COLUMBUS -- Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald said there was nothing improper going on between him and a woman who was not his wife as they sat alone in a car early one morning in a suburban Cleveland parking lot two years ago.
The Cuyahoga County executive said the woman was part of a delegation from Ireland that was visiting the city, and the two stopped to check directions after they were separated from another vehicle headed toward an area hotel following a night of festivities.
"I was with a whole group of people originally," FitzGerald said. "We divided up because people needed rides home, and I was a designated driver, and so I took somebody home and it was late at night."
FitzGerald also blasted Republicans for digging up the information, and he left open the possibility of pursuing criminal charges if elected officials did so during work hours.
"I'm not going to just sit here and take it," he said.
FitzGerald offered the explanation Friday during a press conference in Columbus, where he was supposed to focus on an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
Instead, most of the questions from reporters focused on the 2012 incident, which was first reported by the Northeast Ohio Media Group earlier in the afternoon.
In an audio recording by Westlake police and posted by media group, a witness describes the parked car, saying, "I don't know if they're having sex in a parking lot or what they're doing... but all I keep seeing is like something going back and forth and I'm like, eh, you know what, this is a little fishy."
An officer who arrived at the scene said nothing illegal had occurred, and FitzGerald was not cited for any violations.
"It didn't even amount to a situation that resulted in a traffic ticket," FitzGerald said. "Not even a minor traffic ticket... I don't consider that to be particularly newsworthy or salacious, but I'm sure there will be people that try to construe it that way."
He added, "There's no indication of anything -- anything -- that was inappropriate going on, because there wasn't."
The FitzGerald campaign released a joint statement from the woman who was in the car, Joanne Grehan, and Peter Hyne, two members of the Irish delegation visiting the Cleveland area. FitzGerald said he considers members of the group friends who come from the same part of Ireland as his ancestors.
Grehan and Hyne said they were "deeply shocked and extremely saddened" about how the incident was being construed.
They added, "We are outraged and disgusted to find our names being drawn into what is clearly a controversy fabricated with political motivation and we confirm that there is absolutely no basis for the unfounded speculation and nasty innuendo which surrounds reporting of this incident."
FitzGerald blamed Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio Republican Party and other GOP'ers for trying to dig up dirt about himself and his family. He said he would pursue criminal charges against elected officials who did so on public time.
"You are not allowed in the state of Ohio to use city resources or any government resources for a personal or a political purpose," he said, adding, "We do believe that this may be a violation of Ohio law."
A spokeswoman for the Kasich campaign declined comment Friday afternoon.
The Ohio Republican Party did not respond to requests for a statement late Friday afternoon.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.