2010 CE G The Endorsement and Rationale

The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland

Endorses FitzGerald for County Executive

On November 2, 1010, the voters of Cuyahoga County have the opportunity to shape their future through the historic election of the County’s first County Executive. This election follows the electorate’s decision last November, in the wake of sweeping corruption investigation, to change the structure of the county’s government.  The new charter eliminates a three-member commission and several elected offices and in their place creates the office of  County Executive, eleven County Council seats, and several key appointed positions.   

The September 7 primary yielded two major-party candidates who are competing with four others.  Those include Matt Dolan (R), Ed FitzGerald (D), Ken Lanci (I), Don Scipione (I), Tim McCormack (I) and David Ellison (Green).  The Citizens League has chosen to endorse Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald as the preferred candidate.

In addition to selecting a preferred candidate, The Citizens League has provided qualifications-based ratings (one to five stars) and Digital Dossiers for each candidate.  The Digital Dossiers contain searchable summaries of each candidate’s background, a summary of his interview performance, and responses to lengthy and detailed questionnaires.

Major party status and experience in public administration divide the candidates into two distinct groups.  Mr. Dolan, Mayor FitzGerald, and Mr. McCormack have all spent a significant portion of their careers working in public service and campaigning as members of the two major parties.  Though Mr. McCormack is running this time as an Independent, he was a member of the Democratic Party for most of his career. In this respect, these three candidates are studied and disciplined campaigners and experienced public servants.

The other three candidates have run less conventional campaigns and do not have a history of holding public office. Mr. Ellison is clearly working to establish the Green Party in a region with little exposure to its values.  Mr. Lanci is running as an unaffiliated candidate, beholden to no one.  Mr. Scipione is also a life-long Democrat and in the race because he was not impressed by the major party candidates who declared for the race. Each of these stories is familiar to the American voter, with some presidential election campaigns echoing the same themes (Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, John Anderson).       

Despite these groupings, the candidates are generally quite distinct.  Each appears to have the intellect and ability to handle the position of County Executive.  Mr. Ellison’s experience was the narrowest, and thus he was the only candidate who drew concern as to basic qualifications.  He can best be described as the outsider and consensus builder whose mission is perhaps more to promote his party than to prevail in the campaign.  The Citizens League gives Mr. Ellison a rating of two stars out of five, meaning we believe he is sufficiently qualified and would serve adequately. 

Mr. Scipione is a scientist and businessman working to apply his impressive skills to solve civic problems.  He is an efficiency expert with a broad intellect and apparently boundless energy.  He has a history of involvement in the civic life of the community (including support for the new charter) that The Citizens League is sure will not end with this race.  If he is not elected, the elected candidate should find a place for him in the administration or as a special consultant, particularly on efficiency, technology, and transparency issues.  The Citizens League gives Mr. Scipione an overall rating of three stars, meaning that he is well qualified for the position and would serve capably.   

The panel that interviewed Mr. Lanci agreed that he was the candidate most likely to gain votes through personal contact.  He has a compelling personal history and great charm. He also has a significant record of accomplishment as a turn-around specialist in the business world.  A turn-around specialist is exactly what Cuyahoga County needs at this time.  However, the panel also agreed that Mr. Lanci presents a high risk and high reward proposition.  It may be that he is just the man, with his force of personality and street knowledge, to lead the County in the right direction.  His experience, however, is in the business world, not in the world of public administration. For that reason, his candidacy raises concerns that his style and experience may not transfer well to the public world.  His candidacy drew varied opinions from our panel.  One member thought he should be the preferred candidate.  Others gave him consideration for that status.  One other thought he should not be elected.  Because of the risk presented by his personality and approach, The Citizens League’s panel collectively gave Mr. Lanci an overall rating of two stars.   

Mr. Dolan is a pragmatic candidate with a history of public service and leadership. His chairmanship of the Finance and Appropriations Committee in Columbus represents a substantial credential in his favor.  He also garnered consideration for preferred status.  Unlike Mr. Lanci, the panel was uniform in its assessment of his candidacy.  The Citizens League believes he is well qualified for the position and would serve capably if elected.  Thus, the Citizens League gave Mr. Dolan three stars. 

Mr. McCormack is a former independent-minded party member running as an outsider.  Even so, he did not tell the story that we expected to hear: that he was a long-serving Democrat who became disenchanted with the status quo and his experience best bestows him the mantel of reformer. Though he was a frequent critic, his years of service in county government came during a period that is now marked by corruption. While he accomplished much in his career, Mr. McCormack still seems to represent the past more than the future.  The Citizens League gives Mr. McCormack an overall rating of two stars.   

The Citizens League has given Mayor FitzGerald three stars and its rating as the preferred candidate.  In a county long dominated by the Democratic Party, Mayor FitzGerald is the establishment candidate. Even in an election that is based upon changing that establishment, he represents the safest choice for County Executive.  He has experience as a trial lawyer in both civil and criminal cases.  He served as a public corruption investigator for the FBI, mitigating concern over the recent stories about a phone call he received from Commissioner Dimora.  After several years on Lakewood City Council, he gained executive leadership experience as Lakewood’s mayor. No other candidate has that executive/council experience.  Though it was not for a long tenure, that qualification is what most distinguishes Mayor FitzGerald from Mr. Dolan and Mr. Scipione, the other three-star candidates.  His prior support for Issue 5 and an establishment culture both raise concerns that, contrary to his promises, he is not an agent for change.  Because of these issues, he will have to move decisively to demonstrate that his administration will not conduct business as usual.  He must make key appointments with an open and independent-minded selection process. He must inspire transparency and integrity.  He must eliminate cronyism and nepotism.  Only then will the cynicism that now marks our public discourse fade. 

Only one of these candidates will enter the history books as Cuyahoga County’s first County Executive.  That individual will have to lead two great transitions: one is structural, from a charter characterized by numerous elected offices toward a strong executive model; the other is cultural, from a bureaucracy marked by corruption toward one characterized by transparency and integrity.  Neither task will be easy.  We believe at least three of the candidates can do the job well.  We believe the executive/council experience of one distinguishes him from the rest.  Like the voters, we can only hope that the choice we have made is the right one.  We do know, based upon our work researching and evaluating the candidates, that the choice is an educated one.  With the information we have provided, we know that voters can make their decision based upon facts and without regard for party affiliation, surname popularity, or cultural heritage.  In this way, the voters can continue to move the political culture in a positive direction, just like they did last November.