He's been Lakewood's mayor for less than three years, but FitzGerald claims he's accomplished a lot in the job: more cops, less crime, budget cuts that put the city on sound financial footing. He spent three years in the FBI in Chicago, which he hopes will help convince voters that he'll clean out corruption in the county building too.
What we should expect from the new county executive: "A radical shift to a more performance-based and ethical county government. ... Any of the big, ambitious things county government might try to do are going to be impossible if people can't have basic trust." Also, the new executive needs to get the city, suburbs and the private sector to agree on a regional economic strategy. "That's the toughest part of the job of all. You can't do that by fiat. You have to do that by persuasion."
Jobs: FitzGerald wants to create a fund he calls the Fourth Frontier, a play off the state's Third Frontier program. It would offer grants and zero-interest loans to private businesses in growth sectors such as medicine, high-end manufacturing and green energy if they pledge to expand in Cuyahoga County.
Regionalism: FitzGerald supports the Regional Prosperity Initiative, a 16-county proposal to share increased tax revenue from new businesses and discourage infighting between towns. Within Cuyahoga County, he'd require cities to sign a "no-poaching, noncompete agreement" before his Fourth Frontier program would make loans in their communities, "so that individual cities aren't trying to be vultures on other people's tax base."
More reforms: FitzGerald says the sheriff's office should create a countywide law-enforcement strategy and add to its felony-warrant staff. Although the sheriff has 1,200 employees, only eight serve warrants full time, and there's an 18,000-warrant backlog.
The current county government's successes and failures: "It's failed because it hasn't taken leadership on regionalism issues. It hasn't articulated a vision for where the county should head. It has relied too heavily on nepotism and patronage to fill positions." But he praises the county board of health, its early childhood programs, its bond rating and its work on arts and culture issues.
Can Ed FitzGerald convince voters he's a reformer?
Ed FitzGerald's pitch makes him sound like a modern Eliot Ness. He's had a passion for fighting political corruption since his days as an FBI agent, cleaning Mafia influence out of the city government in Cicero, Ill. (once home to Al Capone). He even describes the parallels between that case and our county corruption probe: kickbacks from contractors to politicians, bribes disguised as home improvements. Yet his opponents are attacking his credentials as a reformer because he's the only major county executive candidate who opposed Issue 6, which created the job he's running for.
FitzGerald's political talents are never clearer than when he's defending himself. He's got an answer for everything. Sure, he argued against Issue 6 in debates last fall — because he thinks the charter makes the county executive too powerful, a problem he'd address by creating an independent inspector general's office. Yes, he took donations from Jimmy Dimora, Frank Russo and his recently indicted son Vince Russo a few months before the FBI raided their offices in 2008. But he donated that money this year to a charity for returning veterans, and he was one of the first Democrats to call on Dimora and Russo to resign.
His political positioning is so deft and shrewd, it may play into the other main attack against him: He's too ambitious, trying to move up too fast. FitzGerald's got an answer for that too — he says he'll govern fearlessly, without an eye on getting re-elected.