Thursday, October 23, 2014

FitzGerald and the Greens shadowbox Kasich at the City Club

photo by Donn Nottage
So it’s come to this. Ed FitzGerald -- spurned by the press, the polls, campaign donors and the governor -- took the City Club of Cleveland’s lonely stage last night with the only opponent willing to debate him.

Anita Rios, the Green Party candidate for governor, sat beside FitzGerald before an audience of more Greens than Democrats. John Kasich was a no-show, unwilling to let pesky challengers chink his armor and chip at his 22-point lead.

So “the only gubernatorial debate in the state of Ohio in 2014” (as City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop noted) became a shadow play of the debate Ohio could’ve had, if not for the car trouble that drove FitzGerald to the curb.

There wasn’t much debating in this debate. FitzGerald and Rios tag-teamed, slamming Kasich’s policies on jobs, taxes, local government cuts, gay marriage and Lake Erie.

“Yes, we woke up one morning and couldn’t drink the water,” said Rios. Like many Toledoans, she drove to Michigan for bottled water after the lake’s algae bloom made tap water undrinkable for 400,000 people this summer. She and FitzGerald said they’d regulate fertilizer use on farms to protect the lake.

“It’s not rocket science to fix the runoff issue,” Rios said. “There are many things farmers can do to correct that. It’s just that there have been no regulations put in place. Our leaders do not have the will.”

“Gov. Kasich and his friends are still having conversations about how they’re going to balance the concerns of the fertilizer industry and everybody’s need for safe drinking water,” FitzGerald said. “When it comes to safe drinking water, you don’t balance it. It’s a moral issue. It’s a human right. Anything poisoning it needs to be regulated immediately.”

It was a night for issues, not the character questions that have dominated press coverage of the governor’s race.

Moderator Robert Higgs of the Plain Dealer’s Columbus bureau asked FitzGerald, almost apologetically, about his ten years of driving without a license and his late-night appearance in a car with an Irish trade delegate. What role should character issues play? he asked.

FitzGerald said he should be judged by his record as Cuyahoga County executive, such as cleaning up after corruption. Kasich, he argued, revealed his character by not showing up for the debate and by working for the defunct Wall Street firm Lehman Brothers. Kasich once lobbied public pension funds to invest with the firm; pension funds in Ohio later lost about $500 million because of its collapse. “What’s a greater moral issue?” FitzGerald asked, to applause.

Rios backed him up. “Shame on the media for focusing on that,” she said of FitzGerald’s car trouble.

Higgs asked FitzGerald and Rios how they’d encourage higher-wage jobs. FitzGerald said he’d support small business over large corporations and raise the state’s minimum wage. He bashed Kasich for not opposing free-trade deals. Rios said she wants the state to support worker-owned cooperatives.

Both candidates ripped Kasich’s tax cuts. But when Higgs asked if they’d reverse any, FitzGerald demurred. “I’m not running on tax increase philosophy,” he said. “I do think we need to fund social services, hunger relief and job creation. [But] is there a way for us to live within our means?” Rios said she’d restore the estate tax, because it mostly taxed the wealthy.

Questions from the Green Party tables swung the debate farther left. FitzGerald searched politely for common ground. Rios supported amnesty for illegal immigrants; FitzGerald endorsed immigration reform and voiced concern about exploitation of migrant workers. Asked about affirmative action, FitzGerald talked about including disadvantaged groups in contracting, while Rios endorsed civil disobedience to preserve racial preferences in college admissions.

One questioner asked a wide-ranging question about the war on terror, militarized police forces, and “subsidizing violence all over the globe, but mostly in Ohio.” Rios promised to assemble a group of anti-war governors, “rather than squandering [money] in some sad place, doing some evil deed.” FitzGerald, not used to debating pacifism, said he endorsed community policing and the need to fight poverty because “you can’t prosecute your way out of a problem.”

Finally, a Green pushed Rios and FitzGerald to disagree about something. “I think I’m a lot more strident on anti-fracking,” Rios said. “I consider the Lucasville 5 on Death Row to be heroes.” (The convicts were found guilty of leading a murderous 1993 prison riot.) FitzGerald agreed to disagree with her on that.

In his closing, FitzGerald fired off the tightest critique of Kasich that I’ve heard from him. He said Kasich is taking credit for a nationwide economic recovery, while Ohio’s job growth has been slower than most states. “That’s one of the reasons John Kasich is not here -- he would love to have a 30-second television commercial conversation about that.” He bashed Kasich’s tax cuts, saying the governor paid for them with higher property taxes and cuts to public schools, local governments and heroin treatment.

