Monday, December 30, 2013

The year in Ohio politics: 6 stories that shaped 2013 and set the stage for what happens next

Off year? What off year?

There were no statewide elections in Ohio in 2013 – not even a statewide ballot issue to whet the appetite for the even-numbered-year slugfest to come. But political reporters hoping for some recovery time after the presidential battleground theatrics of 2012 quickly learned that the permanent campaign had taken hold in the Buckeye State.

Yes, 2013 brought plenty of moving parts with big implications for 2014 and beyond.

Here is our look back at Ohio’s top political stories of 2013.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Primary challenge for FitzGerald? Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune may run for governor

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, once confident of a clear Democratic field in his bid for governor, soon could have a primary challenger.

Todd Portune, an attorney and Hamilton County commissioner, said Tuesday that he is considering a run and will make a decision in the next two weeks -- by year's end.

His interest is a fresh sign of potential trouble for FitzGerald. The former Lakewood mayor is searching for a new running mate after financial problems chased his first pick, State Sen. Eric Kearney, from the race last week amid questions of poor vetting.

In an interview with the Northeast Ohio Media Group, Portune said he had earlier ruled out a bid to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014. But Portune began having second thoughts when Kearney, a friend and fellow Cincinnatian, was dumped from the ticket.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eric Kearney out as lieutenant governor candidate in Ed FitzGerald's campaign for Ohio governor

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald found an exit Tuesday for embattled running mate Eric Kearney, but uncertainty remains around his 2014 campaign for governor.

Who will replace Kearney, the state senator from Cincinnati, as FitzGerald's running mate on the Democratic ticket? What will be the long-term impact of nearly three weeks of scrutiny over Kearney's messy finances and FitzGerald's judgment in picking him?

The FitzGerald campaign announced Kearney's withdrawal as a candidate for lieutenant governor in an afternoon email. The statement offered no hints about FitzGerald's plans to pick a new running mate but indicated the decision to move on was mutual.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Could Ed FitzGerald find himself looking for a new running mate? It happened to Jim Petro in 2006

One was from Cleveland, the other from Cincinnati. Their political marriage was one of convenience, balancing ideology and geography.

And, with what some might call 20/20 hindsight, it was doomed from the start.

Ed FitzGerald and Eric Kearney? Try again.

This is the story of Jim Petro and Phil Heimlich.

Most of the circumstances surrounding their ill-fated partnership are different than those haunting FitzGerald and Kearney after two weeks together. The point is, should either desire a change, FitzGerald would not be the first candidate for governor to need a new running mate. He wouldn’t even be the first this century, or even in the last decade.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

FitzGerald running mate Eric Kearney on hook for more than $825,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties

Eric Kearney, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor facing scrutiny over his personal and business finances, revealed Wednesday that he, his wife and their publishing company owe more than $825,000 in late federal and state taxes.

The disclosure followed nearly two weeks of questions that have overshadowed gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald's introduction of Kearney as his running mate. And it came during a 95-minute teleconference with reporters in which Kearney repeatedly stressed that he was offering an "unprecedented" peek into a politician's money matters.

The session kept alive doubt about how thoroughly FitzGerald and his campaign vetted the Ohio Senate minority leader from Cincinnati. Kearney said FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, was fully aware of his financial difficulties before selecting him. But the campaign, until Wednesday, had been unable to pin an exact dollar amount on the debt.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Messy running mate rollout tests Ed FitzGerald's political mettle in race for Ohio governor: Analysis

Ed FitzGerald knew it would be the first major decision of his 2014 campaign for governor. But in the two weeks since he picked State Sen. Eric Kearney to be his running mate on the Democratic ticket, almost nothing has gone right.

The announcement came off as rushed and prompted speculation that the campaign was eager to drown out a story about FitzGerald's struggles in the black political community.

Those rush-job theories multiplied when Kearney's voluminous money problems began trickling out 24 hours later, while FitzGerald was still introducing his new No. 2.

What could have been a one-day story raged on because Kearney and Team FitzGerald were not forthcoming about his debts. And when reporters from across Ohio kept asking simple questions about how much Kearney owes in unpaid taxes, the campaign not only had incomplete answers, it had to seek additional documentation from outside sources.

That raised another question: Why didn't FitzGerald have that information already?

Meaty policy issues will have their day in this race. But the rollout of the FitzGerald-Kearney ticket is as instructive a signpost as any when evaluating where the Cuyahoga County executive's bid for governor stands. Once the upstart candidate in a hurry, FitzGerald now finds the mechanics of a statewide campaign – his first – moving faster than his operation can support.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Eric Kearney, Ed FitzGerald's candidate for lieutenant governor, owes thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes

A publishing company owned by Ed FitzGerald's new running mate in the race for Ohio governor owes the IRS tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes dating back a decade.

Eric Kearney received notice of the federal payroll tax lien in 2010, records reviewed by Northeast Ohio Media Group show. The unpaid balance at the time: $73,559.60.

Around the same time, his wife and business partner, Jan Michele Kearney, received notice of a lien for more than $144,000. And seven years earlier, a mortgage company initiated foreclosure proceedings against the couple, though the case was soon dismissed.

