Ohio governor hopeful touts county fiscal record

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, right, greets audience members before his State of the County address in Cleveland Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. FitzGerald's speech came as a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Ohio  Republican Gov. John Kasich leading FitzGerald 43 percent to 38 percent. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, right, greets audience members before his State of the County address in Cleveland Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. FitzGerald's speech came as a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich leading FitzGerald 43 percent to 38 percent. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND (AP) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald said Wednesday that his administration has overseen a renaissance in downtown Cleveland construction not seen in a generation – including a new county administration building, convention center, development along Lake Erie and a redesign of Public Square.

In a State of the County speech peppered with upbeat videos and including a lengthy pause to find his place, FitzGerald emphasized his record as a fiscal steward – a theme sure to carry into his challenge this year of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who has made economic development a priority.

“If you think about it, speeches that just set out aspirations are really pretty easy to give,” FitzGerald told about 800 gathered at the City Club of Cleveland forum. “Greater Cleveland has had its share of speeches and plans, and talk is cheap. It’s results that inspire confidence.”

Kasich delivers his State of the State speech in nearby Medina on Monday.

FitzGerald gave his speech at the newly constructed Cleveland Convention Center, a structure he called “one of the physical examples of our progress.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, timid communities that lack confidence and drive and determination do not do these kinds of projects,” he said.

FitzGerald also pointed to creation of a new county economic development fund, public safety improvements, and efforts to tackle income disparity, heroin addiction and poverty. He said the county has built new facilities while paying workers “a living wage.”

“The sad fact of the matter is that you can have economic growth without real economic progress,” he said. “But the good news is that you can have economic growth and economic justice at the same time.”

Dave Greenspan, a Republican member of the Cuyahoga County Council, said many of the accomplishments FitzGerald outlined in his speech were initiated by that panel. He said the county government created in response to a sweeping political scandal has had only about three years to work and many of the programs that FitzGerald promoted in his speech are either still in the works or not yet fully implemented.

“It’s early for us to take a victory lap on the accomplishments of the county,” he said.

FitzGerald’s speech came as a new Quinnipiac University poll showed Kasich leading FitzGerald 43 percent to 38 percent. FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and prosecutor, had gained slightly.

FitzGerald drew only occasional applause from Wednesday’s composed crowd, at times acknowledging that his assessment may not be glamorous.

“Now all those numbers may seem dry and boring to some, but if you don’t have fiscal strength, if you don’t streamline your operations, if you don’t restore the public’s trust you’re your system is honest and open, then you won’t have either the resources or the public support to accomplish great things,” he said.

He took what sounded like a swipe at the Kasich administration, when he criticized the type of insular politics he and fellow Democrats have accused the Republican governor of engaging in, particularly with respect to his JobsOhio privatized job-creation office.

“Government at its worst is run by a small group of people, for the benefit of a small group of people,” FitzGerald said. “This government has been run for you.”

Greenspan said FitzGerald’s administration has not been entirely transparent.

“We have been challenged trying to get information out of the administration,” he said.

Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said FitzGerald has left his past two political jobs midterm and his message Wednesday revolved around programs “he doesn’t intend to see through.”

“FitzGerald is a political opportunist always looking for the next opportunity to advance his career, even if it means leaving a job unfinished,” he said.

Speaking at a manufacturing jobs forum in Norwood, Ohio, Kasich said his administration is pushing to get children interested in careers earlier in life, and to match their interests with employer workforce needs.

“Ohio is ahead of the curve,” Kasich said, adding that in his State of the State address he will urge that vocational education be offered in seventh grade, instead of just in high school.

The Quinnipiac survey did not list Democrat Larry Ealy, who’s qualified to challenge FitzGerald in May’s primary. The poll of 1,370 registered voters conducted Feb. 12-17 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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