Non-payment of taxes is a disqualifier for public office

When a state legislator and his wife owe back taxes to the state and federal governments, and have property liens of about $1 million filed against them, no amount of explanations will satisfy a public already disillusioned with government.

The people of Ohio expect and deserve a much higher standard of behavior — especially if the elected official wants to climb the political ladder.

Sen. Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, who has been tapped by gubernatorial-hopeful Ed FitzGerald as his running mate, has become a political liability — or at the very least a distraction.

Kearney will continue to be a drag on the ticket because the press is not going to let go of the issue any time soon.

In our estimation, the non-payment of taxes disqualifies Kearney from the position of lieutenant governor.

Last month, The Vindicator did not endorse in the Youngstown mayor’s race because we concluded that neither of the two leading candidates, John A. McNally IV, the Democratic nominee, nor DeMaine Kitchen, who was Mayor Charles Sammarone’s chief of staff, cleared the threshold for serving as the city’s top elected official.

One of our misgivings about Kitchen was his failure to pay taxes.

In the Kearney situation, FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive and a former FBI agent, remained steadfast this week in his support of the senator. He dismissed any talk about dropping him as his running mate, and said he was aware of Kearney’s tax debts.

But the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cincinnati Enquirer reviewed records maintained by Hamilton County government and found a much more complicated scenario than what had been initially acknowledged by the FitzGerald campaign.

The newspapers revealed the $1 million in property liens against Kearney, the former minority leader of the Senate, his wife, Jan-Michele Kearney, and their publishing business known alternatively as Sesh Communications and KGL Media Group. The Plain Dealer and the Enquirer also brought to light an old lawsuit filed against Kearney by American Express.

The lawmaker’s tax debts and the credit card lawsuit can’t be brushed off with the claim that the Kearneys faced the same financial challenges other small businesses experienced during the national recession that began in late 2008 and still hasn’t ended completely.


On Wednesday, Kearney held a 95-minute telephone conference with reporters during which he provided details of his financial and business dealings and the tax obligations. The unpaid taxes in the amount of $825,000 will continue to make headlines so long as he remains on the ballot.

His attempt to separate his and his wife’s personal income taxes, which he said were fully paid, with their business tax obligations is a distinction without a difference for most Ohioans. It’s not as if the lawmaker has an arm’s length relationship with the companies.

This is the beginning of a political death by a thousand cuts. Reporters covering the Fitz- Gerald campaign will not drop the issue just because Kearney has provided more details. Indeed, each revelation will trigger a slew of new questions.

As a former FBI agent, FitzGerald cannot be blind to the reality that his running mate is on the hot seat and that every aspect of his life will now be put under the microscope.

Indeed, the fallout from this controversy is already affecting FitzGerald, whose judgment in selecting Kearney as his running mate is being called into question.

FitzGerald should do the right thing and drop Kearney from the ticket.

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