Eric Kearney, the Democratic leader in the Ohio Senate, said Friday that their financial issues are tied to past problems at Sesh Communications, which publishes the Cincinnati Herald and other newspapers aimed at black readers. The tax liens resurfaced this week as FitzGerald chose the Cincinnati lawmaker for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ed FitzGerald picks State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati as running mate for Ohio governor's race

Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and probable Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, balanced his ticket Wednesday by selecting Eric Kearney, the Ohio Senate minority leader from Cincinnati, as his running mate.

Kearney, 50, brings racial and geographic diversity – a prominent black politician whose base sits in an important slice of the state where FitzGerald is largely unknown.

The announcement came not through a flashy rollout but in drips, first through party sources briefed on FitzGerald's choice, then on Twitter in a post by his campaign. The announcement also followed a fresh round of reporting, by the Northeast Ohio Media Group, on the challenges FitzGerald has had attracting support from black leaders.

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The story behind Ed FitzGerald's struggle to win endorsements from black political leaders: Analysis

CLEVELAND, Ohio – When Ed FitzGerald announced his run for governor, he turned to Louis Stokes, revered former congressman and civil rights leader, to introduce him.

Stokes obliged, sending a signal that only the dean of Cleveland’s influential black political community can. For FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive in need of a strong Democratic showing on his home turf, it seemed an unshakable boost.

But seven months later, support from other black leaders is lukewarm at best.
Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Warrensville Heights and in many ways an heir to Stokes’ legacy, has very publicly withheld her endorsement, even though FitzGerald is the only Democratic candidate. Another Democrat, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, has forged a friendly working relationship with Republican Gov. John Kasich.

And C. Ellen Connally, ostensibly the county executive’s partner as the Democratic president of the County Council, has made a habit of criticizing FitzGerald’s leadership. She also recently accepted Kasich’s appointment to a state board and is on record worrying that FitzGerald’s campaign will distract from county business.

The lack of enthusiasm, which extends beyond these examples and reaches beyond Cleveland, says less about who FitzGerald is and more about who he isn’t.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

5 takeaways from President Barack Obama's Thursday visit to ArcelorMittal in Cleveland

President Barack Obama sought refuge here Thursday in an old political comfort zone – a region that hosted many boisterous re-election rallies in 2012.

With no campaign in his future, the two-term Democrat didn't come to sell voters, despite public opinion polls that show his job approval rating at an all-time low.

Rather, Obama returned to feed off a friendly vibe while attempting to move his administration beyond the maelstrom of his signature health care program's debut.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Three terms and out for Frank Jackson? An early preview of the 2017 mayoral race in Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Mayor Frank Jackson has clinched a third term.

Those close to him doubt he will seek an unprecedented fourth.

The thinking goes like this: Jackson will be 71 in 2017. He probably wouldn’t have run for re-election this year if not for his desire to see through his school transformation plan. So even before Tuesday, when Jackson claimed his anticipated victory over businessman Ken Lanci, Cleveland political watchers were buzzing about who his successor might be.

A wide-open race will draw interest from state lawmakers looking to move up, City Council members stuck in place for more a decade and outside-the-box business and civic leaders sniffing for the right political opportunity. So, who’s next?

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Gordon Gee wanted to seek donation from Mark Kvamme after Ohio State deal was done, records show

With Brent Larkin

Ohio State University invested $50 million in a well-connected businessman's unproven venture capital fund, despite concerns raised by top officials.

Records released Friday detail how Drive Capital co-founder Mark Kvamme began discussing the fund with OSU administrators, including close friend and then-President E. Gordon Gee, while he was still running the state's economic development agency.

Gee, who backed the deal vigorously, even as his July 1 retirement neared, has served on the board of directors of that agency, JobsOhio, since Gov. John Kasich – another Kvamme friend – created it in 2011. Emails show that Gee, who remains on campus in an emeritus position and as a law professor, months later talked about seeking a $1.5 million contribution from Kvamme to help establish a higher-education policy center.

The revelations came in response to reporting and a public-records request from Northeast Ohio Media Group, which began seeking information on the deal Oct. 1.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ohio State was the only state university asked to invest in former JobsOhio chief's fund

Former JobsOhio chief Mark Kvamme appears to have targeted Ohio State University exclusively among the state's public colleges when pitching his new venture capital fund.

Northeast Ohio Media Group reported last week that Drive Capital, led by Kvamme and business partner Chris Olsen, has received a $50 million investment from OSU.

At least 12 of the 13 other public universities in Ohio have not invested in or been approached by Drive Capital, according to the spokespeople at those colleges.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Ex-JobsOhio chief Mark Kvamme also pitched Drive Capital deal to Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund

Add the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund to the list of organizations that Mark Kvamme has asked to invest in his new enterprise.

Kvamme, a close friend of Gov. John Kasich and former head of the state's JobsOhio development agency, already has a $50 million commitment from Ohio State University.

Police & Fire spokesman Dave Graham said Kvamme and business partner Chris Olsen met with staff members in July to pitch Drive Capital, their Columbus venture capital firm. The pension fund has not pledged an investment but hasn't ruled one out, either.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ohio State University has invested millions with friend of Gov. John Kasich and Gordon Gee, but officials won't share details of the deal

With Brent Larkin

COLUMBUS, Ohio --€“ Ohio State University has invested tens of millions of dollars in a new, untested fund co-founded by a venture capitalist who enjoys close relationships with recently retired university president E. Gordon Gee and Gov. John Kasich.

