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FitzGerald says story about him and another woman a ‘personal attack’

Ohio’s Democratic candidate for governor Ed FitzGerald was forced to defend his reputation and answer questions about why police found him in a car in a Cleveland area parking lot at 4:30 a.m. with a woman who is not his wife.

The traffic stop occurred Oct. 13, 2012 after a witness called Westlake police to say the red Ford had been parked there for about 30 minutes, saying it seemed “a little fishy.”

FitzGerald, currently serving as Cuyahoga County executive, said there was nothing inappropriate going on — they had just stopped to check the GPS for directions — and the Westlake police officer found them talking and didn’t even bother to file a report.

FitzGerald, 46, a married father of four, called the news story an “unwarranted and cheap political attack” orchestrated by the Republican Governors Association, Ohio Republican Party and Gov. John Kasich’s re-election campaign team. He accused his Republican opposition of using government resources to try to dig up dirt and smear his reputation.

“What I do know is you had city of Westlake personnel on city time looking for dirt and bothering police officers about something that happened two years ago that didn’t even arise to the level of a traffic ticket,” he said at a press conference at the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed him this week. “And that is as sleazy as anything I’ve seen in Ohio politics.”

Kasich campaign spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said the governor’s re-election team would have nothing to say on the matter.

FitzGerald canceled an event in Dayton on Friday to go to Columbus and address the issue.

Here is FitzGerald’s account of why he was in a parked car with a woman in the early morning hours: He was hosting a trade delegation from Ireland. They went to a reception, dinner and after hours party in downtown Cleveland. He was one of two designated drivers. The group split up among two cars, got separated and got lost. He and Joanne Grehan stopped to call the other party and check GPS. A police officer approached and asked if everything was okay. The next day, the delegates came to his house for breakfast.

The witness who called police estimated that FitzGerald and Grehan had been stopped for 30 minutes. “That estimate sounds a little long to me,” he said.

FitzGerald said the Ohio GOP hired a law firm to search for police reports connected to the FitzGerald family home in Lakewood — turning up a traffic ticket his 17-year-old son received for having a cracked windshield. FitzGerald accused the Republicans of digging up dirt on his minor children and said Kasich should hold his campaign operatives accountable for such tactics.

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the party was not digging up dirt on FitzGerald teenagers. Instead, the party’s lawyers filed a public records request for police reports at his house to try to verify FitzGerald’s claim that he had death threats and it would be a security risk to release records documenting his comings and goings from government buildings, Schrimpf said.

“I’m not going to just sit here and take it. John Kasich authorized this in my opinion. If he didn’t authorize it he needs to come out and say that he doesn’t condone this kind of thing. If he thinks it’s acceptable to get into the gutter like this, he needs to come out and say that,” FitzGerald said.

FitzGerald said emails obtained from Westlake show that the research director for the Republican Governors Association was seeking records about the Oct. 2012 traffic stop and the Westlake mayor, a Republican, asked the then police chief about the incident as well. He said that spending city time and resources trying to dig up political dirt may amount to theft in office and once more records are obtained the matter may be referred to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor.

FitzGerald said the Kasich campaign is trying to distract from the issues of the campaign, such as cuts to local government that has led to lay offs of police and firefighters. He predicted that the story would backfire on Kasich “because the average voter cannot stand these kind of tactics.”

When a reporter asked if he and his passenger were fully clothed during the stop, FitzGerald called it a disgusting question not worthy of an answer. “I told you nothing inappropriate happened. They want to see … can they get a reporter to ask the lowest possible question. You might have won the contest.”

Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley both said the Republicans are trying to dig up dirt where it doesn’t exist.

“Based on what I’ve seen about it’s just typical low road politics and that’s unfortunate,” Owens said. “The police were called to something. They found nothing inappropriate.”

Kettering Council member Rob Scott - co-founder of the Dayton Tea Party and former Montgomery County Republican Party chairman, said, “Anyone in a car at 4:30 a.m. with a woman not their wife is probably doing something they shouldn’t be.”

“Obviously it’s unfortunate if it was a bad choice by Mr. FitzGerald then it’s going to affect his family. Certainly it would have an effect on what kind of a quality of candidate he is for governor,” Scott said.

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