In just 18 days Cuyahoga County Executive and Democratic candidate for Governor of Ohio Ed FitzGerald went from confident exuberance over his selection of State Senator Eric Kearney to be his running mate next year to take on Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor to put-out-the-fire crisis management.
Kearney capitulated Tuesday rather than allow his politically potent tax problems to take the legs out from under FitzGerald's campaign before it had a chance to stand up and take a coordinated poke at the opponents.
For Ohio Republicans, though, the hunt by media to dig into Sen. Kearney's stunning and poorly explained tax problems, and whether FitzGerald knew of its extent before selecting the Cincinnati African-American to be his ticket mate, has been sheer political schadenfreude—a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about other people's troubles—all of which came gratis from Team FitzGerald and Ohio Democratic brain trust.
Kearney's famous last words—"I'm in to stay"—came just days ago. But Capital Square insiders knew he wasn't, as multiple reports revealed Kearney, his wife and the publishing company they operate together had amassed $825,000 or more in federal and state tax liens, penalty and interest. Kearney labored to explain the loses he attributed to malfeasance by a now-deceased former partner and from a publishing industry in trouble.
Ed FitzGerald issued a statement on Kearney's capitulation today. "I have enormous respect for Senator Kearney's record as a community leader in the Cincinnati area, as a family man, and as one of the most respected and effective legislators in Ohio. Eric’s decency is matched only by his record of leadership and legislative accomplishment.
"Eric and I agree about the challenges facing Ohio, and about how important it is for the state to change direction in the next election. Because that is our primary concern, we agreed that it is best for Sen. Kearney to step down from the ticket. Ultimately, the discussion of the crucial issues facing Ohio was in danger of being drowned out, making this decision difficult but necessary.
"The campaign will now move on with the discussion squarely focused where it should be: How we can refocus state policies to benefit working people and middle-class families who are finding it increasingly difficult to get by in John Kasich's faltering economy."
Sen. Kearney released this statement on why left the ticket. "When my wife Jan-Michele and I purchased the Cincinnati Herald we knew it would be a challenge. The media business was changing rapidly, and newspapers—both large and small—were struggling to adapt and remain profitable. But we were dedicated to keeping alive one of our nation’s oldest African-American newspapers and committed to our employees and their families.
"Given the challenges the Herald faced, other small business owners might have walked away. But, we never considered closing our business because it would have meant shutting down a respected community newspaper dating back to the Civil Rights era, and putting people out of work.
"When I became a State Senator in 2005, I stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the newspaper to focus on representing my hometown in the Ohio Senate. I have devoted my time in the Senate to improving children’s health, ensuring fair elections, and growing our state’s economy. Among the pieces of legislation that I was able to pass was a bill setting up a loan program that grants financial assistance to families wanting to adopt.
"During my tenure as Minority Leader, I worked across the aisle with former Senate President Tom Neihaus to enact reforms to stabilize and strengthen Ohio’s public pension systems. It wasn’t easy, but it shows what can be accomplished if you take a thoughtful and bipartisan approach to solving problems and treat people with respect.
"Last month I accepted an opportunity to run for Lieutenant Governor because I believe this state is headed in the wrong direction. Ohio’s unemployment rate is rising, voting rights are threatened, and our schools and local communities don’t have the resources they need.
"As questions arose about the financial challenges facing our newspaper business I wanted to set the record straight. That’s why I provided hundreds of documents and answered questions from reporters from across the state. This was all done to let the facts be known and to ensure complete transparency. I am convinced our business is on a path to resolving these issues in the near future and the facts support that conclusion.
"With that being said, it’s undeniable that this has come to be a distraction from a discussion of the vital issues facing Ohio, and the choice voters must make in this election. The stakes are too high: we need a change of leadership to move Ohio in a new direction that puts more Ohioans back to work and builds a better future for our children.
"I have discussed this with Ed FitzGerald, and while I will always be grateful for him selecting me to be his running mate, we agree that the best course of action is for me to step aside from the campaign for Lieutenant Governor and focus on serving the people of the Ninth Senate district."
Ohio Republicans speak
Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf released this statement today the split between FitzGerald and Kearney. "Ed Fitzgerald has done a huge disservice to Senator Kearney and his family. By failing to fully vet him, FitzGerald put his running mate in an impossible situation for weeks before finally abandoning him in an attempt to save his own campaign. We have learned a lot about FitzGerald and his priorities throughout this entire episode. His lack of judgment and honesty will haunt him for the remainder of this campaign. We still don't know how FitzGerald allowed this to happen, but we know the entire time nothing Ed Fitzgerald or the Ohio Democrats have said has been true. If anyone should leave this race, it's Fitzgerald who is clearly not prepared for statewide office.
FitzGerald said he'll announce his second choice to be number two on the Democratic ticket next year. Two Columbus Democrats—House Majority Leader Tracy Heard and Columbus City Councilman Zach Klein—have already been mentioned as potential candidates for lieutenant governor and may have been considered prior to Kearney's selection.
Heard became the first African-American woman to be elected House majority leader in 2009, but in her fourth and final term, she will be term limited next year.
Klein is an attorney at the Jones Day law firm and is in his first term on the Columbus City Council.
State Senator Nina Turner, a Democratic candidate for Secretary of State next year, offered this statement on Kearney's exit. "Senator Kearney's record in the legislature working to improve childhood nutrition, highlighting the need for equal ballot access, and standing up for workers' rights, makes clear that he is a public servant's public servant. His legacy of service is evidenced by his selfless commitment to the people of Ohio and his leadership in the Senate.
"Having served with Senator Kearney, I have the utmost respect for him and know that he has the best interests of Ohioans, the 9th Senate District, and his family at heart. I am confident that he will continue working towards a brighter future for all Ohioans."
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