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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cordray Inaugural Ceremony

It was an honor and a thrill to attend the swearing in ceremony for Treasurer Rich Cordray at the Statehouse Atrium in Columbus yesterday. The crowd easily overflowed the allotted chairs, leaving many to stand around the perimeter or on the catwalks. I snagged a seat in the third row and juggled my camera and digital voice recorder. A chamber music quartet that includes Cordray's niece Ruthie Cordray, called "Chrysaora" (it has to do with jellyfish; I looked it up) provided a musical prelude.

Sen. Ray Miller, the new Democratic Whip, was the Master of Ceremonies for the occasion. He is a genial man and handled the occasion with a light touch, calling it an historic day and us a magnificent crowd and joking that State Rep. Tyrone Yates had told him that "he would be having a fund-raiser himself, right after this program." Seriously, there was an air of excitement and delight at the gathering of so many new and long-time Democratic faces for such an occasion. After the pledge of allegiance, an invocation, and a strikingly complex choral rendition of the national anthem (by the Grove City Chorale), Sen. Miller noted the customarily spare introductions used for Presidents of the United States before thrilling the audience by saying simply, "Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, the Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland."

After a very long standing ovation, the new governor thanked Sen. Miller and the singers (the Grove City Chorale) and quoted scripture: "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Speaking without notes, he said he was "pleased and proud" to share the occasion with Cordray and his family and friends, and that Cordray represents a "new generation of leadership in Ohio" and is a "person of exceptional talents and intellect and commitment to public service." Ohioans, he said, can be proud of Cordray as someone who is absolutely trustworthy and who has "time and time again proven himself to be dedicated to public service." "Richard, we are all a part of the team," he said, promising to do everything possible to enable Cordray to "perform his duties with honor and integrity," and turning back to the the crowd he said "Welcome to the people's house." Afterward, Sen. Miller led the audience in saying in unison "Thank you, Governor Strickland," and noted how nice it was to hear that. "It's been sixteen years," he said.

Gene Harris, Superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools, praised Cordray for his leadership as Franklin County Treasurer in promoting financial literacy training in schools and in collecting millions of dollars in delinquent taxes, much of which was ultimately allocated to the public schools. She ended by saying "This is a win for the State of Ohio." John O'Grady, Clerk of Court for Franklin County, followed Harris. He talked about working for former State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow and praised Cordray's intellect and dedication. He also chided Cordray for his selection of neckties and failure to keep his shoes tied. (Cordray obliged O'Grady by ducking down in his seat as if to tie his shoelaces.)

House Democratic Leader Rep. Joyce Beatty recalled that the first Ohio Treasurer was not elected or appointed but selected by the legislature, and noted that Cordray served in the General Assembly. She praised his efforts to promote financial literacy in schools and his innovative ideas as county treasurer. Speaking for the members of the Ohio House of Representatives, she pledged "our commitment," "our support," and "that we will always want something."

Lee Fisher walked to the podium to follow Rep. Beatty, but Sen. Miller intercepted him and told the audience that "we couldn't have the new Lieutenant Governor to speak without having a full standing round of applause," which we provided with enthusiasm. Fisher began by greeting the governor and noting that since first speaking the words "Governor Ted Strickland" eleven hours before (at their official swearing in just after midnight), the new governor had not let him sleep a wink, but that he hoped for gubernatorial permission to take a nap "some time tonight." He also jokingly referred to Sen. Miller as "I. Ray Miller," in response to being called by him "Lee I. Fisher." He noted that he knows Richard Cordray well from campaigning with him statewide "not once but twice," and said that they are "much happier about the outcome this time." (Cordray ran for attorney general in 1998, the year that Fisher lost a close gubernatorial race to Bob Taft.) Fisher recalled that as attorney general he created the position of Ohio Solicitor and after a national search selected Cordray to fill it. He said that as Solicitor Cordray served the people of Ohio, and as Treasurer he would do the same. "The word Treasurer means something, and it's more than just about money," Fisher said. "It's about people's hopes and spirits, and that's what Richard Cordray represents."

Mary Ellen Withrow prepares to swear in the new Treasurer, with spouse Peggy Cordray holding the bible and their seven-year-old son standing by. Ms. Withrow is the first and only person to serve as treasurer at all three levels -- county (Marion County 1976-84), state (Ohio 1982-1994), and federal (1994-2001). As U.S. Treasurer she was involved in the "State Quarters" project, the Sacagawea dollar coin project, and the first issue of two dollar notes in nearly 20 years. She also was Treasurer when the redesigned $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 notes were introduced in the 1990s. Since retiring in 2000 she has been an activist for women in government and is in the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame.

Peggy Cordray is a member of the faculty at Capital University School of Law. Rich Cordray argued six cases before the U.S. Supreme Court while in private practice.

In his remarks, the new Treasurer said that in this election "the people clearly demanded a new direction -- a restoration of trust, and a renewed recognition of who really serves whom in our democracy." He said that his responsibility will be to "place the Treasury of this State in the service of Governor Strickland and
Lieutenant Governor Fisher who, together with the legislature, will
decide when and how to spend the people's money," and "above all" in service to "the people of this State, whose funds we are bound to protect and increase, carefully and within the boundaries of the law and sound financial policy." In addition, he proposed to "shape an effective course in personal finance education for young and old and in-between; to help those who face the anxiety of debt or foreclosure or bankruptcy; to join our new Governor and Lieutenant Governor in stimulating the economy of this State; and to assist our many local officials in better governing their fiscal affairs." These "are not partisan objectives," and Cordray pledged to "serve all Ohioans, be they Democrat or Republican or independent or uncertain." He also promised to "try to harness the 'wild spirits' of human ingenuity and imagination for the cause of reform" and to "bring friendship and good will to all our tasks in the government."

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At January 11, 2007 11:32 AM , Demgal said...

Thanks for covering this, Jeff! Richard Cordray is such a great person, vastly overqualified for this job. Ohio is lucky to have him.

At January 12, 2007 10:26 AM , Jeff said...

Yes, I completely agree. I'm excited to think what may be in store for Cordray down the road.


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