- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

PORT CLINTON, Ohio (AP) - Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald said Friday he was careless in letting his driver’s license lapse for more than 10 years and that he waited too long to correct it.

FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, returned to the campaign trial after a week that has seen him face questions about his driver’s record and an incident when police found him in his car with a woman other than his wife early one morning in October 2012.

His driving record has drawn scrutiny because of the incident, which was first reported a week ago. He later said nothing inappropriate happened in the car, and that he and the woman, who was part of a visiting Irish delegation, had stopped because they were trying to connect with others in their group traveling separately.

His license expired in 2002, and he didn’t get a new, permanent one until November 2012, his campaign has said. Ohio records show that FitzGerald had temporary permits starting in 2008, but he lacked one for more than a year until he got a license.

“I was careless. I made a mistake,” he said.

FitzGerald was campaigning across northern Ohio on Friday. At his first stop in in Port Clinton along Lake Erie, he talked about water quality issues in the wake of toxins being found in the drinking water supplied to 400,000 people around Toledo.

He said he wants to get back to talking about issues that matter to Ohioans and doesn’t think questions about his driving record will continue to follow his campaign.

FitzGerald accused his opponent, Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich, of failing to protect Lake Erie. The governor, he said, has gone against proposals that could have helped reduce the blue-green algae polluting the lake and linked to the water warnings in Toledo.

“The state has been dragging its feet for a long time, and I think the state was dragging its feet before Gov. Kasich,” he said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Ohio’s spending on Lake Erie water quality efforts has increased during his first term by 23 percent to almost $500 million.

“Tough new rules have been put in place on water diversions, dredging and nutrient management,” Nichols said in a statement. “Everyone from environmental groups to the charter boat captains to the ag community recognizes how this administration has helped bring people together to chart a better way forward. Criticism from the other side is just hollow given that when they had their hands on the lever, not much got done.”

FitzGerald said Friday he would be open to mandatory regulations on the state’s agriculture industry in order to reduce the phosphorus that runs off fields and feeds the algae in Lake Erie.

“You can’t balance this problem anymore when you literally have this crisis,” FitzGerald said.

Farm groups have opposed suggestions for regulations and instead are asking farmers to take voluntary steps to reduce runoff.

“Weighing down family farmers under a pile of regulations will make it harder for farmers and drive up the price of food,” said Chris Henney, president of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association.

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