COLUMBUS — Larry Ellis Ealy is far from your typical gubernatorial candidate.
The 51-year-old self-professed civil rights activist and former tow truck driver from the Dayton area readily admits his legal run-ins — mostly misdemeanor traffic violations like driving without a license. He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and hatched his plan to run for governor from a prison cell.
A black man, he’s based much of his low-profile campaign on race and argues he’s on the May 6 primary election ballot to provide a choice to voters he said a white man can’t bring.
“In the past, they won’t allow a black man to run for governor, so black Democrats have to vote a white Democratic potential candidate,” he said in an interview with The Blade. “They’re forced into it. They have no choice.”
He seemingly came out of nowhere to file candidate petitions last month for the Democratic nomination in hopes of taking on incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich in the fall. To get there, he must first get past the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed, and better known, candidate, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
“I don’t know much about him,” Mr. FitzGerald recently told reporters. “I met him once, I think, and I said ‘hello’ to him, and that’s basically the extent of it…. He said he was going to run for governor, and I said, ‘OK. I’m not going to sign your petition’.”
Mr. FitzGerald, however, made it clear he doesn’t see Mr. Ealy as his opponent.
“I think John Kasich is our opponent,” he said. “That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Mr. Ealy has next to no organization, and it was Mr. FitzGerald, not Mr. Ealy, who took to the stage when Democrats held their Legacy Dinner in Columbus.
Mr. Ealy has not reported raising a dime to the secretary of state, while Mr. FitzGerald’s campaign reported a bank account of $1.4 million as of January. Even that is dwarfed, better than 5 to 1, by Mr. Kasich’s nearly $8 million campaign war chest.
Mr. FitzGerald also hails from Democrat-rich Cuyahoga County, where he served as mayor of Lakewood, while Mr. Ellis has never held public office.
Mark Owens, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, said he doesn’t believe he’s ever met Mr. Ealy, who he did not consider to have been active in local Democratic politics.
“The only involvement he has had in the community is through the criminal justice system,” Mr. Owens said.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections noted Mr. Ealy registered there as a Democrat last year but has no voting history in the county.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, whose congressional district includes much of Cuyahoga County, endorsed the county executive for governor in November but not until after much was made in local media about the black lawmaker's apparent slowness to do so. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus last week unanimously endorsed Mr. FitzGerald as well, along with the rest of the Democrats’ endorsed statewide slate.
Home: Trotwood (suburban Dayton)
Occupation: Self-professed civil rights advocate
Education: Didn’t finish high school
“FitzGerald came before us, as well as the other statewide candidates,” said state Rep. Alicia Reece (D., Cincinnati), caucus chairman. “He ... made a commitment to our issues.”
Those issues, she said, include voting rights, early childhood education, minority health, infant mortality, minority business participation, and opposition to a Stand Your Ground gun law.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, also a state representative for Ottawa and Erie counties, declined to comment on Mr. Ealy’s candidacy.
Mr. FitzGerald picked a black man as his would-be lieutenant governor, state Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati), but he dropped off the ticket weeks later amid revelations that he, his wife, and his business faced heavy federal and state tax liens. His running mate is now Sharon Neuhardt, a white Dayton-area attorney and women’s rights advocate.
“I don’t think a white person as governor is in touch with the black race in the inner city, the poor, the deprived,” Mr. Ealy said.
His running mate is Ken Gray of Cincinnati, whom he got know when Mr. Ealy helped him with a child-custody case in 2011.
A 1990 altercation with Dayton police led to a successful lawsuit against that department, claiming it used excessive force. A jury sided with Mr. Ealy but awarded no monetary damages.
He said he’s aware that he’s outmanned in his below-the-radar campaign that consists primarily so far of television and black radio appearances, plus appearances at county commissioner and city council meetings to take advantage of free television airtime.
“Right now I’ve been carrying this campaign really as a one-man show,” he said. “I started this campaign back in October by taking out a form declaring that I am [with the] Democratic Party. I found some other concerned people in my neighborhood, and we started going door-to-door getting signatures from really Nov. 20 to Feb. 4.”
The biggest political news these days is Mr. Kasich’s recent rollout of major mid-budget policy proposals, including a massive tax-reform plan that largely trades higher taxes on tobacco, oil and gas drilling, and business activity for an across-the-board, 8.5 percent income tax cut.
While Mr. FitzGerald and fellow Democrats have taken aim at the priorities espoused in Mr. Kasich’s proposals, Mr. Ealy hasn’t paid much attention.
Instead, he focuses on the high jobless rate among black youths, the disproportionate number of blacks in Ohio’s prison system, and his opposition to Stand Your Ground.
“The young black male is in big trouble,” he said. “I’m going to block the correctional facility doors from them even entering that realm. I’m going to direct them away from the door. I’m going to be standing right in front of the door with a new policy, a new plan, and new procedure.”
He called for more job opportunities for black males, including expansion of existing summer work programs targeting black youths.
He said he realizes he can’t be elected governor just with the votes of black people, who represent just 12.5 percent of Ohio's population, according to U.S. Census data. But he insisted that Mr. FitzGerald isn’t the Democrat to represent them either.
“I just see him as trying to prevent the first black governor from walking on the state grounds,” he said. “If that’s prevented, more and more black people are going to suffer. I ain’t saying he’s a bad guy. After looking at his background, he has a right to governor. He wants to unseat Kasich. That’s what his job is right now.
“We’re from two different races, but we’re from the same party,” Mr. Ealy said. “Apparently, there is a racial divide in the Democratic world.”
But no matter who the Democrats’ candidate is this year, the focus has to be on defeating Mr. Kasich, Mr. Ealy said.
“I believe now is the time to make the change,” he said. “The call from a higher power has guided me to this level. I’m going to put my skills of federal and state knowledge to use against the current governor. He has his own agenda. He ain’t making no bone about it.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.