FitzGerald Says Farewell to Lakewood
Mayor moving on to become Cuyahoga County's first county executive.
Edward FitzGerald became involved in politics because he wanted to improve peoples' lives. He knows that sounds cliché, but he doesn't mind.
Helping people "seemed like something meaningful and something I wanted to participate in," said the 42-year-old FitzGerald, who leaves his post as the mayor of Lakewood today to become Cuyahoga County's first county executive.
It's been quite a journey for FitzGerald, who took his first political gig in 1984 at age 15, when he volunteered on the Gary Hart presidential campaign in his childhood home of Indianapolis.
He moved to Lakewood in 1989. After serving on a few city boards and committees while practicing law, he was appointed to Lakewood City Council in January 1999 and has been to more than 300 council meetings since. FitzGerald was elected the city's mayor in November 2007, and took office in January 2008.
At that time, the city's finances were bad and getting worse. FitzGerald said he wasted no time trying to fix them.
"The city was in awful shape when we got here," he said. "We were on the verge of fiscal emergency. We ended up really turning things around. I inherited a deficit that was over 10 percent of our total budget.
"And I will give my successor a budget that's almost at a 10 percent surplus."
In order to obtain that multimillion-dollar swing, FitzGerald made some tough cuts.
"We made a lot of difficult decisions that were considered to be political suicide by a lot of local people," he said. "We did it because it was the right thing to do, and I think we saved the city financially. I think that's probably my single greatest contribution" to the city.
Instead of making cuts to climb out of a hole, FitzGerald said, the city used a data analysis to balance the budget in a way that would ensure a surplus for other city initiatives. That including getting tough on crime.
"We increased the size of the police department by 10 percent, and our crime rate went down by 20 percent," said the former FBI agent. "And I feel pretty good about that."
One of Lakewood's unfinished jobs, which FitzGerald said the new mayor Michael Summers must deal with, is to ensure preservation of the city's aging housing stock.
Summers — whom council appointed to replace FitzGerald as mayor — has said he plans to move forward with that agenda.
Summers complimented FitzGerald's ability to surround himself with the right people.
"Ed FitzGerald stayed very focused on the right issues," Summers said. "He had the right position on these issues … He was very effective at communicating his views in public forums."
Among FitzGerald's first acts as county executive is to begin to repair and clean up the county government's image as a corrupt political machine.
"We'll try to shake things up," he said. "When you take over an organization that is dysfunctional, it actually means there's more of an opportunity to improve things."
FitzGerald will be ceremonially sworn in Jan. 9 during a public event at the old federal courthouse in Cleveland.
"I am not naïve about the extent of the problems down there, but I am looking forward to it," he said.