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COLUMBUS — You may not know it from the campaign, but Democratic voters have a choice on May 6 as to who they want to square off this fall against incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Ed FitzGerald, the first executive of a revamped Cuyahoga County government, recently began airing his first radio ad. But its focus was on Mr. Kasich, not on Larry Ellis Ealy, the largely unknown Dayton area man who’s trying to run a statewide “one-man show,” relying on such things as appearances at local government meetings to take advantage of free TV time.
The race is the only statewide contest on the primary ballot.
Mr. FitzGerald, 45, has the official endorsement of the Ohio Democratic Party, most labor unions in the state, and the Legislative Black Caucus. Since 2011, he has served as the first county executive in the state’s largest county — with the largest cache of Democratic voters.
His tenure followed a corruption scandal that sent some prior Democratic officials to prison and led to a voter-approved overhaul of county government structure.
Mr. Ealy, 51, of Trotwood has never held public office. He registered as a Democrat for the first time last year, and Montgomery County has no voting history on record for him.
There have been no formal debates between the two Democratic candidates.
Mr. FitzGerald last week reported having $1.5 million in his campaign war chest, banked for his presumed run against Mr. Kasich this fall. But that still puts him at a nearly 6 to 1 disadvantage to Mr. Kasich’s record $8.5 million bank account. While Mr. FitzGerald has been on the radio, Mr. Kasich has aired two TV ads.
Education: Didn’t finish high school
Public service: Self-professed civil rights advocate
Occupation: Cuyahoga County executive (2011-present)
Education: Law degree, Cleveland Marshall College of Law (1993), bachelor's in political science, Ohio State University (1990)
Public service: Lakewood mayor (2007-11), city councilman (2000-07), Cuyahoga prosecutor (1994-95, 2000-04), FBI special agent (1995-98)
Mr. Ealy has not reported raising any money to the secretary of state’s office.
Mr. FitzGerald has taken on Mr. Kasich and Republican lawmakers over such issues as tax priorities, labor rights, local government funding cuts, abortion rights, and voting rights, issues that haven’t placed him at odds with Mr. Ealy.
“Ed has a proven record of leadership and results,” campaign spokesman Lauren Hitt said. “He’s been working in public service his entire life as an FBI agent, city councilman, mayor, county prosecutor, and now county executive of the largest county in Ohio.
“He has launched the largest college affordability program in the nation, cut county expenses by tens of millions to save taxpayers money, and launched a number of initiatives on heroin and road repair, issues that everyday Ohioans are struggling with to make it.”
Mr. Ealy’s campaign has largely been about race. Although there have been black lieutenant governor candidates, he is believed to be the first African-American to appear at the top of the ticket on a Democratic primary ballot for Ohio governor.
He has focused on such things as high jobless and incarceration rates for blacks.
“Minority joblessness is almost at 20 percent right now,” he said. “I don’t know what we can do other than create a new tax base. Some of these corporations are not interested in hiring most blacks who have a felony [record] even though they have the skills and training.”
While he argues that a white candidate like Mr. FitzGerald can’t relate to the problems of blacks, Mr. Ealy said he would be governor for non-blacks, too.
“We’re not shutting our door on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what a governor does.”
Mr. Ealy, who is father to 10 children, has voiced support for legalization of marijuana as an economic development tool while the former FBI agent and prosecutor in Mr. FitzGerald has not endorsed the concept. Multiple ballot issues on the question have been proposed but have shown little sign of progress.
Mr. FitzGerald picked an African-American as his initial running mate, state Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati). But Mr. Kearney ultimately dropped off the ticket following revelations of the large federal and state tax bills owed by himself, his wife, and business.
Mr. FitzGerald then turned to Sharon Neuhardt, a white Dayton area attorney, two-time congressional candidate, and reproductive rights activist.
Mr. Ealy’s running mate is Ken Gray of Cincinnati, whom he asked to join his ticket after Mr. Ealy helped him with a child custody case three years ago. A high school dropout, Mr. Ealy said he hatched his plan to run for governor from a jail cell.
Even so, he ultimately filed more signatures on his nominating petitions than more experienced candidates, qualifying for the ballot when others did not.
He’s had frequent run-ins with the law, primarily for misdemeanor traffic offenses. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2009 declared him to be a “vexatious litigator” because of numerous lawsuits he’s filed.
Mr. Kasich is running unopposed for the GOP nomination with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor again at his side.
The Green Party’s Anita Rios of Toledo and her would-be lieutenant governor, Bob Fritakis of Columbus have officially filed as write-in candidates after the party’s original candidate failed to qualify for the ballot.
They must receive at least 500 votes for their names to appear on the general election ballot.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.