Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald cancelled two campaign stops Friday to address an alleged Republican Governors Association-backed attack involving the married Democrat alone with another woman in the middle of the night.
FitzGerald was found in a parked car at 4:30 a.m. with an unidentified woman in 2012, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday afternoon based on released police recordings. A witness called police, curious what the duo--reportedly in the car for about half an hour-– were doing.
Within hours, the Cuyahoga County Executive – who trails Republican Gov. John Kasich by 12 points in the most recent Quinnipiac poll – held a press conference calling the report an "unwarranted and cheap political attack by Gov. Kasich's operation."
FitzGerald's campaign released emails obtained through an open records request showing RGA research director Kevin Wright requesting the police records. FitzGerald also alleged that a local GOP mayor was involved.
FitzGerald and his wife of nearly 23 years released a statement before the press conference calling the "personal attacks" both "untrue and opportunistic."
"This is as sleazy as anything that I have seen in Ohio politics," FitzGerald said.
The woman in the car, Joanne Grehan, is a family friend he met the previous year, FitzGerald said. She was part of an Irish trade delegation in town in October 2012 and the pair, along several others, were in downtown Cleveland late into the night.
When the group split into two cars, she and FitzGerald, a designated driver, were alone in one, he said. After getting separated from the other car, they stopped to get GPS directions so FitzGerald could drop off the woman at her hotel. That's when the officer approached their car, FitzGerald said.
"There was no indication of anything, anything inappropriate going on – because there wasn't," FitzGerald said, noting it had been "six or seven hours" since he had a drink, if he had one at all, and he was not ticketed.
During the press conference, FitzGerald's office released a statement from members of an Irish trade delegation confirming his version of the story, adding there was "absolutely no basis for the unfounded speculation and nasty innuendo which surrounds reporting of this incident."
An electrician working nearby called police after he was reportedly curious if the pair were having sex in the car, noting "something going back and forth" and calling it "a little fishy." The witness, who has since obtained a lawyer, said FitzGerald and the woman had been in the car for about a half hour.
FitzGerald, a former FBI agent, cancelled campaign stops in Dayton and Columbus where he was expected to tout an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.
The police union's president, Jay McDonald, appeared beside FitzGerald at the news conference. He said he investigated the allegations himself and personally interviewed the officer who filed the report. The officer said there was no evidence of anything inappropriate or newsworthy, McDonald said.
The RGA did not respond to a request for comment.