Local News
11:00 pm
Sat November 23, 2013

Kearney the latest to put Hamilton County on Ohio's political map

If old guard Republicans in Hamilton County were the type to use Internet slang, they might be typing “smh” when they see what is going on with their county and the Ohio Democratic Party these days.

“Scratching my head,’’ for those who don’t keep up with internet slang.

There was a time, a few decades ago, when the Ohio Democratic Party barely acknowledged the existence of Hamilton County; they turned their heads and pretended extreme southwest corner of the state didn’t exist because it was so thoroughly Republican.

Those days are gone.

We wouldn’t exactly categorize Hamilton County as a blue county now. But it has certainly taken on a purple tinge. Ask President Obama. He’s won the county twice now.

This is not lost on the leadership of the Ohio Democratic Party.

And it explains, in part, why there are now three Hamilton County Democrats who will be on the statewide ticket in 2014.

Former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper is taking on GOP attorney general Mike DeWine. State Rep. Connie Pillich of Montgomery is going after State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who, after the debacle of his U.S. Senate campaign last year, is considered by many the most vulnerable of the statewide Republican officeholders.

And, as of Wednesday, there is a third – State Sen. Eric Kearney of North Avondale and the minority leader of the Ohio Senate. He has been tapped by the Democratic candidate for governor, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, to be his running mate for the job of lieutenant governor.

Why Kearney, you ask?

Because it makes perfect sense. Let us count the ways.

FitzGerald is a household name in Cleveland and northeast Ohio, well known by all after taking over county government when the voters scrapped a scandal-plagued county commission system of government.

In this corner of the state, though, even the most ardent of Democrats are just beginning to learn who FitzGerald is and that he spells his name with a capital “G” in the middle.

The more casual voter – the ones who are not the 24/7 political junkies – don’t know Ed FitzGerald from a hole in the ground. FitzGerald’s only obvious connection to Cincinnati is that he has a son who is a student at Xavier University.

Kearney is a 50-year-old African-American who represents the 9th Ohio Senate District, which includes all of the city of Cincinnati and many of its inner-ring suburbs. It is a heavily Democratic district, with a large African-American population.

If FitzGerald has any hopes of knocking off Republican governor John Kasich, he must drive up the African-American vote in Ohio’s largest urban areas, including Cincinnati.

Kearney’s popularity has been obvious. He is term-limited out and can’t run for the Ohio Senate in 2014, but, in his last election in 2010, he took 68 percent of the vote.

Black Democrats are already starting to campaign for Kearney’s seat – both State Rep. Dale Mallory, who is term-limited out of the Ohio House next year, has told us on several occasions that he is running. So too is Cecil Thomas, who left Cincinnati City Council earlier this year. He told us Friday that he is already circulating petitions to run.

That means there will likely be a Democratic primary for Kearney’s state senate seat. And the Republicans – well, they might as well just find whatever sacrificial lamb they can find, because this is a very, very Democratic district.

Kearney is the minority leader of the Senate, a job he says he will leave at the end of the year. But, he said Thursday, he intends to stay in the state senate while he runs for lieutenant governor.

The North Avondale Democrat is known and well-regarded in the Statehouse as a serious, issues-oriented legislator; and FitzGerald said in Cincinnati Thursday that his ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans is one of the reasons he chose Kearney.

“I was looking for somebody who was a really serious policy person,’’ FitzGerald said Thursday when Kearney was officially unveiled as his running mate at a rally at Crowley’s Pub in Mt. Adams.

“He balances commitment to family; he is right on the issues; and he is very serious about how to make government work,’’ FitzGerald said.

Kearney has made himself known outside of Cincinnati in a most unusual way – for the past five years, he has made a four-day, 107-mile walk from Cincinnati to Columbus to draw attention to children’s health issues.

With his hikes, he’s become a familiar, annual sight while tramping through small towns like Sabina, Mt. Sterling, and Jasper Mills – all solid GOP territory.

Win or lose, the 2014 gubernatorial race will make Kearney a statewide political figure.

If the FitzGerald-Kearney ticket loses? Well, the Democrats will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

And they could well look toward Hamilton County. Possibly to Eric Kearney.