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Politics


Kearney quits as candidate for lieutenant governor; Dems ask what's next?
List of likelies to replace Kearney include Pillich and Heard
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE BUREAU CHIEF KAREN KASLER


Reporter
Karen Kasler
 
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is shopping for a new running mate.
Courtesy of WKSU file photo
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Sen. Eric Kearney has stepped down as the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor after confirming hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid back taxes. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has the latest.

LISTEN: Kearney is off the Democratic ticket

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LISTEN: Kearney on his tax troubles

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LISTEN: Kearney on what's next?

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The announcement from Ed FitzGerald that Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati would be his running mate didn’t have much in the way of drama, since word of Kearney’s selection had leaked out the day before. 

“I’m very happy that today I can tell you that that search process officially is over. We have found a person that is going to be a partner with me as we turn around the state of Ohio and we lead our ticket to victory next year.”

 

Ed FitzGerald's statment on Kearney's resignation: "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."

But a few hours later, reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tax liens against Kearney and his wife tied to the publishing business they own started to trickle out. Last week, the trickle was a torrent, adding up to as much as $825,000 in unpaid back taxes – plus a credit card debt and questions about unpaid workers compensation premiums.

But when asked about his tax problems in a marathon conference call with reporters last week, Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati made clear his determination several times to remain Ed FitzGerald’s running mate. 

“I’m in it. We’re in it all the way and we’re going to see this through.”

Afew hours after making that statement, Kearney said he would step down as Senate minority leader to concentrate on the campaign. And he said that though FitzGerald wasn’t on the conference call with him, the candidate stood by him and that they’d never had any discussions about whether Kearney’s tax troubles would be a liability for the campaign.

Others thought differently
But the chorus of voices calling on Kearney to step aside or for FitzGerald to replace him had been rising for a while. The most recent was veteran Democratic strategist Jerry Austin of Cleveland, who has run national and statewide campaigns but is now retired.

“It already looks bad. The first thing you always want to do when you’re picking a running mate is not to have stories that are going on for a week about ‘why did you pick him when you knew this information?’ and that’s happened now.”

Who should replace Kearney?
Austin, who says he’s helped pick five Ohio lieutenant governors, says Kearney’s departure is needed to give the ticket time to recover before November’s election.

Asked who he thinks should replace Kearney, Austin says“The strongest candidate that the Democrats have right now I believe is Connie Pillich, and I would suggest that people ought to be calling on her to run for governor.”

State Rep. Connie Pillich of Cincinnati has announced her intention to run for state treasurer. Before Kearney was announced, there were reports that Columbus councilman Zach Klein, state Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville and state Rep. Debbie Phillips of Athens were being considered.


And one of the leading contenders was thought to be House Minority Leader Tracy Heard of Columbus. At a news conference with Philips and other House Democrats blasting the economy under Republican Gov. John Kasich, Heard deflected questions about whether she’d talked to the FitzGerald campaign. 

“I know you guys probably have a lot of interest in that, but we’re going to leave that to the politicos and the pundits to address later.”

This isn’t the first time a governor/lieutenant governor team has been changed before an election. It happened in 2006, when Jim Petro replaced his lieutenant governor before the Republican gubernatorial primary. He lost the primary to Ken Blackwell – who then lost to Democrat Ted Strickland that fall.

Kearney said in a statement that the business was on a path to recover from the tax troubles, but that he’s stepping aside because – quoting here – “it’s undeniable that this has come to be a distraction from a discussion of the vital issues facing Ohio." 

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