The deal was done behind closed doors, right around the time trustees changed OSU policy to allow top administrators more leeway over how to invest operating funds.

OSU's commitment to Drive Capital, launched this year by Silicon Valley veterans Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen, is worth about $50 million, sources familiar with the arrangement told Northeast Ohio Media Group. It is unknown who recommended the investment or whether the university sought competing proposals. OSU officials have not provided details or documents that the news organization first requested three weeks ago.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

How Mike DeWine spent Ohio's mortgage settlement funds -- and stirred a foreclosure prevention debate

When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine won nearly $94 million from a national mortgage settlement, he saved the largest chunk to demolish vacant homes and spent most of the rest on children services and public safety.

Supporters of DeWine's model say it rightly aims to revive development and property values in neighborhoods hit hardest by abandonment in the wake of the foreclosure crisis.

But some, including the attorney general's likely challenger next year, question whether DeWine spent the money in the manner spelled out in the deal involving the federal government, 49 states and the country's five largest mortgage companies. David Pepper, a Democrat targeting DeWine in 2014, doubts the funds are going toward programs that will prevent future foreclosures or assist those who already have lost their homes.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Presidential prospect Martin O'Malley plants a flag in Ohio by joining forces with Ed FitzGerald

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a potential candidate for president in 2016, offered a boost Wednesday to Ed FitzGerald's campaign for governor, calling the Cuyahoga County executive a rising star in Democratic politics.

"Frankly I think he's a leader of a new generation that's coming up in our party," O'Malley told reporters after he and FitzGerald toured a college mentoring program's downtown offices. "They are not handicapped by the old ideological battles of the past."

O'Malley's visit was to continue into the evening with a fundraiser for FitzGerald and the Ohio Democratic Party at the nearby Ritz-Carlton and is part of his push to elect Democratic governors in 2014. Doing so could forge alliances for a White House bid. But O'Malley sidestepped questions about how his barnstorming might benefit his own ambitions.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ohio Gov. John Kasich to send money from indicted businessman Benjamin Suarez to charity

Ohio Gov. John Kasich will give up more than $22,000 in donations from a businessman accused of illegally funneling campaign money to others.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told Northeast Ohio Media Group on Thursday afternoon that a check for $22,395.56 was being cut to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio.

The announcement followed a call earlier in the day from Democratic gubernatorial challenger Ed FitzGerald to forward Benjamin Suarez's contributions to charity. A federal grand jury has indicted Suarez on nine counts, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rob Portman, John Boehner, Sherrod Brown and more: This is American Idol, Ohio politics-style

Live music is now a staple at political events, whether it's Bruce Springsteen stumping for President Barack Obama or Kid Rock for Mitt Romney.

Here are just some of the greatest hits we could remember off the top of our heads. We weren't able to locate audio or video clips a for a few of these, so consider this a call for help. And if you have a clip we might have missed, by all means share away in the comments section.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Charlie Earl, Ohio's libertarian candidate for governor, saddles up for his 'last rodeo'

Meet Charlie Earl.

The libertarian candidate for governor in 2014, whom conservative Tea-Party types may rally around to spite Republican incumbent John Kasich, is a retired college instructor who also has worked in TV and radio. He lives on a farm north of Bowling Green.

Earl also is a former Republican state representative. He served from 1981 through 1984.

"I look around," Earl said this week in a telephone interview, before rattling off a list of his former General Assembly colleagues. "The governor served with me. The attorney general [Mike DeWine] served with me. Our U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown, served with me. The current speaker of the [Ohio] House of Representatives, Bill Batchelder, served with me.

"And I'm thinking," Earl deadpanned, "in 30 years, things haven't gotten better."

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Could a conservative third-party challenger cause trouble for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2014? Analysis

Forgive yourself if the name Scott Rupert fails to ring any bells.

The truck driver from Mechanicsburg was a footnote of last year's closely watched U.S. Senate race in Ohio, pulling 4.6 percent of the vote as an independent candidate.
Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown beat Republican challenger Josh Mandel by 6 percentage points. Though no one can fairly consider the right-leaning but unknown Rupert a spoiler, operatives from both major parties see new relevance in his campaign.

Republican Gov. John Kasich will seek re-election next year, likely without the fervent Tea Party support that helped sweep him into office in 2010. His efforts to expand Medicaid coverage and raise taxes on big oil and gas companies have made political enemies out of this very critical chunk of the GOP base. Democrats are poised to counter with Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and former mayor of Lakewood.

An election where Tea Party voters stay home or – just as bad for Kasich – show up and cast ballots for a third-party candidate with no chance of winning, could propel FitzGerald to the governor's chair. And that's perfectly fine with the movement's leaders, some of whom see a FitzGerald victory as collateral damage for making a statement.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Oscar Villarreal, head of scrutinized investment fund, has been a top Republican donor

Oscar Villarreal is a Cleveland-area entrepreneur who manages an investment fund that has attracted millions of dollars from some of Northeast Ohio's most powerful and politically connected titans of business. The fund, as reported today by Northeast Ohio Media Group, is drawing scrutiny from federal investigators.

