Although he’s not quite yet officially declared his candidacy to run against Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio Republican Party sent a message Thursday that they already view Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald as a serious Democratic challenger in 2014.
On Thursday, ORP launched www.PublicOfficial14.com; the website’s title refers to Fitzgerald’s tangential appearance in a 139-page indictment filed in September 2010 that charged former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Dimora, who was also the chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, was eventually sentenced to 28 years in prison on various corruption charges.
Fitzgerald was never accused of wrongdoing, and the U.S. Attorney in Cleveland last January made the unusual move of publicly stating that Fitzgerald was not the target of any investigation after Fitzgerald again came up indirectly during a court hearing for a Cleveland developer convicted of bribing public officials.
Fitzgerald appears to be gearing up to run a law-and-order campaign against Kasich, a Republican, emphasizing his background as a former FBI agent, as well as his efforts to to improve ethics in Cuyahoga County government.
But the website suggests Ohio Republicans attempt to counter that by tying him to the very corrupt political environment Fitzgerald said he helped clean up. Ohio GOP Chair Bob Bennett said Ohioans “right to know exactly what went on in Ed FitzGerald’s shadowy past.”
Fitzgerald launched a campaign website earlier this week and filed paperwork to form a statewide campaign committee, which allows him to begin raising funds. But he stopped short of declaring his candidacy. Others have been mentioned as possible Democratic candidates for governor, including former Ohio Attorney General Rich Cordray and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles.
When asked if the new website suggestions ORP views Fitzgerald as the likely Democratic challenger to Kasich, Ohio GOP spokesman Matt Henderson said: “As of right now he’s the only one that’s announced. Once other people announce we’ll play it as it goes.
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz issued a statement calling the website a “desperate attempt” by Kasich to distract from his own issues involving JobsOhio, a semi-private agency that promotes economic development in Ohio.
The 2010 indictment includes a transcript of a 2008 recorded phone conversation between Fitzgerald, who was then the mayor of Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb, and Dimora. Dimora called Fitzgerald, named in the indictment only as “PO14” (public official 14), to ask him to speak to William Neiheiser, a developer who was eventually convicted of bribing Dimora and other public officials.
In the conversation, Fitzgerald said he’d speak with Neiheiser, who wanted to lease Lakewood’s ice rink.
Less than two months later, Neiheiser gave $250 to Fitzgerald’s campaign. In June 2008, the Lakewood City Council unanimously agreed to lease the city’s ice rink to Neiheiser at Fitzgerald’s urging, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A Fitzgerald campaign spokesman didn’t return messages seeking comment for this story. But Fitzgerald told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2010 that agents interviewed him about the phone call with Dimora.
“Their remarks to me directly were that there was no doubt whatsoever that I conducted myself in this matter exactly as a public official should,” Fitzgerald told the Plain Dealer.