“We are one election away from going in a totally different direction if we actually focus on real issues,” FitzGerald said.

He was describing the election Democrats wanted. But because of FitzGerald’s slipups and despite his best efforts, it’s not the election Ohio is getting.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The politics of demolition put Schron on the spot in the executive race

After a lot of talk and months of negotiations, the Cuyahoga County council is poised to approve a $50 million plan to demolish thousands of blighted houses – just before Election Day.

That puts county executive candidate Jack Schron -- a Republican county councilman – in a political bind. He wants a different demolition strategy. How will he vote?

“This might be our one shot at spending $50 million,” Schron said at a council meeting yesterday. “If we spend it before we’ve ever put the comprehensive plan together, we’ll put the cart way before the horse.”

The demolition plan is heading for a vote Oct. 28. Will Schron vote no, a week before the county executive election, and create a contrast between himself and his opponent?

The idea of borrowing $50 million to battle blight has been in the works a long time. Former county treasurer Jim Rokakis and various political candidates suggested it, and executive Ed FitzGerald adopted the idea in his February State of the County address. But it had languished in council for months.

Yesterday, the legislation picked up speed. As the council hashed out details, political tensions flared.

Dave Greenspan, the frugal conservative, argued for loaning money for demolition instead of making grants. Yvonne Conwell, who represents much of Cleveland’s East Side, argued that some of the money should go to renovations. The mayors of Shaker Heights, Lakewood and Parma addressed the council, arguing some of the money should be guaranteed for inner-ring suburbs.

Greenspan and curmudgeonly council president Ellen Connally, both critics of FitzGerald, complained about him again.

“This matter was talked about, and suddenly the executive announced it was going to happen,” Connally said, “and we didn’t have any legislation. So we really had to do the down and dirty work.”

Pernel Jones, also from Cleveland, took the lead in arguing for the legislation as written.

“I thought it’d be a whole lot easier to give away $50 million,” Jones said with a smile.

That left an opening for Schron, the manufacturing CEO who seeks efficiency in government.

“It probably is easy to give away taxpayers money,” Schron replied. But even $50 million isn’t nearly enough to tear down all of the estimated 15,000 abandoned buildings in Cuyahoga County.

So Schron, who built his company’s headquarters on a Cleveland brownfield, argued that the demolition program should work more like the state’s brownfields program. He said it should favor sites where a business wants to develop and banks want to invest, near economic development engines such as the Cleveland Clinic.

“The comprehensive plan should come before the money starts to get spent,” Schron argued.

Dan Brady, rumored to be a top contender for council president next year, challenged Schron.

“Plans can get more and more and more comprehensive and never happen,” Brady said. “I’ve seen it over and over and over in government.”

Soon after, Connally called for the legislation to move forward. Council members can propose amendments over the next two weeks, she said.

“Is it the intent that we would be voting on this final legislation in two weeks?” Schron asked.

“It is our anticipation that we vote on the final legislation in two weeks,” Connally replied coolly.

“Will there be no other opportunity for public participation?” Schron asked.

“The public has had every opportunity to come to our meetings, to submit information,” Connally said.

Schron looked peeved. He shook his head, ever so slightly, and said he’d offer an amendment.

After the meeting, I asked Schron if he was frustrated. He said he wanted more time to get the council to consider his ideas. He smiled and said he might hold a press conference about the issue.

I asked if he’d vote for the demolition fund if his amendment is defeated. “I’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

Across the room, Brady was talking with a focused confidence, as if he’d taken the temperature of the room and found it to his liking.

I asked if he had the votes to pass the legislation as it is now.

“Yes,” he said.

What about the amendments still to come?

“If the legislation gets to a place where it’s not going to work, I’ll no longer support it,” Brady said.

Would Schron’s amendment keep it from working? “Yes, and it would take us another six months,” Brady claimed. Blight in Cleveland will get worse if the city can’t tear down abandoned homes, he argued. “It’s an emergency situation.”

Schron can’t be happy that the council’s Democratic majority is forcing him to vote on the demolition plan seven days before Election Day. But if he has to take a stand, he seems ready to use it as an example of how he thinks differently.

He’s trying to make the demolition program business-friendly, to open up land with blighted buildings on it for development. It could be a good way to grow the tax base. But, it could also mean less demolition in city neighborhoods where the real-estate market has hit bottom.

