mate, a candidate for lieutenant governor. What appeared promising at the start, the selection of Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, an effective state senator, likely to help energize black voters and bring geographical balance to the ticket, turned into a campaign disaster.
This is a choice that candidate and campaign control entirely. FitzGerald has left Ohioans still to wonder: Did he know the full extent of Kearney’s failure to pay his business taxes (roughly $825,000 owed) and tap him, anyway? Or was he caught ill-informed? Either way, the moment reflects poorly on FitzGerald’s judgment.
Democrats may find reassurance in soothing words about the calendar leaving plenty of time to recover. Now that Kearney has stepped aside, FitzGerald may score big with a second chance. He may find quickly his stride as a candidate. Yet that cushion of time invites an alternative view. Is there another Democrat better placed to make the case for his or her election as governor?
A Republican spokesman jabbed predictably: “If anyone should leave this race, it’s FitzGerald who is clearly not prepared for statewide office.” Democrats shouldn’t dismiss such words as little more than partisan chatter.
On Tuesday, as FitzGerald and company grabbed brooms and shovels to clean up their mess, Democrats in the Ohio House offered a peek at what a robust challenge to Team Kasich might sound like. They reminded that the governor has boasted about an economic “miracle,” yet the state jobless rate has been climbing. They asked: What happened to the recovery the governor inherited and supposedly enhanced?
FitzGerald pledged that with Kearney’s business taxes no longer center stage, he would devote his attention to “how we can refocus “state policies to benefit working people and middle-class families.” What Democrats have reason to ask is whether Ed FitzGerald is ready and equipped to carry the message.