Ed FitzGerald jumped into the county executive race last December, when the rest of town was still arguing about the last election. While bigger names dithered and stepped back from the leap, he ran all out. He got a four-month head start on his Democratic opponent and never looked back.
Now FitzGerald looks like he’s heading to victory in the Democratic primary. He leads Terri Hamilton Brown, 50% to 30%, in the vote-by-mail results – which will probably be two-thirds of all the ballots cast in today’s election. It’s likely an insurmountable lead. Likewise for Republican Matt Dolan, who leads Victor Voinovich 70% to 18% so far.
FitzGerald’s quick move into the race, just eight weeks after Issue 6 passed, didn’t impress too many people. The Issue 6 crowd tried to call a foul, saying no one who campaigned against their reform should lead the new government. But by Christmas, FitzGerald had already perfected his answer: He thought the county executive too powerful, so if elected, he’d check his own power.
I remember one or two people scoffing. Being first didn’t matter, they said. But in this election, when bigger names shivered and stepped back from the diving board, FitzGerald’s early leap made a big difference. He had six months to line up endorsements. He churned out one position paper after another. Hearing him talk, I got a sense of restless motion. It’s a good vibe to give off in a reform election.
Tenacity stands out in a field of unknowns and little-knowns. So does poise. FitzGerald’s a better communicator than Brown and might be the best in the general election field.
Political instincts stand out too. FitzGerald sensed he was in the lead at the City Club debate. He ignored Brown’s jabs and called out the Republican candidates for jabbing each other. He took the high road because he knew he could afford to.
Now, Matt Dolan awaits, warmed up by some shadow-boxing with George Voinovich's brother. Also ready to fight FitzGerald is Ken Lanci, his name recognition swelled by ubiquitous bus ads. Both are wealthy men who'll outspend the Lakewood mayor. Tim McCormack, the old-school liberal, may hit FitzGerald hardest of all -- did you see his "deceit" quote last week?
It'll be a dramatic general election. But FitzGerald's got a running start. And he's probably already planned his next few moves.
Check out my coverage of the county executive race, "A Fresh Start," in the September issue of Cleveland Magazine or online here.