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COLUMBUS -- Saying continuing questions about his tax debts were too much of a distraction, State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati) has stepped aside as Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's running mate in 2014.
Kearney announced the decision Tuesday afternoon in a statement, less than a month after being named FitzGerald's choice for lieutenant governor and less than a week after he said he was in the race to stay.
"The stakes are too high," Kearney said. "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. I have discussed this with Ed FitzGerald, and while I will always be grateful for him selecting me to be his running mate, we agree that the best course of action is for me to step aside from the campaign for lieutenant governor and focus on serving the people of the Ninth Senate District."
FitzGerald has not yet named a replacement.
Kearney has been the focus of media scrutiny for the past three weeks, after FitzGerald named him as his running mate. News reporters focused on the senator's tax issues and other unpaid financial obligations, many stemming from a media company he owns that publishes newspapers for black communities in Cincinnati, Dayton and elsewhere.
Kearney said last week that he and his wife have worked with the IRS on a payment plan for more than $700,000 still owed and he provided transcripts to reporters detailing late taxes, interest and penalties and payments.
Kearney also said he provided the financial details to the FitzGerald campaign upfront.
The answers did not end coverage of Kearney's problems, however, and a number of newspaper editorial boards have called on him to step down from the FitzGerald ticket, which he did Tuesday.
"Eric and I agree about the challenges facing Ohio, and about how important it is for the state to change direction in the next election," FitzGerald said after Kearney's announcement. "Because that is our primary concern, we agreed that it is best for Sen. Kearney to step down from the ticket. Ultimately, the discussion of the crucial issues facing Ohio was in danger of being drowned out, making this decision difficult but necessary."
Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said FitzGerald "has done a huge disservice to Sen. Kearney and his family."
He added, "By failing to fully vet him, FitzGerald put his running mate in an impossible situation for weeks before finally abandoning him in an attempt to save his own campaign."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.