December 19, 2014

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FitzGerald admits to driving without a license

Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald stops Friday at Lorain County Democratic Party headquarters in Sheffield Township. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald stops Friday at Lorain County Democratic Party headquarters in Sheffield Township. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

SHEFFIELD TWP. — Ed FitzGerald acknowledged Friday that he drove without a license during the 10 years he didn’t have a driver’s license.

“I’m sure there were times I did,” the Democratic candidate for governor said when asked about driving without a license during a sparsely attended campaign stop at Lorain County Democratic Party headquarters.

FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive challenging Republican Gov. John Kasich, has been taking heat for the past week after it was revealed that he didn’t have a driver’s license between 2002 and November 2012.

“It was a mistake. I was careless … and I corrected it, but took me too long to correct it, and I don’t have any excuse for it,” he said.

FitzGerald did have a series of temporary permits at various points during that time, including when he was found by Westlake police in a parked car with a member of an Irish trade delegation in October 2012. FitzGerald has insisted that that nothing improper happened with the woman, whom he was driving back to her hotel from a night out with other members of the trade delegation.

FitzGerald suggested that the questions surrounding his driving record are the result of opposition research by Republicans.

“If you run for governor, they go through your life with a fine-tooth comb, and they try to figure out what’s the worst thing they can say about you and that’s what they’ve come up with,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake, ‘cause it was.”

Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, blasted FitzGerald’s credibility in an emailed statement released Friday after the event in Sheffield Township.

“Voters have no reason to trust Ed FitzGerald or believe anything he says,” Schrimpf wrote. “His story is contradicted by one of his long-time and closest aides, he didn’t take the opportunity to come clean about not having a regular driver’s license for 10 years, and he continues to withhold records that would tell voters when he was at county government buildings. His credibility is zero. It is clear the only thing he cares about is himself.”

FitzGerald said that he hasn’t had a moving violation since the 1990s, but that if he had, it probably would have forced him to deal with the matter.

“Anything that I offer you in terms of an explanation will sound like an excuse, and as I told you, I don’t have an excuse for it, and I’m not offering an excuse for it,” he said.

He called the questions about his driving record “fair,” but said they are distracting from talk about the issues such as the environment, education and economic policy.

“People actually do deserve a campaign that actually focuses on the big issues, and that’s what I’m going to try to talk about,” FitzGerald said.

He was critical of cutbacks to local government funding under Kasich’s leadership, which he said has resulted in a reduction of $14 million in state dollars flowing to Lorain County schools. He also said Kasich’s budgets have cut about $33 million in state funding to the county and its various political subdivisions.

“The state budget has been balanced by taking money out of local communities in a way that we’ve never seen on this scale when it comes to state administrations because (of) the 50 percent cut in local government funds,” he said.

Those reductions have limited the ability of local communities across the state to respond to the challenges they face, including the heroin epidemic and the recent algal bloom in Lake Erie that led to Toledo issuing a ban on its residents drinking the water.

“In a nutshell it has reduced their ability to have resources to respond to whatever crisis they might face,” FitzGerald said.

Schrimpf defended Kasich’s record, saying that the state has seen economic growth under the governor and that more than 97 percent of the state’s counties, cities and villages reported budget surpluses at the end of 2012.

“While Ohio’s communities are gaining strength under Gov. Kasich’s leadership, FitzGerald’s big government, big spending approach would move Ohio backwards,” Schrimpf wrote.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.