Kearney fumbles, bumbles

On the side

Battling the EPA: The U.S. House unanimously passed a bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, and Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York, to stop the federal Environmental Protection Agency from putting lead restrictions on new fire hydrants.

The EPA included fire hydrants in the federal Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act because they are occasionally used for drinking water in emergencies, according to The Hill, a political website.

“The House of Representatives took an important step in stopping the EPA from going forward on a costly and potentially dangerous rule that would ban the installation hydrants after Jan. 4,” Johnson said. “This legislation recognizes the fact that fire hydrants are not a major source of drinking water and it protects public safety by ensuring that fire hydrants can continue to be produced and installed.”

The bill moves to the Senate.

Johnson’s congressional district includes all of Columbiana County and portions of Mahoning County.

To say state Sen. Eric Kearney’s attempt to get passed his financial problems and concentrate on being Democrat Ed Fitz-Gerald’s lieutenant governor running mate went bad is an understatement.

If Kearney was Richard Nixon delivering his 1952 Checkers speech, he would have had to give back the dog.

Over the past two weeks, newspaper reporters uncovered Kearney’s numerous financial problems, including unpaid federal and state taxes and liens for the candidate, his wife and his businesses. At first, he wasn’t forthcoming about the amount of money he owed. That led to Wednesday’s conference call with the state’s political reporters to explain the reasons for the tax problems, and hopefully smooth things over with the media and public.

It didn’t work from the start.

Kearney was understandably nervous, but he stumbled through his opening remarks and then started discussing a spreadsheet of his tax problems without anyone on the call having those documents. The FitzGerald campaign finally sent the spreadsheet by email, but not everyone had it as Kearney talked about the issues. Even with them, his explanation was often confusing making it nearly impossible to follow.

Kearney repeatedly said he was releasing “unprecedented” information for a lieutenant governor candidate, but he also danced around basic questions, and sounded perturbed when answering questions.

Kearney became defensive when I mentioned that he owed about $1 million. He eventually pegged the figure at about $825,000 with $95,121 in state taxes he disputes he owes.

Kearney said FitzGerald knew about the problems for about a month before selecting him as his running mate. When asked if he would step down, Kearney said, “I’m here to stay.” He later added there would be no circumstances in which he’d leave the ticket.

A liability?

I asked if he ever told FitzGerald or the campaign that his tax problems could be a liability, and that by saying the gubernatorial candidate knew about the financial liabilities and did nothing that he was throwing FitzGerald under the bus.

“I don’t want anyone to misunderstand or misinterpret” my statements was Kearney’s response, adding that FitzGerald has “stood with me and behind me” through this.

Since Kearney dismisses any possibility that he would leave the ticket, that means if he does go that FitzGerald would force him out.

The political credibility of FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive, already took a blow with the selection of Kearney. Several Democrats I’ve spoken to are dismayed at the level of Kearney’s financial problems and want him gone.

It also brings into question what type of vetting FitzGerald and his campaign did of Kearney.


The Kearney spin is what he’s experiencing as a small businessman is “something the average Ohioan can understand.” But the average Ohioan pays taxes and could never comprehend owing $730,000 to $825,000 in unpaid taxes.

Could the 95-minute Kearney call have gone worse?

A Washington Post webpost on the matter had this headline: “Worst rollout of the year? Ohio candidate owes $1 million in back taxes.” [It’s not $1 million, Kearney would likely say.]

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