HANNIBAL - Democrat Ed FitzGerald said no matter where he goes across Ohio, he cites the recent closure of Ormet Corp.'s aluminum smelter as an example of why voters should elect him over Republican Gov. John Kasich this year.
"Every part of Ohio I go to - and I have been in all 88 counties - I talk about Ormet," FitzGerald said at the plant Sunday, surrounded by several of the facility's 1,000 displaced employees.
"This is a crisis down here for this part of Ohio," he added.
FitzGerald serves as the executive of Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland in northeastern Ohio. He and running mate Sharen Neuhardt are considered the likely opponents of Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in the November general election.
FitzGerald has one opponent in the May Democrat primary - Larry Ealy of Dayton and running mate Ken Gray.
Ormet closed in October following a decision by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that did not reduce the company's American Electric Power bills by as much as Ormet officials requested. FitzGerald disputed claims by Kasich Press Secretary Rob Nichols that the governor has no direct authority over the PUCO to encourage its members to reconsider a ruling.
"The governor appoints members to the PUCO. When you appoint the members of the board, they tend to listen to you," he said.
FitzGerald also questioned why Kasich has not gone to Ormet, or anywhere in Monroe County, since the October closure.
"I gave him a long time to get down here," FitzGerald said of Kasich. "It's not political. It's your job. The governor has the power to get people together."
When Wayzata Investment Partners offered $221 million for Ormet last year, part of the new business plan involved eventually powering the aluminum smelter plant with natural gas.
FitzGerald said Ormet should have the opportunity to purchase electricity at "market rate" before building the natural gas power center.
Touting the ability to restart each of the plant's six potlines independently, Ormet officials now hope to sell the plant to a new company that may be able to operate it. Tom Byers, president of United Steelworkers Local No. 5724 at Ormet, sees this as a positive development.
"This is not about politics - we are just asking for help," he said of FitzGerald speaking at the plant. "These jobs are the lifeblood of this area."
When asked to respond to FitzGerald's Sunday speech at Ormet, Nichols referred questions to Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf, who called FitzGerald "just a political opportunist."
"Unfortunately, FitzGerald's response shows how little he knows about state government and how ill-prepared he is to be governor. Fitzgerald would put PUCO under direct control of the governor's office. It would make Ohio perhaps the only state in the nation that does not have an independent public utilities commission. Doing so would be bad for ratepayers, consumers and democracy," Schrimpf said.
Schrimpf said the Kasich administration deployed a team from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to help displaced Ormet workers "immediately" following the shutdown.
"Since he's taken office, the governor has worked diligently to create more jobs in Ohio and get workers the training they need to succeed. There's still work to do, but Ohio is coming back from the days when Democrats were in charge."