Friday, August 8, 2014
FitzGerald at the BMV: WTF?
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.
“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 clichés, 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.