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Government and Politics

FitzGerald, Kearney's departure and where Ohio Democrats go next
Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the hunt for a new running mate

Karen Kasler
FitzGerald says he and Kearney discussed Kearney's tax problems at length.
Courtesy of FILE PHOTO
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Senator Eric Kearney has stepped down from next year’s Democratic ticket after continuing criticism over hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid back taxes. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has the latest from the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

LISTEN: Kasler on the Kearney fallout

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LISTEN: Kasler on Kearney, shorter

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Almost from the moment of the announcement Senator Eric Kearney of Cincinnati would be Ed FitzGerald’s running mate, there was trouble.

Soon after, reports of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tax liens against Kearney and his wife regarding the publishing business they own started to trickle out.

Conference call signals problems
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 in a marathon conference call about his tax problems with reporters last week, Kearney made clear several times his determination to remain Ed FitzGerald’s running mate. 

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

Kearney soon stepped down as Senate Minority Leader concentrate on the campaign, and said on that call that FitzGerald stood by him, though he wasn’t on the call with him.

That signaled trouble for some critics, and the chorus of voices calling on Kearney to step aside or for FitzGerald to replace him grew. On Tuesday, Kearney announced he was stepping down. He talked with Ann Thompson of WVXU in Cincinnati. 

“I don’t want to be a distraction," Kearney said.  "I don’t want our business, the Cincinnati Herald, to be the focus of the campaign. Rather, I want issues, so that’s why I made the decision.”

Kearny, FitzGerald made decision together
Kearney has said that he told Ed FitzGerald about his financial issues, and in an interview Tuesday night, FitzGerald confirmed that. And he said he and Kearney together made the decision that Kearney had to depart the ticket. 

“Senator Kearney and I, we’ve been in constant contact throughout this whole process," FitzGerald said. "He and I both decided within the last 24 hours that it had reached a fever pitch where it was really becoming an obstacle to having that conversation that we need to have with the voters around the state.”

The Ohio Republican Party issued a statement saying that FitzGerald put Kearney “in an impossible situation for weeks before finally abandoning him in an attempt to save his own campaign.”

FitzGerald says he’s comfortable being judged for the decision he made in putting Kearney on the ticket, because he says Kearney is a well-respected public servant, but also because he thinks Governor John Kasich has made a lot of bad decisions as well.

Moving forward in race for governor's office
FitzGerald says now that the Kearney issue has been resolved, he wants to turn the debate to the differences between the Democratic ticket and the Republican one. 

“We have a long time to make that case," FitzGerald said. "We’ve already made a lot of progress. All the polls have shown the race getting closer and closer and closer, and I think they know that. And I think we have enough time to get our feet back on the ground and start talking about the issues that people really care about.”

Replacement not expected soon
FitzGerald says while the selection of Kearney wasn’t rushed, he won’t announce a replacement for Kearney till most likely a few weeks before the filing deadline in February. As for Kearney, he says he will continue his work as a legislator. 

“I will continue to serve in the Ohio Senate and enjoy the work that I do there and hopefully push some of the issues that I’ve been working on like children’s health issues to the forefront,” Kearney said

In its statement, the Ohio Republican Party said FitzGerald should consider leaving the race, and that “his lack of judgment and honesty will haunt him for the remainder of this campaign.”

Democrats have repeatedly noted the tax troubles of Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges, and FitzGerald hints that the criticisms Republicans had for Kearney and his tax troubles will come back into the campaign.

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