Times Reporter

 August 8, 2006

 Ney drops out, won’t seek reelection but plans to complete his term

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – After months of insisting he would fight for his re-election until the end, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio on Monday called it quits.

The embattled lawmaker announced he was dropping his bid for a seventh term but would serve out the remainder of the year. Ney, R-Heath, indicated a continuing federal probe of his alleged involvement in influence peddling is taking too big a toll on his family.

“Ultimately this decision came down to my family,” he said in a written statement. “I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal.”

The announcement took fellow lawmakers and political observers by surprise, although reports surfaced Monday that House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had been quietly pressing Ney to step aside.

Rep. Ralph Regula, whose congressional district borders Ney’s, said he had no indication Ney would withdraw.

“He had his reasons, I’m sure,” said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township. Regula said he hasn’t talked with Ney since Congress recessed last week.

Although Ney has not been charged with a crime and denies doing anything wrong, federal investigators are probing his dealings with former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.

Abramoff and Ney’s former chief of staff, Neil Volz, say they provided Ney with free meals, campaign contributions and other gifts in return for legislative favors.

Two other former lobbyists also leveled similar allegations against Ney when they pleaded guilty in the scheme.

Ney, 52, has vowed to fight the charges, but contributions to his legal defense fund have dried up.

“It came down to his family,” said his spokeswoman Katie Harbath. “He’s going to spend some time with his family now.”

Ney and his wife, Liz, have two children from his first marriage.

The decision adds more uncertainty to a congressional race that already was one of the most closely watched in the nation. Analysts said the scandal gave Democrats a good shot at picking up the seat, a view bolstered by polls released by both campaigns that showed the race close or Ney trailing.

Ohio state Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, quickly announced she would seek the Republican nomination for the 18th District congressional seat. Ney was locked in a tough re-election battle with Democrat Zack Space, the Dover law director.

Financial analyst James Brodbelt Harris of Zanesville, who challenged Ney in the May Republican primary, also is considering a run.

Some analysts speculated Ney dropped out after realizing he had little chance of winning or because he is preparing for an indictment.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Ney finally may have seen the handwriting on the wall.

“He can easily see the meat grinder going all the way to November and then he loses the seat, too,” he said. “Better to withdraw a winner than a loser.”

Others believe Ney stepped aside to fight possible charges stemming from the Abramoff investigation. Legal observers said Ney’s withdrawal would not have any impact on what action federal prosecutors might take.

“It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that he’s expecting an indictment,” said Norman J. Ornstein, who follows Congress for the American Enterprise Institute. “You know, this (investigation) has been going on for a long time, and he’s already been targeted.”

Stanley M. Brand, a Washington defense lawyer who formerly served as a counsel to the House Democrats, said Ney may be “girding to fight a battle with the Justice Department and understands that it’s very hard to fight a two-front war.”

Ney’s attorneys deny there were any legal considerations in his withdrawal.

Ney “recognizes that the ongoing investigation has created a tremendous amount of media speculation and has become an issue in the current race,” his attorneys Mark H. Tuohey and William E. Lawler said in a statement.

They added that Ney “wants the voters of his district to be able to have an election focused on issues and not distractions, and for that reason, he has taken his name off the ballot.”

“In terms of the ongoing investigation, we have repeatedly made clear that Congressman Ney has done nothing wrong, and there is no credible basis to charge him with a violation of the law,” the attorneys said, adding that Ney will defend himself vigorously if charged.

Ney has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees out of his campaign fund. Harbath said “a lot of stuff is still being worked out” and she did not know if Ney would continue to use that fund for his legal bills.

Reacting to the announcement, New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, who heads the House Republicans’ campaign arm, called the 18th a “ruby red Republican district.” He expressed confidence the district “will remain in GOP hands come November.”

But Space’s campaign called Ney’s decision a desperate move by Republicans to hold on to the seat. Space wasted no time trying to tie Padgett closely to Ney.

“Bob Ney represented the culture of corruption in Washington, and Joy Padgett represents the culture of corruption in Columbus,” Space’s campaign manager, Joe Shafer, said in a written statement.

“Joy Padgett is tied at the hip to the most corrupt politicians in Ohio: Bob Ney, Bob Taft and Jim Petro. For Joy Padgett, being handpicked by Ney and appointed by Taft is quite an indictment,” the statement said.

In his statement, Ney said he made his decision after much consideration and thought.

“I am extremely proud of my 25 years serving the people of Ohio. We’ve accomplished many things to make this state better, and I will always be grateful for the trust my constituents put in me,” he said.

Toby Eckert of Copley News Service contributed to this story.