Armond Budish, Schron’s opponent in the executive race, says he “strongly supports” spending the $50 million. So if Schron’s amendment gets shot down, he’ll face a tough vote Oct. 28. Does he vote no and position himself as the more cautious spender, even though Budish may use that vote against him in the city? Or does he vote yes, for a proposal he thinks could be better, to assure voters he’ll take on the blight issue if elected?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reform and resumes, or activism and empathy? Schron & Budish clash in county exec debate


Finally, the Cuyahoga County executive race is heating up. Armond Budish and Jack Schron’s debate today didn’t upend or shift the contest to succeed Ed FitzGerald, but it did provide voters a good sense of the choice they face.

Is it a resume battle? Another reform election? Or just a liberal vs. a conservative? At the City Club of Cleveland debate today at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, it was all three.

Budish, the former Ohio House speaker, started the race with an advantage because of the magic D next to his name. He presented himself as a passionate advocate for the poor, a resurgent town, and an active government. “The most important skill for a county executive [is] empathy for people,” Budish said.

Schron, the Republican county councilman, aimed his message at independents. He cast himself as the candidate with the best resume, the experienced CEO who’ll sustain the momentum of the county’s post-corruption reforms. “Cuyahoga County needs someone who’s been there,” Schron said, “someone who’s created jobs.”

Budish, running as a new-economy Democrat, tried to out-entrepreneur Schron, the CEO of Jergens, Inc. “It’s tough to get banks to invest in new startups,” the Democratic state representative said in his opening statement. He proposed creating a county venture capital authority and offering microloans, “maybe $25,000 that a small barbershop or corner store might need to expand.”

Schron asked voters to look beyond party labels and compare resumes to the job description. “[I’m] an executive in charge of a multinational corporation that makes things and sends them all over the world,” he said. He retold the story of Jergens, Inc.’s decision to build its headquarters in the old Collinwood rail yards. Its diverse workforce, he said, “looks like the city of Cleveland.”

Budish boxed Schron with a right jab and left hook on the county’s other main task besides job creation: caring for the poor. He stole an idea I first heard from Schron months ago: using iPads and smartphones to sign up more social-service clients. After Schron, too, talked up iPads, saying they could streamline services, Budish claimed Schron was too much the penny-pincher, focused “strictly” on bottom lines, “efficiencies and saving money.” Budish said he wants to lift more people out of poverty by connecting them to existing county programs.

Schron struck back. “I would say [Budish] doesn’t know what it takes to run an organization,” he said. Efficiencies in government would free up millions more dollars for social service efforts, Schron argued. Budish replied he hadn’t seen Schron propose legislation about efficiency.

Throughout the debate, Budish brought up partisan differences between him and Schron, while Schron argued that the county executive job should be nonpartisan. Budish went after Schron on labor rights, voting rights, and Medicaid expansion, issues more relevant to a statewide campaign than a local one. Schron reminded listeners that corruption had festered during the old county system’s one-party rule. He hit Budish for opposing the 2009 county charter that created the job he now wants. He also implied Budish will use it as a path to higher office. “We want somebody who actually wants to be here,” Schron said.

During the audience questions, Bruce Akers, a Republican and a framer of the charter, tried to get Budish to pledge to serve two terms. As usual, Budish implied he wants to be executive for a long time, but left himself wiggle room for 2018. “I’d like to stay as long as I can, but it’s going to be up to two things, my health and voters of this county,” Budish said. “To talk about a second term or third term [is] premature.” Schron pounced, and pledged to run for a second term if elected.

The debate did expose some previously unseen differences between the candidates. Schron is against creating a county department of sustainability (he says he values all jobs, not just green jobs). Budish said the county government could encourage local governments, businesses and homeowners to become more energy-efficient.

Budish said he “strongly supports” FitzGerald’s proposal to float a $50 million bond issue to demolish abandoned houses. He added that he wants it spent as part of a larger strategy that also includes rehabbing some vacant homes. Schron also asked smart questions about whether the $50 million would be spent strategically enough to have an impact, but he sounded like he’s not a sure vote on council for the plan.

Both candidates sounded smart, qualified, and relatively well-informed. No one won the debate – which, given the electorate’s partisan imbalance, works in Budish’s favor.

