COLUMBUS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald on Friday picked a Dayton-area lawyer and abortion-rights advocate as his running mate as he tries to make his case that Gov. John Kasich and fellow Republicans have waged a war on women.
Sharen Neuhardt, 62, led a rally last October on the steps of the Statehouse as a self-described “warrior” against new laws designed to make it harder to access abortion services.
“I knew for sure I would be helping to try to unseat John Kasich,” she told The Blade. “I didn’t know I would be doing it as a candidate for lieutenant governor. The best way to do this is to get Ed FitzGerald elected.”
Ms. Neuhardt is the Cuyahoga County executive’s second pick for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati), a lawyer and co-owner of a publishing company, was on the ticket for three weeks before stepping down in December after disclosing more than $800,000 in unpaid business and personal tax liens.
“It’s through Sharen’s life experience that she shares my commitment to bolstering the middle class and restoring economic security to Ohio’s families — and my impatience with our state’s lackluster recovery,” Mr. FitzGerald wrote in a fund-raising email.
“She is a steadfast champion of women’s health and shares my outrage at the current governor’s attempt to dictate to women what should be private medical decisions and restrict access to critical health-care services,” he wrote.
Raised in Dayton as the daughter of a police officer and sales clerk, Ms. Neuhardt of Yellow Springs has never held public office. She was the first member of her family to go to college, Northwestern University, and then law school, Georgetown University.
She is a partner in the Dayton office of Thompson Hine LLP, as is her husband, David. She specializes in corporate and securities law and said her focus would be on job creation in a FitzGerald administration.
“John Kasich has done a nice job with smoke and mirrors,” Ms. Neuhardt said. “The man behind the curtain, the Wizard of Oz, could take direction from him. Ohio is, what, 46th in job growth in the country? If you ask middle-class Ohioans whether they’re doing better or have turned the corner, they’ll have a different answer from what John Kasich is saying.”
Ms. Neuhardt ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 against Republican Steve Austria of Beavercreek, and again in 2012 against current U.S. Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton after redistricting combined the Austria and Turner districts.
She offers both a gender balance and serves as a geographic counterpoint from Republican-heavy southwest Ohio to the ticket that’s topped by the former mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood.
“FitzGerald failed his self-declared first major test of picking his running mate two months ago when he selected someone who failed to pay his employees’ Social Security and Medicare taxes and allowed his campaign to mislead the public about it,” Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf said. “Today FitzGerald is putting in the third-string backup to his original choice, which only reinforces what we learned two months ago, that he simply doesn’t have what it takes to lead a state.”
Former state Democratic chairman Jim Ruvolo of Lucas County said the most important thing is that the running mate should not hurt the ticket.
“People don’t vote for lieutenant governor,” he said. “It only matters if it hurts you. The Eric Kearney thing was not good, but there’s plenty of time to recover.”
Mr. FitzGerald and other Democratic candidates have blasted Mr. Kasich and fellow legislative Republicans for adding provisions to the state budget last year to make it tougher for abortion clinics to keep their licenses and require more steps by doctors before an abortion may be performed.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, agreed most people on their side on that issue were probably not voting for Mr. Kasich. But she said Ms. Neuhardt, as an attorney, has proven she can work for “common-sense solutions.”
“This isn’t about politics,” she said. “This is about women’s everyday lives, their private health decisions, and the tools women need to make the best decisions about their health and their families. As an attorney, she has looked for the common denominator, the best way to make the best decisions and get people working together.
“She brings that to this issue, which can be overly politicized and divisive,” Ms. Copeland said.
Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, says such a pick comes as no surprise.
“The grassroots Democrats in rural counties are simply unimpressed with this abortion-at-all-cost strategy that these statewide candidates are professing here in town ... ,” he said. “This is a clear demonstration that he’s desperate. He has a flat tire in the middle of a cornfield. He has no traction whatsoever.”
Todd Portune, a Hamilton County commissioner who is exploring his own Democratic bid, has blistered Mr. FitzGerald for what he called an “appalling” lack of commitment to blacks. In part to counter that, Mr. FitzGerald recently announced that he has the endorsement of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is black.
Mr. Kasich has frequently talked about his good working relationship with Mr. Jackson, particularly when it came to reform of Cleveland schools.
Candidates for governor must file petitions containing at least 1,000 signatures by Feb. 5. Mr. Kasich is again running with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
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