Villarreal, despite his youth, has made a quick mark in the region's civic circles.

And like some of his investors – a group that has included James C. Boland, the chairman of the state's JobsOhio development agency, and Invacare Chief Executive Mal Mixon – Villarreal has emerged as a generous donor to Republican campaigns in Ohio.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ohio governor's race: Ed FitzGerald to return campaign donation that violated his own ethics policy

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald collected a $1,000 political contribution from an investment banker one week after nominating him to serve on a board that reviews requests for economic development loans, records show.

The April donation from J.W. Sean Dorsey to FitzGerald's campaign for governor is at odds with a county ethics policy that FitzGerald sharpened after taking office in 2011.

Campaign officials said they were aware of the conflict before being asked about it Tuesday by Northeast Ohio Media Group. An aide flagged the donation more than a month ago, and though officials said a refund is planned, it has yet to be processed.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Ed FitzGerald development deal has shades of John Kasich and JobsOhio deals he has criticized

WESTLAKE, Ohio -- When American Greetings was looking for a new Cleveland-area headquarters in 2011, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald refused to offer financial assistance.

The public, he said then, shouldn't help a company leave one suburb for another.

With state tax credits dangled by Gov. John Kasich, American Greetings ultimately began planning a move to Westlake. FitzGerald, meanwhile, continued with a push to discourage the county's municipalities from "poaching" business from each other.

Two years later, FitzGerald has pledged a $3 million county loan to another local company relocating to Westlake. Equity Trust will take 100 jobs from Berea and 150 from Elyria in Lorain County and consolidate them in an old Cleveland Clinic building. The financial services firm also plans to add 100 jobs from Texas and hire 50 more.

FitzGerald, a Democrat, also is running for governor next year. His county and campaign aides said many factors determine which companies receive incentives and which do not. Comparing any two deals, such as American Greetings and Equity Trust, or a state project and county project – is not always fair because of certain variables.

But FitzGerald's opponents see an inconsistent approach toward economic development motivated by politics and indicative of how he would govern if elected next year.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

These are what they are: 7 memorable quotes from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson

Ask and you shall receive.

Two weeks ago in this space we highlighted seven memorable quotes from Ken Lanci, the only challenger to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in this year's election. Some wondered whether we also would take a look at some of our favorite Jacksonisms.

Perhaps we should dispense up front with "It is what it is," the signature, though somewhat underwhelming, phrase in Jackson's rhetorical cache. If Jackson speeches were a baseball team, "It is what it is" would be retired somewhere along the outfield wall. Besides, as we noted last time, even Lanci grabs hold of the verbal crutch from time to time.

So here are other quotes we find downright Jacksonian. Well, Frank Jacksonian, anyway.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Ethics Commission linked by political contributions, records show

With Robert Higgs

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Ethics Commission, a state board responsible for navigating political conflicts of interest, has a potential blind spot of its own.

Three of the panel's five members, or their spouses, have contributed to Gov. John Kasich's campaigns over the years, an analysis has found. Kasich, a Republican, appointed or reappointed all three to their current terms.

A fourth member, appointed by former Gov. Ted Strickland, was a high-profile supporter of the Democrat's 2006 campaign and donated to his unsuccessful re-election bid. In recent years the board included other Strickland appointees who donated to Democrats.

"It is worrisome how politically connected those folks are who were appointed to this commission," said Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio, a good-government group.

Political relationships between the public's watchdogs and the officeholders whose behavior they may be asked to evaluate are to be expected, observers say. State law requires half of the board's members to be Democrats, half Republicans. And in Columbus, a company town where the Statehouse is the factory, governors and others with appointing authority typically limit their searches to the connected and familiar.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Class warfare starts early -- and with a new twist -- in race between Gov. John Kasich and Ed FitzGerald

Already you can hear the class warfare hounds barking in the 2014 race for Ohio governor. Listen closely. The tone is a little different than in cycles past.

In 2010, then-Gov. Ted Strickland and his Democratic allies slammed Republican challenger John Kasich for the wealth he accumulated while working for Wall Street.

Kasich prevailed in a close contest. Now his GOP team, responding to conflict-of-interest questions about Kasich's economic development agency but also playing some offense headed into a re-election year, is scrutinizing his likely opponent's personal finances.

But where Strickland sought to make Kasich's wealth a liability with middle-class voters, Republicans are taking the opposite tack with Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and likely Democratic nominee for governor. They openly are characterizing FitzGerald's lack of investments and savings as a major strike against him.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is looking past 2014, setting the table for another White House run: Analysis

Gov. John Kasich often downplays whatever ambition he has to return to Washington, where he spent 18 years in Congress and pictured himself in the Oval Office.

Suddenly, though, national writers and pundits are noticing Kasich, whose last bid for the White House ended before primary season, in a new light. The Republican, who two years ago was as unpopular as they come, is now a trendy GOP pick for the presidency in 2016.