Really, Budish and Schron were debating a bigger question: what is this county executive position? Do you want a CEO-style leader, or an activist liberal? Will all future campaigns for the position focus on jobs and social services, much like all mayor’s races are about jobs, schools and safety? Is the county a second front for the partisan debates in Columbus, or will a less partisan executive be more effective? Do we still need to focus on a post-corruption spirit of reform and bipartisanship, or is it time to pivot to activist government?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jim Traficant was corrupt and hilarious -- that's how he got away with it

When is it OK to speak ill of the dead?

It's been a taboo since Roman times. But sometimes respect for history requires an exception. Dictators should go to the grave with a final accounting of their crimes against humanity. A former boss of mine, a Southerner by birth, refused to spare segregationist governors. Hunter S. Thompson tramped down Richard Nixon's grave with gonzo glee.

So what should we say today about the death of Jim Traficant, the bribe-pocketing, Mob-paid, vendetta-driven former congressman from Youngstown, one of the only two men expelled from Congress since the Civil War?

Humor, I think, is a completely appropriate response. Just like a comedian's obituary ought to make you laugh, a Traficant RIP fails if it doesn't give you a sense of his outrageousness.

From the Washington Post's Matt Schudel:
Glib and voluble, he was known for wearing cowboy boots, skinny ties and out-of-date polyester suits and for a bouffant mound of hair that seemed to defy gravity.
Reporters outdid themselves in trying to describe Mr. Traficant’s pompadour — and to determine whether it was real. In the words of the Los Angeles Times, it was a “Planet of the Apes sort of hair helmet,” or as Washingtonian magazine put it, “a creature from Lake Erie before it was cleaned up.” ...
“Let us tell it like it is,” he said in 1997. “When you hold this economy to your nosey, this economy does not smell so rosy. If there is any consolation to the American workers, I never heard of anyone committing suicide by jumping out of a basement window.”

It doesn't trivialize Traficant to explain how the toupee-clad congressman's bawdy humor and stunt-man chutzpah made him a cult hero in Youngstown. His mad-as-hell shtick gave him the dark power to survive in office for so long. It is key to understanding the man in full.



How else can you explain that the guy got caught taking $100,000 from the Cleveland Mafia and $60,000 from the Pittsburgh Mafia, claimed he was really running a one-man sting operation to bust them, got the jury to buy it, and was rewarded with a seat in Congress?

Actually, I can think of two ways. The other is to explain, seriously, what it says about Youngstown's underdog desperation in the 1980s and 1990s that it looked to him as its fearless savior.

I will leave that to Youngstown-native writers, including my former colleague Jacqueline Marino. Her excellent profile of Traficant, from the days just before his corruption finally caught up him, explains what he meant to Youngstown back then.

Today, Marino is co-editing the forthcoming Rust Belt Chic: The Youngstown Anthology, which I hope with include a good Traficant tale or two, plus the story of how the city finally broke Traficant's spell and moved on.

If Youngstown saw something in Traficant, should anyone who cares for Youngstown try to find redeeming value in its symbol turned shame? That's the approach Chris Geidner took yesterday, elegantly summing up Traficant's legacy with more generosity than I can muster:
At his best, he saw himself as a populist standing up for that city and its people. ...
He rose to local fame as the sheriff who went to jail himself rather than enforce eviction notices against people in the community — many of whom were losing their homes because of the death of the steel industry in the area. ...
At his worst, though, Traficant believed that being that man meant he deserved power and deference and the things — from money to meals and more — that, in his mind, went with that power.
Jim Traficant gave me my first lessons about politics — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and that education has proved invaluable to me as I cover the world around me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bedford judge isn't a pimp and didn't take a bribe

*Updated 9/4 with further verdicts. 

Remember how Bedford Judge Harry Jacob III was accused of bribery and promoting prostitution – a charge usually used against pimps? Turns out that story, told by prosecutors in December, didn’t hold up in court.

At Jacob’s trial yesterday, Common Pleas Court Judge Brian Corrigan threw out the bribery charge and three charges of promoting prostitution before closing arguments. He ruled the state hadn’t made its case.

The embattled Jacob still faces 11 charges, including felonies involving tampering with records.* But so far, Jacob’s defense lawyers seem to be having some success with their strategy: admit their client had sex with prostitutes but argue he committed no other crimes.

The trial exposed holes in the prosecution’s key charges that I first revealed in my March story “The Bedford Judge and the Brothel Bust.

