COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald faces a May primary contest against Larry Ellis Ealy, an unemployed self-proclaimed civil rights activist with a history of run-ins with police.
The winner faces Republican Gov. John Kasich this fall in one of the nation’s most closely watched races.
FitzGerald, 45, of Lakewood, was elected to lead populous Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, in 2011. Voters selected the former FBI agent and assistant county prosecutor to clean up and rebuild government after a corruption scandal.
Ealy, meanwhile, has filed dozens of lawsuits in Ohio courts - mostly against police, judges and mental health officials, an Associated Press review found. He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and records show he’s done community service and time behind bars over the years for generally minor infractions. He ran unsuccessfully for Dayton mayor in 2009.
Ealy , 51, of Trotwood, and running mate Ken Gray, of Cincinnati, entered the race on filing day. Ealy has no campaign website, has reported no fundraising and operates his campaign from a personal cellphone. Those are signs the candidate has little chance of besting the well-funded and amply staffed FitzGerald campaign on May 6.
At last report, FitzGerald had about $1.4 million on hand, compared with Kasich’s $7.9 million.
FitzGerald’s running mate is Yellow Springs lawyer Sharen Neuhardt, who has offered geographic and gender diversity to the ticket after an earlier running mate was forced to step aside amid revelations of outstanding business and personal tax liens.
Neuhardt, a former congressional candidate, has mostly appeared separately from FitzGerald as the two blanket the state in campaign appearances and fundraising events.
They have offered key contrasts to Kasich in the areas of women’s health and abortion rights and in calling for more transparency at JobsOhio, the private job-creation office championed by Kasich and controlled by his appointees.
Ealy told the AP he wants to legalize marijuana and create a new tax base from it to help educate and house the homeless. He said that if elected, he would relaunch a high-speed rail project that was abandoned when Kasich took office. The federal government had allotted $400 million for passenger train service linking Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, a project supported by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland but killed by Kasich.
Ealy, who is black, said he was running for office because he believes minorities are being oppressed and enslaved.
“This is why I’m making the move that I’m making, so I can free black people from oppression and the poor as well,” he said.
The volume of lawsuits Ealy has filed against the establishment over the years prompted him to be declared a “vexatious litigator.”
Ealy said many of the cases are a result of a pattern in which “the Dayton police are designed to use force against African-Americans.”
Ealy acknowledged that voters might know little about him but said they also might not know much about FitzGerald.
“I didn’t know he was running until mid-December,” he said. “I just happened to Google the Internet and see who was all running for governor and then there his name was. So I don’t know nothing about the guy. All I know is that he’s a Cleveland executive.”
Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.
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