FitzGerald characterized his address as a "report card" and certainly wasn't shy about giving himself straight A's. He painted an exultant portrait, listing significant improvements in county government efficiency, regional innovation, public safety, and education.
No major new policies to report, save for a planned consolidation of 9-1-1 call centers, a rebranding of the Medical Mart as the Global Center for Health Innovation and a bizarre, non-specific appeal for an Exposition in 2016 (on the 80th Anniversary of the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition).
Unlike Obama's remarks last week, which plotted a roster of necessary legislative action in the coming year, FitzGerald stuck mainly to the past, contrasting his leadership prerogatives and results with those of his predecessors.
Thus, the State of the County's operative tone was subtle personal adulation; the operative premise was transformation of government culture at FitzGerald's own hands. Yet somehow — and I'm being dead serious when I say this — he remained charming as hell throughout.
Bear in mind that our county executive isn't exactly electric with a microphone in his hands. Bear in mind also that his rhetoric, by and large, had the data-heavy sobriety of, e.g., facilities memos. For awhile, it felt less like he was orating and more like he was reading a report.
But as he trucked along, one thing became abundantly clear.
Ed FitzGerald is Harvey Dent. Ed FitzGerald is the White Knight of Cuyahoga County. He has galloped into Cleveland on a horse groomed in Lakewood and has become a totally non-Two-Faced face — the downy Irish face which has done its level best to help us forget Jimmy DiMora's, whose scruff and wattle emblemized the industry of county corruption writ large.
In formidable closeup on grand ballroom's projection screen, a nervous Fitzy opened with a joke about Marco Rubio and plunged into the statistics which consecrate his integrity and leadership.
In truth, he was most impressive in the Q&A portion after the prepared remarks. He fielded questions like a seasoned vet. The tragedy was that with room full of Cleveland's thought leaders and executives — record attendance, according to Fitz — no one put forth anything that represented even a minor challenge for him.
Off book, Fitz showed himself to be deeply knowledgeable about city and regional affairs, articulate on the fly, and cordial in the way we've come to expect. He even indulged in a few soft jabs particular to diplomatic repartee.
When asked about his gubernatorial aspirations, he declined to comment, saying he intended to keep the forum entirely about county affairs. The effect, of course, was that his optimism and "Who me?" gratitude was thereby tinged with the sad premonition that he won't be around to follow through with much of this momentum.
Nonethless, the FitzGerald Kool-Aid was tasty on Tuesday. As outrageous and unexpected as the Exposition proposition was, for instance, you couldn't help but nod along with this guy — this genuinely sweet family man — as he sang the praises of the city and spoke with poise and reason about the importance of entrepreneurship. He even had something touching to say about people who live in suburbs!
A few key takeaways: The planned consolidated county complex still appears to be a political miracle and dream come true for both city developers and taxpayers; FitzGerald's data-driven approach to auditing has yielded remarkable results in both financing and efficiency; his political framework seems to be scaffolded in institutional Positive Thinking.
"Skepticism no longer belongs as the dominant theme in the public discourse," Fitz said, whilst discussing just how thoroughly the Medical Mart fiasco had been transformed into a thrilling success, with plans to finish ahead of schedule and under budget.
He said the pessimists and the cynics are becoming irrelevant, and by God it was encouraging to hear. When he spoke of "not just matching but outdoing" previous generations, it was as if he could do it by himself, entirely on the strengths of his good will and enthusiasm.