By Kevin Kelley
The county corruption scandal currently being exposed in the trail of former county commissioner Jimmy Dimora has revealed weaknesses in the local Democratic Party, County Executive Ed FitzGerald said.
Speaking at a Feb. 21 meeting of the Westlake Democratic Club, FitzGerald said that, in recent years, some members of local Democratic Party organizations were involved in politics for the wrong reasons. Many were less interested in promoting the ideals of the party than seeking jobs or other personal gain, said FitzGerald, who noted he has been active in the Democratic Party since he was 15.
The result, FitzGerald said, was that the local Democratic Party was ineffective in helping the party win national elections, something that is very important in a swing state like Ohio. The scandal, if not addressed appropriately, could lead to the demise of the Democratic Party in Ohio, he added.
“The danger of the corruption scandal wasn’t just that taxpayer money was wasted, or people were lied to, or people sold out for money – all the things that they did,” FitzGerald said. “That’s bad enough. If the Democratic Party didn’t prove that our own elected officials could address this situation and fix it, the consequences politically would have been disastrous.
“We’ve just got to show that, as Democrats, we take integrity issues as seriously as anybody in the country.”
FitzGerald recounted how the “spoils system,” in which election victors rewarded supporters with government jobs, was reformed on the federal level more than a century ago. However, it continued on at the local level in many areas across the country, he said.
“That was part of what was wrong in Cuyahoga County,” he told Democrats at the meeting at Westlake’s Church of the Redeemer.
Even after news of the scandal was reported, FitzGerald said he has heard local people say they actually miss the spoils system.
“We cannot go back to that,” FitzGerald said. “It’s not an option.”
Reform efforts that are part of the new county government launched just over a year ago include the appointment of an independent inspector general who can enforce the county’s ethical code, the former Lakewood mayor said. County workers who suspect wrongdoing can report their suspicions directly to the inspector general, who can investigate charges.
In addition to outright corruption, charges of which are central to the Dimora trial, the county also suffered from inefficiencies caused by the lack of a merit system for hiring and no transparency in government actions, he said.
“I can tell you, the county and the taxpayers lost more money because of inefficiency than they ever did with any of the schemes of (former county auditor) Frank Russo and company,” FitzGerald said.