Most of the case centers on the events of April 20, 2012, when Jacob allowed a young woman to resolve an outstanding traffic case by paying a $250 fine. Prosecutors claimed the woman, who was engaged in prostitution, had sex with Jacob in exchange for special treatment in court.

But Corrigan noted that $250 is actually a pretty typical fine for a traffic ticket. He ruled that the judge and the woman never agreed to sex for favors. “There’s no testimony he received any discount or other favorable consideration,” Corrigan said.

The woman’s story has shifted, so that may be a reason the bribery charge failed. But the three charges of promoting prostitution -- violating Ohio’s anti-pimping law – were always a stretch, as various local defense attorneys warned me for my March story.

“I would be cautious in believing that Judge Jacob engaged in the classic function of a pimp,” attorney Terry Gilbert said then. “Usually, in these cases, there are over-indictments.”

Those charges were a puzzle back then – what did prosecutors mean when the claimed Jacob had “supervised and induced” the activities of two prostitutes? Turns out that accusation was based on a rather novel interpretation of the law: Jacob paid women for threesomes.

As Corrigan put it delicately, the law targets “more of an operational aspect of prostitution, rather than what we see in this particular case.”

Now all the felony charges from the original indictment are gone. But Jacob could still be found guilty of corrupting his office, because prosecutors filed two superceding indictments this spring. Some of the newer felony charges allege he fudged court records. He also faces six misdemeanor charges of soliciting a prostitute. Corrigan will issue verdicts in about two weeks.* (Jacob waived his right to a jury trial.)

Prosecutors seem to have proven this much: Jacob’s lust for prostitutes made him stupid. It led him to break the law and violate judicial ethics. It will surely cost him his job. (He’s suspended from the bench pending the trial’s outcome.) Trial testimony showed Jacob paid for sex, heard the traffic case of a woman he had sex with, and visited the local brothel, Studio 54 Girls, on his lunch break. No judge’s career on the bench will survive that, nor should it.

But Corrigan’s ruling yesterday suggests that prosecutors initially overcharged Jacob. That’s significant because the Bedford indictments were the first big case for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty’s new public corruption unit. (The other defendant, former Bedford law director Kenneth Schuman, pleaded guilty last month to one of eight counts: having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Prosecutors agreed to drop seven other counts against Schuman, including bribery, theft in office, and obstructing justice.)

A prosecutor who overcharges in public corruption cases may be an improvement over one who sees and hears no evil among his fellow elected officials. But the next time a public official gets indicted, it’ll be worth remembering how this case started and how it’s ending.

Update, 9/4: Corrigan found Jacob guilty of five misdemeanors: two counts of falsifying court records and three counts of soliciting prostitution. (Read the WKYC-TV story here.) Jacob was found not guilty on all of the state's felony charges.

McGinty's office blasted Corrigan's verdicts in an angry statement. Jacob "disgraced his city and demeaned the judiciary of this state," it says.

"We plan to appeal the court's erroneous conclusions," the statement says. But not-guilty verdicts are final.

McGinty spokesman Joe Frolik tells me, "We plan to challenge the reasoning Judge Corrigan cited for some of his verdicts, but we understand that we cannot overturn them. We would hope that the appeals court might instruct future courts on how to apply the law."

Friday, August 8, 2014

FitzGerald at the BMV: WTF?

Ed FitzGerald is not like most people. When he wants something – say, a new job in politics – his will to power is ferocious, even beyond the ambition of the average politician.

And when he doesn’t want to do something, it turns out, his stubbornness surpasses that of most mortals.

“I procrastinated,” FitzGerald says, explaining why he went ten years without a regular driver’s license.

Ever since the county executive’s epic scofflaw news broke, I’ve been trying to think of a rational reason for it. I started imagining a detective-novel character with a fear of facial-recognition technology, whose learner’s permit masks an exotic secret past involving a scandalous college side job and a surveillance video.

But no.

“Eventually I went down to the BMV and waited in line like everybody else does,” the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor told WKYC-TV’s Tom Beres. “That’s not the most pleasant experience in the world all the time, but that’s no excuse.”

FitzGerald’s car trouble is taking over the governor’s race. The Plain Dealer’s investigation of why FitzGerald was parked with a Irish woman before dawn has gotten tawdrier, devolving into a he-said/cop-said about whether they were in the front or back seats. But the Columbus Dispatch’s follow-up, that FitzGerald showed the Westlake police a learner’s permit? That’s the truly unique development here.