The reasons for this reversal of fortune are easily explained. Kasich never dwelled on his bruising fight with organized labor – a fight that ended with voters repealing GOP restrictions on collective bargaining. Overnight he changed his tune. Rather than selling weaker unions as a means to economic prosperity, he emphasized an unemployment rate that was on the decline and looked for the light at the end of recession's tunnel.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Who does Ed FitzGerald want as his lieutenant governor? Here are four early possibilities

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, facing a clear Democratic field in his bid for governor, has shifted to a new phase of his campaign: identifying the right running mate.

The guessing game has begun, and so have some very preliminary discussions.
Tracy Maxwell Heard, the Ohio House minority leader from Columbus, said she spoke with FitzGerald several months ago about the possibility of joining his ticket.

"I had a conversation with Ed sometime back," Heard said this week. "I'm two months in as the new Democratic leader in the House, and that's kind of where my focus is."

Heard is one of several whose name is in the mix as political observers speculate on FitzGerald's choice. Others include Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney and State Rep. Alicia Reece, both of Cincinnati, and State Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

As Ken Lanci gets 'biblical' in Cleveland mayoral race, here are 7 more of his memorable quotes

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Mayor Frank Jackson, he of the catchall "It is what it is" campaign poetry, is a man of few words. Ken Lanci, his opponent in this November's election, is not.

Last week was merely the latest example.

While announcing plans to host a Sept. 15 prayer service and "community healing" event, Lanci told reporters for the umpteenth time that he is not political. Lanci, who runs a Cleveland printing company but had to lease an apartment in the city to meet the residency requirement for a mayoral bid, prefers to be seen as "biblical."

And later: Lanci responds.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

In political role reversal, Ed FitzGerald playing the Romney to Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Obama

A year ago, President Barack Obama and Gov. John Kasich were Ohio's political odd couple. One was a Democrat, the other a Republican. But they had a mutual mission: To convince voters that the economic recovery had accelerated.

So as Kasich prepares his own re-election campaign for 2014, his message will sound a lot like the one that helped Obama win Ohio's electoral votes and a second term. And that leaves Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald little choice but to borrow a bit from the playbook that Republican Mitt Romney used in his unsuccessful bid for the White House.

"They weren't worried about a governor's race," Terry Casey, a Republican strategist in Ohio, said of Obama's 2012 team. "They were worried about the presidency."

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Which Ohio House speaker prospect is contributing the most money to the Republican caucus?

If you're angling to become the next speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, one reliable way to position yourself is by raising boatloads of cash.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who served as speaker a decade ago, rode his fundraising prominence to the top. Rep. Armond Budish, the last Democrat to hold the gavel, was such an ATM machine that the only question surrounding his 2008 ascendance was whether his party could pick up enough seats to crown him.

As we reported last month, the race is in full swing to succeed term-limited Speaker William G. Batchelder after the 2014 election. Frustratingly, no one with eyes on the job is saying much more than that, out of deference to Batchelder, a Medina Republican.

But in last week's release of state campaign finance reports were more indicators about the strength of the top prospects for speaker and other leadership spots. With the golden-rule lessons of Husted, Budish and others in mind, here's a look at which members, through their own campaign committees, contributed the most money to the campaign fund that benefits GOP incumbents and challengers.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Gov. John Kasich embraces turnpike politics -- and Cleveland Democrats -- in race against Ed FitzGerald: Analysis

Ohio Gov. John Kasich didn’t need an empty chair Monday to channel Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood hammily used the prop to spar with an invisible President Barack Obama at last summer’s Republican National Convention. Kasich was a bit subtler while shadowboxing with Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat challenging his re-election in 2014.

Kasich, a Republican, had traveled to Cleveland – the heart of the Cuyahoga County executive’s political base – to announce fast-tracked funding for Opportunity Corridor. The long-awaited boulevard will link Interstate 490 with University Circle.

The announcement was well-orchestrated to the point where FitzGerald was not invited and where there were more of his fellow Democrats on hand to sing Kasich’s praises than there were Republicans. And unquestionably it was a preview of next year’s campaign.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

With Richard Cordray's future now set, Ed FitzGerald controls his own destiny in Ohio governor's race: Analysis

Richard Cordray’s confirmation as director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau opens a new phase in Ed FitzGerald’s campaign for governor of Ohio.

FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, is the only Democrat to launch a challenge to Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich. But Cordray had always been the wild card.

As long as the Senate Republicans kept his Washington future in limbo, there always would be Democratic activists and donors who preferred to wait. Even with FitzGerald’s head start, these holdouts argued, there was plenty of time for Cordray to lose his confirmation battle, return home and give the party a higher-profile candidate.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rachel Maddow says Ohio budget includes requirement for transvaginal ultrasound: PolitiFact Ohio

Ohio budget item later signed into law by Gov. John Kasich requires women seeking an abortion to undergo a "mandatory vaginal probe."

-- MSNBC's Rachel Maddow

Ohio’s new operating budget calls for $62 billion in spending over two years and several abortion restrictions, including one that requires patients seeking one to first undergo an ultrasound.
And while Democrats are plenty upset about the economics of the plan that Republican Gov. John Kasich ratified on June 30, they sense a political opening on the women’s issues.

Viewers of MSNBC’s "The Rachel Maddow Show" recently got a preview of the heated rhetoric that will typify this debate over the next 16 months as Kasich seeks a second term. Maddow, the cable news program’s liberal host, noted on her June 28 broadcast the anti-abortion measures the GOP-controlled General Assembly had added to the budget, which Kasich had yet to sign.

