Capital News: Dissension within the ranks on FitzGerald candidacy

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- The last thing Chris Redfern and the Ohio Democratic Party need is vocal, public dissension from within the ranks about their gubernatorial hopeful, Ed FitzGerald.

Republicans already are providing ample criticism of the Cuyahoga County executive, with frequent reminders of the woman in the car and the years without a driver's license.

FitzGerald's own campaign has gone through a rebirth of sorts, with a shift in focus to getting Democrats excited about November and ready to cast ballots, particularly for down-ticket candidates.

Redfern, chairman of the state party, can't have a press conference without fielding some sort of question about FitzGerald and Democrats' chances in the general election.

If you listen carefully, you can hear whispers of discontent from Democrats; many don't think their electoral prospects are very promising.

While reporters can find some Democrats willing to go on the record with their concerns, most of the party faithful are maintaining a stiff upper lip and remaining publicly confident in their candidates.

Then there are those who aren't happy with Redfern and aren't afraid to tell reporters just what they think of their chairman.

Enter the Trumbull County Party Democratic Party, which is feuding with Redfern over the way it selected an interim county commissioner to fill a slot left vacant when the previous officeholder died.

The Trumbull County bylaws for such occasions allow secret ballot votes. The state and national Democratic Party bylaws apparently prohibit such measures, requiring public votes.

The two sides are standing their ground on the issue. Trumbull party Chairman Dan Polivka and his legal counsel placed the blame for the situation squarely on Redfern's shoulders, last week taking a swipe or two at him for FitzGerald's status in the process.

"And at the end of it, we're still hoping that there can be some party unity," Jeffrey Goodman, one of Polivka's attorneys, told reporters. "At this point, that's probably going to take an apology from Chris Redfern to the precinct committee people in Trumbull County and the people of Trumbull County, who have been very insulted by this entire process and by his attitude."

He added, "We haven't been put on notice of any sanctions … That's the kind of attention to detail that you get from a [Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman] David Betras or a Chris Redfern. And that's the kind of attention to detail that led to Redfern's lack of vetting of the current gubernatorial candidate in Ohio. Things in his office are a mess, things in Trumbull County are just fine."

While more circumspect in his public comments, Redfern hasn't backed down on the bylaws issue.

"The executive committee has no tolerance for those who want to shirk their responsibilities and have no concern for the bylaws," he said. "With all do respect to the chairman, he is wrong."

The Trumbull County situation will eventually work itself out, but public criticism from Democrats of FitzGerald have only added fuel to the fire that is consuming the latter's campaign.

The first question reporters had for Redfern following last week's executive committee meeting was about FitzGerald, not Trumbull County.

And, as he usually does, Redfern told reporters that average citizens don't care about FitzGerald's past driver's license status.

"Here's what I'm asked about: what Ottawa County has among the highest unemployment rates in the state," he said. "At a time when half a million northwest Ohioans have went without drinking water for four days, why is it that Gov. Kasich wants to repeal the Clean Water Act and everything that implies safe drinking water …?"

He added, "There are so many more important issues that Ohioans are confronted with. And with all due respect, those are the kinds of issues and the solutions to those concerns that we're going to offer and have been offering. We're going to do that for the next 69 days. You may be tired of that answer, but it's the answer that Ohioans want to hear."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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