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FitzGerald Recounts Term, Pledges $50 Million for Razing Vacant Houses in Final State of the County

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (Photo: Cuyahoga County)
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (Photo: Cuyahoga County)

FitzGerald said he’s carried county government a long way since taking office in 2011, reversing much of the damage from the 2008 corruption scandal and holding employees to higher ethics standards. [Watch the entire speech on-demand]

And he said that under his leadership new development has moved ahead in downtown Cleveland -- including completion of the convention center where he gave his speech, and plans for a county-owned hotel that’ll be built next door.

“The largest hotel ever constructed in Cleveland," FitzGerald said. "Built and maintained by workers who earn a living wage. Constructed literally on the remains of a county administration building that was a symbol of the old way of doing things.”

His delivery wasn’t always smooth. Early in the speech, FitzGerald lost his place. For about 40 seconds, he shuffled through his papers trying to find it, joking that he wished he had a teleprompter to blame.

When he regained his place, FitzGerald said outside of Cleveland, the county is helping cities and towns consolidate services. He used the moment to contrast himself with Republican Gov. John Kasich, who he’s hoping to unseat in November.

“Now while the state was cutting back on help for local governments, we’ve been looking for ways to help local communities with their development needs," he said.

That includes $80 million for local road projects -- and a new plan he announced to put $50 million toward demolishing the vacant and abandoned houses that litter county neighborhoods.

FitzGerald also talked about the negative effects of income inequality, saying it contributes to health disparities. He supported requiring contractors on county projects to pay employees a living wage.

He also touched on what he describes as the biggest heroin addiction crisis it’s seen in recent memory, saying the county is committed to treating addicts and prosecuting dealers.

“Don’t assume that you know who it’s been affecting, because your assumptions about who is a heroin user are probably wrong," he said. "Heroin is affecting every community and every demographic. Last year it killed more people than firearms in this community.”

As for perennial talk of regionalism, FitzGerald said regional government is far away.

“The larger community of Greater Cleveland is not just going to wake up one day and decide to become one large mega-city," he said. "It’s not going to happen that way.”

Instead, he said, it will take cities and towns deciding to offer services together. He said the county will play a role, too -- and announced a new plan to take over the jails in Cleveland and Euclid.

FitzGerald peppered his speech with videos, four in all, highlighting county achievements -- like this one on his program setting up $100 college scholarships for every kindergartener in the county:

Republican County Councilman Dave Greenspan says the new government’s only three years old – and many of the biggest projects aren’t done yet.

“It’s a little premature to take a victory lap on a lot of the county initiatives," Greenspan said. "We just in our 37th – just completed our 37th month. Takes a little while to get this government up and moving, and changing direction -- the culture -- from the way we were to the way we want to be.”

And Council President C Ellen Connally, a Democrat, says some of FitzGerald’s proposals are new to her – like the millions of dollars for home demolitions -- and council hasn’t passed them yet.

As council debates FitzGerald’s last initiatives, the race for governor is likely to pick up speed. The man FitzGerald would like to defeat, John Kasich, gives his state of the state speech next week.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.