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FitzGerald Says Decision That Kearney Would Leave His Campaign Was Mutual

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 6:57 AM

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Ed FitzGerald and Eric Kearney at a campaign event in Cleveland with Rep. Marcy Kaptur. (Nick Castele/ideastream)

Sen. Eric Kearney has stepped down from next year’s Democratic ticket after continuing criticism over hunndreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid back taxes. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has the latest from the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

Almost from the moment of the announcement Sen. 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.

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

Kearney soon stepped down as Senate minority leader to 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.”

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.

“Sen. 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 Gov. John Kasich has made a lot of bad decisions as well.

And 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.”

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.

Kearney says he’ll remain at the Statehouse.

“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,” he told WVXU.

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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