The Ohio Republican Party chairman apologized to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland yesterday for a GOP e-mail that questioned Mr. Strickland s sexuality, and the staff member who sent it was fired.
Mr. Strickland is the Democratic nominee for governor.
The e-mail sent July 17 by the state Republican Party s social conservative coordinator, Gary Lankford, and first reported Sunday by The Blade attacked Mr. Strickland s resume and alleged piety, and it linked to an Internet post suggesting that both he and his wife, Frances, are gay.
Ohio GOP officials condemned the message last week and said they disciplined Mr. Lankford but did not fire him. Yesterday, party chairman Bob Bennett wrote Mr. Strickland to offer sincere apologies for the e-mail s inappropriate suggestions about your private life.
Mr. Bennett also said he fired Mr. Lankford, a decision he said was delayed by an illness of pneumonia.
Ohioans expect and deserve a competitive contest for governor focused on the substantive issues important to leading our state, Mr. Bennett wrote. While public records, comments, platforms, and proposals are fair game, we will not engage in rumor and innuendo.
Those tactics have become unfortunate weapons of political warfare, and they continue to damage the public respect for our electoral process, he said.
Mr. Strickland called the firing appropriate but said the e-mail would have gone quietly under the radar if The Blade had not reported it. You caught them, basically, he said.
The state Democratic Party chairman, Chris Redfern, said Republicans waited too long to act on the message. It wouldn t take me a week to fire someone who disseminated such filth and hatred, he said.
Mr. Lankford did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. Before the firing, he was active in conservative politics.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Blackwell paid him nearly $16,000 this spring as a voter contact consultant. The Ohio Restoration Project, a faith group that has hosted events featuring Mr. Blackwell, listed Mr. Lankford as its state director on its Web site until late last week, when The Blade began questioning GOP officials about him.
Mr. Blackwell s spokesman, Carlo LoParo, said he supported Mr. Bennett s decision: I m not going to second-guess the chairman.
The leader of a prominent gay advocacy group called Mr. Lankford s e-mail disgusting and praised his firing.
It s great to see that they ve taken appropriate action when someone speaks out in the way that he did, said Lynne Bowman, executive director of Equality Ohio.
Mr. Bennett ended his apology letter by asking Mr. Strickland to denounce what he called a racially motivated hate campaign by some Democrats against Mr. Blackwell, who is African-American. A GOP spokesman said Mr. Bennett was referring to a Cleveland flyer from a group called Blacks Against Blackwell, which reportedly dubs Mr. Blackwell Our color but not our kind.
Mr. Strickland said he knew nothing of that flyer or the group behind it, and he criticized Mr. Bennett for equating it with Mr. Lankford s e-mail.
But, he added, Any effort to inject race into the campaign is wrong, and certainly not something I would condone or do.
Contact Jim Tankersley at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.