In interpreting some of the budget’s more-ambiguous abortion language, Maddow contended that the new regulations included a "mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state."

Maddow was referring to a new requirement that women seeking abortions first receive ultrasounds to determine whether a fetal heartbeat is present. Her provocative words quickly went viral and sent PolitiFact Ohio in search of a full copy of the massive state budget.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Nina Turner announces bid for Ohio secretary of state; Democrat hopes to unseat Jon Husted

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- State Sen. Nina Turner has spent months wooing Democratic activists at chicken dinners and raising her profile on national cable news.

Now Turner is prepared to take her message directly to Ohio voters.

On Monday the Cleveland lawmaker declared herself a candidate for secretary of state. Barring the unlikelihood of a successful primary challenge next spring, Turner will face Republican incumbent Jon Husted in the November 2014 election.

"I am running for secretary of state because I believe Ohio needs to be the gold standard for elections," Turner said during an event at the Harvard Community Services Center, which sits in her southeast side neighborhood.

"I believe everyone that should have fair access to the ballot," added Turner, 45. "And I believe that we should expand the franchise, not try to depress it."

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ohio's budget offers early roadmap for campaign between Gov. John Kasich and Ed FitzGerald: Analysis

Ohio's next race for governor begins Sunday.

Not officially, of course. Republican incumbent John Kasich hasn't formally launched his bid for a second term. And the likely Democratic nominee, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, declared his candidacy two months ago.

But for all intents and purposes, Kasich starts the clock when he signs into law the state's two-year budget, capping a process that began with meaty -- and fairly moderate -- policy goals before meeting the Statehouse sausage grinder.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

When will gay marriage be back on the ballot in Ohio? A closer look at the 2 most likely scenarios.

A group leading the charge to reverse Ohio's ban on same-sex marriage has met resistance from many gay rights organizations supportive of the cause but not of the timeline.

Moments after meeting last week with fellow advocates, Ian James of FreedomOhio vowed to place a ballot measure before voters in next year's gubernatorial election. His pledge stunned others who had been a part of the discussion.

"Ian James must have attended a different meeting than the rest of us," said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign and one of several who complained in a joint statement sent in response to James' announcement. "Representatives from 11 state and national organizations participated in today's meeting. Ten of them came away with a clear understanding that we would refrain from deciding on timing until it was responsible to do so."

Though they are unwilling to commit to a date, those at odds with FreedomOhio seem to have reservations about 2014. One activist who signed on to the James rebuke suggested they might not be ready until 2016, "or if possible sooner."

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dave Yost, 'Desperado' revisited

Poor Dave Yost.

These days Ohio's state auditor is at odds with his fellow Republicans around Capitol Square.

His sin? Rocking the boat over JobsOhio, Gov. John Kasich's signature -- but privatized -- economic development agency.

"I've unmade a lot of friends in the last couple of weeks," Yost said Monday at a conference.

The quote reminded us of a classic Yost moment. Between speakers at an Ohio delegation breakfast at the Republican National Convention last summer, Yost commandeered the microphone and piano to play and sing along to The Eagles' "Desperado."

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Assessing the politics of JobsOhio: Analysis

The Democratic furor over JobsOhio can be summed up in two words: wishful thinking.

The party's only announced candidate for governor, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, is running on an anti-corruption image. That strategy works best if it addresses a weakness in his opponent. And as Nixonian as he and his allies make Gov. John Kasich out to be, there has been nothing criminally scandalous in the Republican incumbent's first term.

So Democrats hope to turn JobsOhio, Kasich's signature economic development program, into some sort of political bogeyman for 2014. As a Columbus Dispatch columnist noted Sunday, all of the elements are in place: "$100 million annually in taxpayer money converted for private use; little public accountability on how it is spent; corporations, businesses and their lobbyists lining up with hands out; a governor needing to raise $20-plus million for his re-election."

Those scenarios assume the worst about JobsOhio, something that is not hard to do given its secretive nature.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

A closer look at Ed FitzGerald's FBI career

Greater Clevelanders know Ed FitzGerald as the Cuyahoga County executive and former mayor of Lakewood.

But as he introduces himself to all Ohioans as a candidate for governor, FitzGerald gives at least equal billing to his past as an FBI special agent, a job he held for three years in the 1990s. When he invited supporters to his campaign kickoff last month, he emphasized his FBI past without even noting his current role as leader of the state's most populous county.

FitzGerald, a Democrat, clearly hopes a crime-fighting image can help carry him past Republican incumbent John Kasich next year. Though this is not the first time FitzGerald's FBI years have been a key talking point in his climb up the political ladder, specific details about his work at the Chicago field office have been scarce -- until now.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

The rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight: 30 minutes that ended a decade of nightmares

Written and reported with Harlan Spector

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Evenings like this are as good as it gets on Seymour Avenue.

Goldilocks temperatures are perfect for a bike ride or for sitting out on the porch with friends. Perhaps a neighbor will fire up the grill. The smell of barbecue and the beats of salsa music soon might trickle out on to this short side street in one of Cleveland's many working-poor communities. It's mid-spring. The sun won't fade for at least another couple of hours.

