TPM // Hunter Walker
During his career as an FBI agent, Ed FitzGerald fought political corruption in the old Chicago mob stronghold of Cicero, Ill. Now, FitzGerald is taking on Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) to battle what he described as “shocking behavior” in the statehouse.
The elected executive of Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, FitzGerald said in an interview with TPM last Thursday that he thinks he can continue his track record if elected to the state’s top job next year. He was widely credited with cleaning up the county government after a massive corruption scandal.
“Being an FBI agent has given me — it certainly gave me an enormous amount of credibility when I ran for county executive because of the corruption scandal, it was directly relevant,” FitzGerald said in an interview with TPM Thursday. “But I have to say, some of the things they’re doing at the state level with the privatization of the economic development programs there are making it more relevant for this race too.”
No other major candidates have so far filed to run in the primary against FitzGerald and he has lined up a slew of endorsements from his fellow local Democrats, making him, as he puts it, the “de facto” Democratic nominee.
There have been encouraging signs for FitzGerald in recent polls, too. An August survey from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found FitzGerald three points ahead of Kasich with 38 percent of the vote. Earlier polls showed Kasich with leads ranging from nine to 14 points. (View latest PPP November 2013 poll here.)
According to FitzGerald, Kasich’s policies are “laying the foundation” for corruption to be a major problem in Ohio.
“What they’re doing with economic development out there, I am so opposed to the philosophy that’s guiding it right now,” said FitzGerald. “Here’s what they’ve done, they’ve gone from saying government should be run like a business. … They’re running it as a private corporation. … They took the state’s economic development company, they put it into a corporation they claim is private, but the governor appoints all the members of it. They are approving loans to other companies that they have received compensation from and that they have sat on the board of, including some that they currently sit on the board of.”
FitzGerald, who also worked as a country prosecutor, described the current situation in Ohio as reminiscent of his experiences in law enforcement
“If you see a public official take public money, say it’s private, say it’s a secret, say if you want to audit the books, no you’re not allowed to do that. … When I was in the FBI, we would call that a clue. That is a clue,” FitzGerald said. “Now, I do stop short of saying they are breaking the law. What they are doing is they are doing things that used to not be legal and they have legalized them.”
Kasich’s office referred TPM to the state Republican Party for a response to accusations. Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in an email on Sunday that the program in question, JobsOhio, has been a success. He pointed to economic signs of progress, including a drop in unemployment, to back it up.
Schrimpf also pointed out that FitzGerald has said he keep JobsOhio if elected.
“The Governor created JobsOhio to spur economic development and job creation in the state,” Schrimpf wrote in the email. “He created it so it could respond quickly at the speed of business and help create more jobs. It is also set up as the most transparent private organization in the state.”
While FitzGerald has assaulted Kasich’s budgeting, his own economic record has come under attack. As FitzGerald was in New York meeting with donors and conducting his interview with TPM, the bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced it was downgrading Cuyahoga County’s credit rating. However, though S&P cited concerns about economic decline driven by population loss, the agency also praised the county’s fiscal management.
Beyond his concerns with JobsOhio, FitzGerald said the current governor has balanced the budget “in large part by cutting K-12 education and local government funding.” He also said “sales taxes have gone up and local taxes have gone up” while there has been a “massive tax cut for the wealthy.”
“The numbers are just indefensible,” said FitzGerald.
Even though Kasich in an incumbent, FitzGerald said he’s sure the governor is vulnerable.
“He’s an elected official that has really never closed the deal with people,” said FitzGerald. “He only got 49 percent of the vote in the first place.”