Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is looking for a new running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign after a disastrous introduction and abrupt withdrawal of state Sen. Eric Kearney as his lieutenant governor pick.
Kearney stepped aside Tuesday, less than three weeks after FitzGerald announced him as his running mate. But stories about the more than $800,000 in tax liens against Kearney, his wife and their publishing businesses dominated the political news and raised questions about how much research the campaign did on Kearney.
FitzGerald on Tuesday told the Dayton Daily News that the “noise” over Kearney’s tax issues drowned out the discussion of real issues that impact middle class families. He noted that a recent report on Ohio’s disappointing job creation numbers took a back seat to news of Kearney’s debts.
FitzGerald, who is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich, said he and Kearney made the decision together. “I still have a lot of admiration for his record as a public servant and as a state senator,” FitzGerald said.
In a written statement, Kearney echoed FitzGerald, saying “…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.”
When asked how much his campaign knew of Kearney’s tax problems, FitzGerald said, “We were aware of his personal liabilities and we were aware his business had a lot of liabilities as well.”
He said the GOP and media held Kearney to a higher standard of review than was applied to Kasich when he served as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers. When the giant bank failed, Ohio pensioners lost $200 million and “John Kasich walked away a million and provided only a fraction of the transparency demanded of Eric Kearney.”
Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said FitzGerald failed to fully vet Kearney and put the state senator in an “impossible situation.”
“His lack of judgment and honesty will haunt him for the remainder of this campaign,” Schrimpf said. “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.”
Kearney, an African-American lawmaker from Cincinnati, provided a geographic and demographic boost for FitzGerald, the current top executive of Cuyahoga County.
FitzGerald declined to discuss who is now on his short list for running mate, other than to say the campaign will look at others who were vetted along with Kearney and possibly consider candidates. FitzGerald said he does not have a date for announcing a new pick but noted that the filing deadline is in early February.
Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck said changing the ticket was the right move and the tax issues might have amounted to more trouble in the future.
“These things can kind of escalate kind of quickly and you can’t be running for a high visibility office and have these things going on,” Beck said.
Beck said it’s still early in the game and FitzGerald will need to not only find a credible running mate but repair whatever damage has been done between his campaign and the African-American community.
“African-American voters are a very important part of the Democratic Party coalition and need to be represented in it, just like tea party or social conservatives need to be represented on the Republican side,” Beck said.
Polls released last month show the race between FitzGerald and Kasich is tightening. Quinnipiac University reported that Kasich held a seven-point lead, down from a 14-point lead in June. In a survey commissioned by the Ohio Democratic Party, Public Policy Polling found it is a dead heat with each getting 41 percent of the vote and Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl pulling six points.