For a few moments, everything is pleasant. Then comes the horrifying cry for help.
What happens over the next half-hour becomes worldwide news. Neighbors and police officers free three missing women and a child from years of abuse. Police arrest the accused abductor a half-mile away at a fast-food restaurant.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ed FitzGerald accuses Gov. John Kasich of pay-to-play politics: PolitiFact Ohio

The 2014 race for governor is off to a punchy start.

PolitiFact Ohio told you Wednesday about the early attacks that Republican allies of incumbent John Kasich hope will stick against his likely Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald.

Essentially, the GOP has
seized on FitzGerald’s bystander status in the federal investigation of Cuyahoga County government and wrongly branded the first-term county executive as corrupt. It’s an attack that cuts directly at FitzGerald’s efforts to project a law-and-order image.

But FitzGerald is using similar rhetoric in his attempt to draw contrasts with Kasich.

"We need a governor who will stand up for middle-class families, for women’s rights and for good paying jobs," FitzGerald wrote last month when inviting supporters to his campaign kickoffs in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. "Ohioans want an end to pay-to-play politics, rampant cronyism and wasteful spending of our tax dollars on corporate donors and political perks."

Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, pointed to that statement this week as PolitiFact Ohio was evaluating his group’s claim that FitzGerald, the former mayor of Lakewood, represented a "brand of pay-to-play and corruption politics."

The he-started-it defense is not acceptable when dealing with dishonesty. The RGA statement earned a Pants On Fire rating on our Truth-O-Meter. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so PolitiFact Ohio today is taking a closer look at FitzGerald’s "pay-to-play" claim.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Republican Governors Association portrays Ed FitzGerald as a 'pay-to-play' politician: PolitiFact Ohio

Before officially declaring his candidacy for governor last week, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald spent months preparing for his run against Republican incumbent John Kasich.

Kasich’s allies have been preparing for FitzGerald nearly as long.

There is little doubt FitzGerald will trade heavily on his experience as an FBI agent and his reputation for turning the page on a corrupt chapter of county government. But the GOP prefers to focus on FitzGerald’s largely inconsequential mention as "Public Official 14" in the indictment of Jimmy Dimora, the county commissioner later convicted on racketeering and other charges.

Consider how the Republican Governors Association (RGA) welcomed FitzGerald to the race.
"After failing to recruit a more experienced candidate, Democrats are now stuck with Ed FitzGerald’s brand of pay-to-play and corruption politics," said Executive Director Phil Cox.
PolitiFact Ohio decided this was a good time to reexamine FitzGerald’s tangential connections to the widespread federal investigation of county corruption.
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nina Turner rides MSNBC coattails, drives fiery message while traveling Ohio campaign trail

MASON, Ohio -- On one side of the room, it's cocktail hour at the country club. Middle-aged and elderly couples in business casual sip wine from a mahogany bar and politely talk politics beneath crystal chandeliers before filing into a receiving line to shake hands with the man running for governor.

On the other side, it's more like backstage at a rock concert.

An amped-up crowd gathers around Nina Turner. They ask for autographs on posters the state senator from Cleveland has stacked on a high-top pub table. The younger ones pull out their iPhones and insist on a photo before moving on.

"This is our first time seeing her in person," Mike Norman says after he and his wife, Lynn, score a signature and break away from the growing circle. "My wife said if she was going to meet one person here tonight, it was Nina."

Tonight, a Friday in late April, it's a dinner with the Warren County Democrats. The following afternoon it will be a luncheon in Chillicothe. Turner's supper tour also has stopped this week in Butler, Defiance and Champaign counties.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in these parts of Ohio. But when you are plotting your first run for statewide office, the rubber chicken buffet doesn't end at enemy lines. Turner, who soon will announce her candidacy for secretary of state, is strategically using these dinners to build a coalition far from her Democrat-heavy base in Cuyahoga County.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ed FitzGerald kicks off his long-planned bid for governor by banking on his Cuyahoga County base

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald kicked off his long-planned campaign for governor Wednesday -- another step in the Democrat's fast-moving political career.

For FitzGerald, the former mayor of Lakewood, the choice was between challenging incumbent Republican John Kasich or seeking a second term as the top elected leader of a reshaped county government still in its early stages.

Given the months FitzGerald already has spent networking with party activists in parts of Ohio where he is far less known, there was no suspense when he formalized his decision in a speech at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Cleveland.

The man who was born to run took the stage to "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Former Rep. Betty Sutton will not run for governor

Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton said Friday that she will not run for Ohio governor -- a decision that, for the moment, leaves Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald as the last Democrat standing.

"I want to thank all who have encouraged me to run for governor of our great state," Sutton said in a brief announcement emailed to The Plain Dealer. "I will always be honored by the support and encouragement I have been given, but after thoughtful consideration, I have decided that I will not run for governor in 2014."

Sutton, of Copley Township, had been considering a bid to challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich for months. She lost a tough battle for a fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives last fall after being drawn into a new district that also included the base of Republican Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Republican Sen. Rob Portman's support of gay marriage could help him reach broader group of voters: Analysis

No one should doubt U.S. Sen. Rob Portman's sincerity when it comes to his change of heart on gay marriage – an evolution that began when he learned his son was gay.

