By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: A Democratic lieutenant governor candidate who faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal tax liens dropped out of the race Tuesday, saying his financial troubles were taking away from debate on important policy issues.
State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati attorney, said in a news release that he was leaving the ticket of gubernatorial contender Ed FitzGerald.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Kearney, his wife, Jan-Michele, and their Cincinnati publishing business, KGL Media Group, owe roughly $700,000 in state and federal tax liens. A foreclosure proceeding, credit card debt and unpaid workers’ compensation premiums also have been revealed through a series of bruising media reports, mixed with conflicting accounts about how much FitzGerald knew of the details before Kearney’s selection.
In his prepared statement, Kearney said he and his wife were committed to KGL and would remain committed to the Cincinnati Herald, the flagship publication of KGL, which does business as Sesh Communications.
“We were dedicated to keeping alive one of our nation’s oldest African-American newspapers and committed to our employees and their families,” he said.
Kearney’s decision left FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive in Cleveland, searching for a new running mate as Ohio Democrats struggled to defuse the fallout from the crisis without alienating key groups, including black voters, powerful politicians and contributors.
Seasoned Democratic strategist Gerald Austin said it was important that Kearney dropped out.
“Nobody’s being critical of the pick, other than the guy has a lot of problems in terms of his business history. That’s not good,” he said.
Kearney dropping out had some turning their attention to the possibility of recruiting Ohio House Minority Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard, an up-and-comer on the state political scene who is black.
Appearing at a news conference on Ohio’s economy Tuesday, Heard declined to address the speculation surrounding the gubernatorial ticket. She said she was leaving the topic to “the politicos and pundits to address.”
Austin said it wasn’t necessary for FitzGerald to replace Kearney immediately.