Thu., 2:38pm: FitzGerald tries to reassure Democrats

COLUMBUS – State Democrats’ presumptive 2014 gubernatorial nominee, Ed FitzGerald, sought on Wednesday to reassure supporters that his campaign is focused and moving forward after his running mate left the race in a flap over unpaid tax debts.

Observers wondered how FitzGerald effectively would put the issue behind him.

In an email to campaign backers, FitzGerald emphasized his “enormous respect” for state Sen. Eric Kearney, the leader of Ohio Senate Democrats and a top Ohio campaign fundraiser for President Barack Obama.

Kearney left the ticket Tuesday under mounting pressure over more than $700,000 in state and federal tax liens owed by him, his wife and their Cincinnati business, which publishes the Cincinnati Herald and other publications aimed at black audiences.

FitzGerald said in the email he and Kearney agreed 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,” the email said. “Ultimately, the discussion of the crucial issues facing Ohio was in danger of being drowned out, making this decision difficult but necessary.”

FitzGerald wrote that the decision would allow the campaign to focus on what he referred to as Republican Gov. John Kasich’s “faltering economy.”

Meanwhile, some newspaper editorials across the state questioned FitzGerald’s fitness to be governor. Some strategists suggested even more changes to the Democrats’ 2014 ticket were needed, even including replacing FitzGerald.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said FitzGerald wouldn’t and shouldn’t drop out. He said Kearney is a respected lawmaker with debts mostly related to his struggling business and will continue to play a role in the 2014 election.

Redfern suggested Kearney was forced out of the race amid a media frenzy fueled by FitzGerald’s Republican critics.