But Portman, an Ohio Republican, is a politician. And so the political calculus is unavoidable when considering the stunning announcement he made this week.

On the surface it's a risk atypical of a mild-mannered conservative who has worked at the White House and has pictured what it would be like to return as president.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tells Cuyahoga County GOP it's time for a new generation of leaders

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a rising star in national politics, presented himself here Thursday as a fresh face for Republicans "demoralized" after last year's elections.

His victory aside, the Texas conservative stressed in his keynote address at the Cuyahoga County GOP's annual Lincoln Day dinner that the party must better articulate its ideals.

"You want to know what happened last election cycle? We didn't win the argument for the American people," Cruz said while pacing easily on stage in a hotel ballroom. "The Democrats' story is the Republicans are the party of the rich, the Democrats are the party of everybody else. And if that's the narrative people believe, we'll never win another national election."

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the road again, Gov. John Kasich elevates the State of the State as political theater: Analysis

LIMA, Ohio – Speeches to discuss the State of the Union, the State of the State or any other governmental jurisdiction have become political theater of the most ordinary order.

It's a one-man (or woman) show, behind a microphone and in front of cameras and a room filled with lawmakers, reporters and constituents. The run time? As long as the leader pleases.

But that's not enough for Gov. John Kasich.

The Republican has turned this annual rite of policymaking passage into a traveling carnival meant to build a folksy image for himself and boost the self-esteem of Small Town, Ohio. And so it was here Tuesday, as it was a year ago in Steubenville, that Kasich channeled P.T. Barnum.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ed FitzGerald says he was the first local official to endorse Barack Obama: PolitiFact Ohio

Says he was an early Obama supporter in Cuyahoga County
-- Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald

First impressions mean a lot in politics. And for Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is gearing up for a run at Ohio Gov. John Kasich next year, they are especially important.

A Democrat who previously served as mayor of Lakewood, FitzGerald is not well-known beyond Greater Cleveland. He has been traveling the state for nearly a year in an effort to build relationships with party activists who can help make him a credible candidate.

The effort intensified last month when ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, a fellow Democrat, said he would not seek a rematch with Kasich, a Republican. FitzGerald has been the most active in a group of potential challengers that also includes U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton.

While speaking last month at the Ohio College Democrats’ winter conference in Cincinnati, FitzGerald mixed his dry humor with political biography. He presented himself as a reformer -- a theme familiar to local voters who elected him to lead them past a corruption scandal.

The boast that caught our eye was one reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer: "He proudly said that he was the first Cuyahoga County official to endorse President Barack Obama."

PolitiFact Ohio found the line interesting and wanted more context.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Is the Tea Party over for Gov. John Kasich? Analysis

Seems like only yesterday John Kasich, during his successful run for governor, proudly proclaimed himself to have been in the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.

Kasich's mad-as-hell campaign pledges meshed well with the movement rooted in conservative populism.

More jobs. Lower taxes. Obamacare? Not on my watch, said Kasich, over and over again.

Three years later, his remaining devotees will tell you that two out of three ain't bad. But Kasich's proposal last week to expand Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama's polarizing health insurance program has earned him scorn worthy of a jilted lover. For Kasich, believed by many to harbor White House ambitions, the Tea Party might be over.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

All eyes on Betty Sutton as Ohio Democrats put together their statewide slate for 2014: Analysis

Your move, Betty Sutton.

With former Gov. Ted Strickland content on the sidelines and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald promising an announcement soon on his potential gubernatorial campaign, all Democratic eyes are on the former congresswoman.

After losing to Republican Rep. Jim Renacci last fall in a battle of incumbents, Sutton also is considering a bid for governor in 2014. But party insiders eager to avoid a costly primary are privately picturing Sutton in a down-ballot statewide race where her name-recognition and fundraising capabilities could help them unseat some other GOP officeholder.

Speculation that she might run for something else -- and until Sutton acknowledges an interest in any job besides governor it is merely that -- adds suspense to the party's early efforts to settle a slate. The primary is more than a year away, but several Democrats are prepared to launch bids for attorney general, auditor and secretary of state.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman on Josh Mandel's failed Senate bid: 'You're going to get me in trouble'

Ask U.S. Sen. Rob Portman about Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in Ohio and you'll hear plenty of thoughtful reflection.

But ask Portman about another Buckeye State failure for the GOP last year -- Josh Mandel's loss to Sen. Sherrod Brown -- and listen as he struggles to find the right words.

"Oh gosh," the Cincinnati-area Republican said Friday when asked during a meeting with The Plain Dealer's editorial board what advice he might have for Mandel.

"You're going to get me in trouble."

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to pass on rematch with John Kasich

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland unfroze the Democratic field for his old job Tuesday, opting against a 2014 rematch with Republican incumbent John Kasich.

The thaw might well end with Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald atop the party's ticket.

Strickland, in a statement, said his decision was "very difficult" but offered no reason for taking a pass. The decision, first reported by The Plain Dealer, also ends months of speculation by removing the party's obvious front-runner and leaving FitzGerald as the best positioned among a crop of top-tier prospects for the Democratic nomination.

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