Most politicians’ mistakes repeat ancient themes. Bribes, sex, cover-ups, thievery, wife-beating, hookers. Or just everyday cronyism, attack ads, lies, gaffes, broken promises.

But driving 3,650 days without a license? That’s such a weird slip, it’s hard to process. Avoiding an easy responsibility reveals something weird about someone’s character.

“I’m pretty surprised,” Ellen Connally, the Cuyahoga County council president, told the Dispatch. “Every citizen has to comply with the law. I don’t understand what the slip-up was.”

Exactly. FitzGerald seems to think he’s above the law. The average voter might've forgiven the story of him and the Irish lady, especially since nothing was proven. But avoiding a rule everyone else has to follow hurts any candidate, and especially a former FBI agent and prosecutor. FitzGerald rose to the top of local politics by riding the backlash against the Dimora-Russo corruption scandal. He was the anti-Dimora, the stern stickler for law and ethics. How’s that look now?

When FitzGerald’s been successful as county executive, it’s when he was tightly focused on a task. He seemed driven, even obsessed, with advancing a reform agenda and doing the opposite of what the old government had done. He got the inspector general in place fast, cut the county’s payroll and real-estate holdings and sold the albatross Ameritrust complex.

But when FitzGerald didn’t want to bother with something, you could tell. He went near-AWOL on the stadium sin tax this spring, reluctantly endorsing it but skipping a council hearing and the campaign kickoff. After it passed, he came out with a belated “win tax” proposal, a ham-handed attempt to harness both anti-sin-tax sentiment and fans’ resentment of Cleveland sports loserdom. It got him on sports talk radio, but it was dead on arrival at county council.

In the governor’s race, too, his once-sharp sense of political timing seems off. His reformer persona didn’t seem to translate statewide – even before his car trouble. His campaign often comes off as a series of Democratic clich├ęs, an outdated attempt to revive the anti-Senate Bill 5 coalition of 2011. Sure enough, he hasn’t caught on with the swing voter; the latest poll has him down 12 points.

Maybe the license debacle is a metaphor for FitzGerald’s ultra-ambition. He’s impatient, a man in a hurry who doesn’t stay in one job long. But three months to election day, it's looking like the voters, like a stern BMV clerk, are going to send him to the back of the line.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

FitzGerald and the Irish woman: Who cares?

Soon after Cleveland.com published its story about Ed FitzGerald’s encounter with the Westlake police, the social media snark flew back from Washington, D.C.

“‘She’s part of a delegation from Ireland’ could become 2014’s ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail,’” tweeted one DC reporter.

FitzGerald held a press conference, denied doing anything unseemly, and blamed the story on Republican dirty tricks. His friend says the same.

So the Plain Dealer article leaves readers puzzling — do we believe FitzGerald’s story? He’s giving a friend a ride, in the very early morning, she can’t remember where her hotel is, so they pull over to make calls.…

Who cares?

We all know a bit about sex and human weakness. So let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that FitzGerald and the lady doth protest too much.

So what?

FitzGerald didn’t break a law. He wasn’t cited for anything. The cop wrote, “FitzGerald and friend just talking.” How is an inconclusive police report news?

I’m trying to imagine how Ted Diadiun, the Plain Dealer’s apologist reader representative, will defend the story tomorrow.

Perhaps he’ll say newspapers aren’t “gatekeepers” anymore, that the Republican Governors Association and others were asking for the police report, that it was probably going to come out anyway. Again, so what? Opposition researchers often collect every piece of dirt they can. Their political bosses use some of it and choose not to use some of it. Just collecting it isn’t news.

{Update, 8/9: Here's Diadiun's defense of the story: "It is fair to question the judgment of a candidate for the state's highest office who allows himself to be put in such a compromising position." Sounds like he's saying the press should not just expose infidelity, but even the appearance of infidelity.}

Maybe some Democrats will close their checkbooks and ask why FitzGerald ran for governor with this police report out there. Maybe some moralistic swing voters will say a potential governor shouldn’t be in a parking lot with a woman at 4:30 a.m., whatever the reason. “Judgment questions,” the Plain Dealer calls it.

I don’t buy it. The paper’s story strikes me as a rather empty exercise in sexual investigative reporting.

Whether or not FitzGerald’s friend from Ireland is just a friend has nothing to do with capital punishment, taxes, schools, job growth, local government funding, or anything else the governor does. It’s just gossip. Who cares?