A/V: FitzGerald, Neuhardt Host Dayton Town Hall Meeting

Saturday, October 25, 2014
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald talks to attendees at the Dayton town hall event on Thursday evening.

Although running far behind his opponent in the polls and in campaign funds, Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald stopped in Dayton on Thursday evening to a small but supportive gathering just 12 days before next month's general election. Introduced by his lieutenant governor running mate, Sharen Neuhardt, he spoke extemporaneously for approximately 50 minutes on a variety of issues to a crowd of about 70 people at the Dayton Cultural & RTA Center, just east of the main downtown area. This event was one of eight scheduled earlier this month by the campaign to counter the lack of debates between FitzGerald and his Republican opponent, the incumbent governor John Kasich.

The Dayton Cultural & RTA Center served as the venue for the FitzGerald/Neuhardt town hall meeting on Thursday evening.

After Neuhardt's introductory remarks, FitzGerald lauded his partner and brought up the fact that he introduced her as his running mate in that same location back in January. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate then immediately went on the offensive against the Kasich campaign's decision not to participate in any pre-election debates. He called out his rival as "the first governor in 36 years to refuse to participate in a debate," and said that their only joint appearance they have had so far this general election season was earlier that day in front of an editorial board for Cleveland's Plain Dealer newspaper. When asked at that meeting if the lack of debates is diminishing FitzGerald's campaign, the Democrat responded, "it diminishes democracy because you have a responsibility to debate your opponent when you’re running for something like governor." Neither Kasich or any of the major statewide Republican office holders (Attorney General Mike DeWine, Auditor David Yost, Secretary of State John Husted and Treasurer Josh Mandell) have accepted invitations from civic groups or media outlets to submit themselves to answering questions from the press or the public.

Doris Adams, Greene County Democratic Party chair, catches up on the news while waiting for the start of the FitzGerald/Neuhardt town hall meeting in Dayton on Thursday evening.

FitzGerald next brought up the state's economy which, according to his statistics, ranks 45th out of the 50 states in terms of job creation since the 2007-2009 recession period. "We have 23 months in a row of being below the national job creation average,' he said, citing that  the rest of the country, as a whole, has gained back all of the jobs we lost during the recession. To refute how Kasich can declare to be a job creator, FitzGerald brought up the fact that every state lost jobs during that recent economic downturn but the 200,000 jobs he is claiming on his watch is still 100,000 less than the pre-recession total. He further tarnished this achievement by stating that most of these new positions are for "low wage and minimum wage" jobs and that the state's poverty rate has gone up over the past four years, with one of every four children living in a household below that critical economic threshold.
Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald waits for his running mate, Sharen Neuhardt, to complete her opening remarks at the Dayton town hall event on Thursday evening.

FitzGerald's final major point before taking audience questions was human and civil rights when it comes to the constituencies of women and minorities in the state. In July 2013, Governor Kasich signed legislation that placed significant abortion restrictions on Ohio women by reducing funding levels for Planned Parenthood in the state budget. At the earlier editorial board meeting, his Democratic opponent asked him, "What problem was that solving? Why did you do that?" when he restricted healthcare options at crisis centers but he never received a response, even knowing that his position is already on the record for supporting that procedure in cases of rape or incest. As with the other inquiries posed to him during that session, the governor refused to respond.

An audience member poses a question to Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald during the Dayton town hall meeting on Thursday evening.

One of the concerns FitzGerald has with this lack of direct comparison between the candidates or public accountability in a debate format revolves around Kasich not providing his political or personal views for voters to base their electoral decisions. He specifically highlighted "right-to-work" legislation that is currently being deliberated in the Statehouse and asked the governor directly at the editorial board meeting what his position was on those anti-union measures. "He wouldn’t answer it," FitzGerald said. "He was asked three, four, five times and he just said that’s speculative...that’s what politicians say when they don’t want to tell somebody the truth." He then pointed to "right-to-work" initiatives being passed in the neighboring states of Michigan and Indiana by similar "non-commital" stances by those state's Republican governors. Regarding what benefits this silence might have for his rival, FitzGerald said, "If we’re all unlucky and he is reelected, he can run for president and he can tell the national groups that are for right to work and are anti-union--I’m all for you."

Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald (center) signs an autograph for a supporter after the Dayton town hall meeting on Thursday evening while his running mate, Sharen Neuhardt (right), looks on.

Although held at the same venue as the January ticket kickoff, this event was in stark contrast to that more upbeat and optimistic atmosphere seen at that earlier gathering when many felt that the incumbent governor might be vulnerable to defeat. Nine months ago, the center was packed with exuberant supporters but Thursday evening's had only 70 people who understood and accepted the campaign's dire situation, to include the candidate himself. In August, several negative allegations surfaced surrounding FitzGerald's personal conduct and judgment that took the race from an upset possibility to one, if recent polling materializes, one that Kasich should comfortably win. While the kickoff attracted statewide attention, just two Dayton news outlets were present for the start of the town hall with only one, the city's daily newspaper, staying for the entire event. Several local politicians were in attendance but one noticeable no-show was Dayton's first year Democratic mayor Nan Whaley. During the January event, she had a visible on-stage role when she introduced the new gubernatorial team but it was unclear why she did not attend Thursday's town hall.

Only one major media outlet stayed for the entire FitzGerald/Neuhardt town hall meeting on Thursday evening.

With a shared understanding that things will probably not go their party's way on November 4th, FitzGerald did provide the attendees some upbeat news in terms of "get out the vote" initiatives. "We’ve had over one million voter contacts in the last 4-5 weeks," the Democratic candidate announced which is about half of the number of votes he and the other statewide candidates would need to beat their Republican opponents. Because of FitzGerald's poor polling numbers, the campaign has diverted its diminished funding to the entire Democratic ticket and to grassroots initiatives to hopefully attract enough voters who do not normally show up during non-presidential election years. Although reduced by an entire week, Ohio's early voting period started on October 7th and will run through November 2nd, the Sunday before Election Day.

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