Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plain Dealer endorses Dolan, criticizes FitzGerald

The Plain Dealer spills lots of ink endorsing Matt Dolan for county executive today. But the most interesting part of its editorial comes at the end, when it explains why it's not endorsing Ed FitzGerald.

The Dolan endorsement is no surprise. He's a center-right candidate, and the paper's editorial page is centrist and swinging right this year, dissatisfied with Democratic incumbents, rhetoric and bad habits. So the editors praise Dolan as "thoughtful and independent," citing his work on Cuyahoga County's behalf in the legislature and his willingness to break with fellow Republicans.

What I wanted to see was how the paper judged the recent controversies around FitzGerald, including Dolan's attempts to link him to the Democratic establishment. The PD's answer is about as tough as can be while still showing some balance. "FitzGerald's Achilles heel," it says, is "his ties to the swamp of politics-as-usual."

The editorial does scold Dolan for his "aggressively negative campaign," likely a reference to his TV ad about FitzGerald's appearance as PO14 in the Jimmy Dimora indictment. FitzGerald has rightly protested that the feds' "PO" code-names don't necessarily imply wrongdoing, but are meant to protect the uncharged, including innocent bystanders.

Yet the PD doesn't let FitzGerald off the hook on Winterhurst-gate, turning instead to a campaign donation I've reported about here. "Taking a call from now-indicted businessman William Neiheiser at the behest of ... Dimora may not have been wrong," the editorial says, "but accepting a campaign donation from Neiheiser while his firm was negotiating a contract with Lakewood was."

The paper also scolds FitzGerald for getting rid of contributions from Dimora and Frank Russo -- a move first reported in Cleveland Magazine and on this blog -- and not doing the same with contributions from Plumbers Local 55, a union that's endorsed FitzGerald and was named in the Dimora indictment. It repeats the common complaint about FitzGerald's ambition and his quick switch from Issue 6 critic to executive candidate.

FitzGerald still has a good chance to win the election. He's a talented candidate, and Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Cuyahoga County. But the PD endorsement amplifies the argument that the county's best chance for reform is to elect an executive with no ties to the Democratic Party at all.

To read my coverage of the county executive race in Cleveland Magazine, including pieces on the leading candidates, click here.

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