The race for Ohio governor in the 2014 election has now officially begun. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald made his long-expected announcement Wednesday that he’ll seek the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent John Kasich. ideastream's Nick Castele reports.
In Cleveland, FitzGerald criticized Gov. John Kasich, saying he cut funding for schools and local governments.
FITZGERALD: “The budget was balanced making one of the worst decisions possible: defunding our local schools.”
FitzGerald also reminded supporters that Kasich championed the measure limiting collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, which voters later rejected. FitzGerald said he would restore funding for education, preserve unions and let communities keep their funding.
FITZGERALD: “When you talk to the workers, the small business owners, the parents, the cops, the nurses, the firefighters and the teachers who really make up the fabric of Ohio, you know that we’re in need of new leadership. And we can’t afford to wait.”
In response, Republicans held a series of conference calls with GOP elected officials and reporters. Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland portrayed FitzGerald as an opportunist already looking for the next job, only two years into running the state’s largest county.
SUTHERLAND: “I think the expectation was that we would have someone who would at least finish out their first term, without looking on to, you know, with blind ambition, to the next position.”
Republicans also criticized FitzGerald because his name came up in a county corruption scandal hearing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that the federal probe does not target FitzGerald.
There are some ways in which FitzGerald’s Northeast Ohio ties may give him a leg up, says University of Akron professor John Green. He directs the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
GREEN: “Democratic gubernatorial candidates have to do very well in Northeastern Ohio, in the Cleveland market, and Akron and Youngstown. These are places where not only are there very large numbers of Democratic voters, but...in that region is where most of the voters in the state live.”
But FitzGerald isn’t as well known elsewhere. A recent Quinnipiac Poll of Ohioans found that 76 percent of those polled wanted to know more about him. The Cincinnati Enquirer even wrote in a profile of the candidate, “Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of FitzGerald.”
In a Republican conference call with reporters, State Rep. Matt Huffman seized on that lack of recognition.
HUFFMAN: "Frankly, in parts where I come from, west-central Ohio, nobody knows who Ed FitzGerald is."
FitzGerald, though, has been laying groundwork. He’s visited Democratic Party dinners across the state in recent months, introducing himself to possible supporters and donors.
Next he'll campaign in Dayton, Toledo and Lima, as he gears up for an election that’s a year and a half away.