Kearney vows to stay on the ticket

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS (AP) -- A Democrat vying to be Ohio's lieutenant governor said Wednesday he will not allow roughly $700,000 in outstanding state and federal tax liens owed by him, his wife and their Cincinnati publishing business to derail his candidacy.

In a nearly two-hour media teleconference with reporters, state Sen. Eric Kearney discussed the debts, which have complicated his party's hopes of unseating Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.

Kearney said he was providing unprecedented amounts of information -- including from personal tax returns and the account books of KGL Media Group Inc., the company he owns with his wife, Jan-Michele -- to openly address reporters' questions.

"I view this as part of public life, and I'm accepting of the questioning and of the amount of disclosure which we've done today," he said. "No other candidate has ever had to provide this amount of information, and so I think that that says something."

According to the spreadsheet Kearney released, KGL's lien balance including penalties and interest is $561,068. He and his wife owe federal liens associated with that debt of $83,074 and as much as $95,121 in state tax liens. The state figure is in dispute and may be lower.

Revelations about the liens have fueled a series of bruising news reports and editorials around the state, some calling for Kearney to step aside as running mate to Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and a former FBI agent. Such a development wouldn't be unprecedented: Republican Jim Petro selected a second running mate for his unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2006 after the first dropped out.

But Kearney resisted suggestions that the debts are a sign of poor management skills and should disqualify him in any way.

"I think that a lot of the small business owners across the state of Ohio will understand exactly what I'm saying, and -- since they will have somebody in the lieutenant governor's office who intimately understands their concerns -- that they would be pleased with that," Kearney said.

Kearney served as Senate minority leader beginning in January 2012 but stepped down Wednesday because he's running for statewide office. He blamed the debts largely on a downturn in the newspaper industry that has affected KGL, which operates as Sesh Communications. The company publishes papers and magazines aimed at black audiences, including the Cincinnati Herald, one of the nation's oldest black newspapers.

He said he and his wife, a law school classmate of President Barack Obama, are steadily paying down the liens and the company has stabilized.

"We have been making payments since 2010, which has saved 10 jobs and allowed this historic community newspaper to continue publishing," he said. "This is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of my wife and myself failing to pay our personal income taxes."

Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the selection of Kearney reflects poorly on FitzGerald, noting that picking a running mate is commonly held to be the first real decision a gubernatorial candidate makes.

"FitzGerald, a proud FBI agent, clearly ran a bad process and came to a poor a decision," Schrimpf said. "If FitzGerald fails his only decision as a candidate, he is clearly nowhere near ready to be a statewide officeholder."

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