Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ed FitzGerald had not had a regular Ohio driver’s license for at least five years when Westlake police found him in a car with a woman early one morning two years ago.
If he drove his car after dropping her off at her hotel, as he said he did, he would have violated Ohio law requiring those with just the temporary permit that he had to drive only when accompanied by a licensed driver.
According to records at the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, FitzGerald, a Democrat running against Republican Gov. John Kasich, held temporary driving permits in 2008-09, 2010-11, and 2011-12 before getting a driver’s license on Nov. 15, 2012.
FitzGerald and the woman in his car, Joanne Grehan, an economic development representative from Ireland, were found by a Westlake police officer sitting in FitzGerald’s car in a parking lot at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2012.
It’s unclear why FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and assistant county prosecutor who was the mayor of Lakewood from 2008 to 2011 and has been the Cuyahoga County executive since then, did not have a regular driver’s license during that time. Bureau of Motor Vehicle records go back to 2007, and FitzGerald hadn’t had a license from then until he was issued one in November two years ago.
If FitzGerald drove alone at any time during that five-year span from 2007 to late 2012, he would have been driving illegally, said Lindsey Bohrer, spokeswoman for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. And during the period when he did not have a temporary permit, he would have violated the law anytime he took the wheel, regardless of who was along.
“This was a mistake,” FitzGerald told The Dispatch, through campaign spokesman Daniel McElhatton. “I apologize, and since 2012 I have had a valid driver’s license.” McElhatton declined to answer any other questions, including why FitzGerald had temporary permits for those years, whether he drove alone during those years, or when FitzGerald last had an Ohio driver’s license.
The first offense for driving without a license is a minor misdemeanor punishable by up to a $150 fine.
News broke on Friday that FitzGerald and Grehan, who was part of an Irish delegation visiting Cleveland and is a friend of FitzGerald, were found by a Westlake officer responding to a call that two people had been parked in a nearly vacant industrial complex parking lot for about 30 minutes.
FitzGerald and Grehan have said that nothing inappropriate happened in the car. FitzGerald said in a Columbus news conference on Friday that they were parked there because they couldn’t find Grehan’s hotel on their way from a night of partying with members of the Irish delegation and stopped to “get our bearings.” FitzGerald said he was a designated driver that night and hadn’t taken a drink for several hours.
Police didn’t document anything untoward at the scene two years ago. In separate conversations that night with a Westlake police dispatcher, two officers noted that the “registered owner” of the car (FitzGerald) had a “licensed driver” with him.
Reached for comment and further explanation, Westlake police Capt. Guy Turner would only say, “I am going to let the public records speak for themselves.”
If Grehan had a valid Irish driver’s license, that would have allowed her to drive legally in the U.S. Grehan did not respond to a Dispatch request seeking comment.
FitzGerald noted on Friday that the police visit to his car “didn’t even amount to a situation that resulted in a traffic ticket.”
By Joe Vardon - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson contributed to this story.
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